Truly putting the term “better late than never” to the test, here are your Game Day 3 Keys.
It seems strange to say this in Week 1, but we are looking at what could be one of the most important games of the year for both the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Both teams are favored to win their respective divisions and compete for the Conference Championship, and both would benefit greatly from Home Field Advantage in the Playoffs. With two teams seemingly on a collision course an early matchup deciding where that will happen is a key game. The fact that this game is in Green Bay does give an edge to the Packers, but it is also not a late season cold weather game so the advantage may not be as large as it would first appear when looking at historic stats. We know Russell Wilson is 0-2 at Green Bay with a 17-27 loss in 2015 and a 10-38 loss in 2016, but we also know that doesn’t tell the tale of what this squad will do. This will be a challenge for this year’s team and we should know a lot more about who these Seahawks are coming out of this week. If they want to go into Week 2 with a 1-0 record, here are the keys to the game:
1. Offensive Line
The weapons are on the Seattle Seahawks to allow for an Offense that gets yards, utilizes play-action for big plays, and can put up 3 or 4 touchdowns per game (if not more). None of that matters without blocking though. Last season, extremely poor Offensive Line play without a doubt killed the Seahawks season as it lead to a stalled rushing game and injuries to Russell Wilson that limited what he could do. The interior of the O-Line has shown that it is NFL quality. Joeckel, Britt, and Glowinski as well as Aboushi looked like real NFL Football players who could find their assignments in both the pass and run game, and Russell Wilson had a legitimate pocket to step up into as he tried to find a target. In the run game, the Defense was actually being pushed back in the pre-season even with 1st Team Offense vs 1st Team Defense. I know this sounds dumb, but it really is an accomplishment. We know there is 3/5 of a functioning NFL Offensive Line.
Tackle? Well…Tackle is another story. George Fant looked promising until an injury sidelined him, and Rees Odhiambo did not look like he had it when he came in for him. Then, something magical happened. Odhiambo took starting reps in practice and then spent the rest of the preseason looking like an alright player. If he can keep looking alright, that is a huge feather in Tom Cable and the Offense’s cap. Germain Ifedi, however, just looked bad. He would have flashes of brilliance followed by missed blocks and was often left flopping around on the ground. Luckily for the Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers do not offer what would be considered an Elite pass rush. Clay Matthews is multiple seasons removed from his last great one, Nick Perry did put together 11 sacks last season but had never had more that 4 in his previous 4 seasons, and they have talent on the interior but primarily use them in the base 3-4 to protect against the run. If Perry or Matthew can get loose to punish the Seahawks Offensive Tackles it could make for a long day, but I would look for Seattle to run the ball straight at Nick Perry, who is built for speed rush and not for run stopping. The Seahawks Offensive Line allowing the run game to get going means that play action is back on the table and the full playbook is at the disposal of Russell Wilson and Darrell Bevell. That is something that the Green Bay Packers Defense is just not equipped to deal with, and the Seahawks Defense is better prepared to stop a shoot out that Green Bay will be.
2. Shaq Griffin
Aaron Rodgers is going after Shaq Griffin. That is just a fact. The Packers are going to scheme to get Jordy Nelson on Griffin’s side. That is also something of a given. If Shaq Griffin can hold up to the test and keep Nelson from getting loose for long touchdowns that would go a long way towards Seattle getting a win. Nelson was clearly a step slower coming off of injury last season, and Griffin’s physical tools are without question. The way that Griffin plays and mirrors Nelson is what is key here. He needs to stay in Nelson’s pocket, follow the route, and contest every throw. The team is likely to have Earl Thomas shaded over to help out Griffin with the assumption that Richard Sherman can handle Adams or Cobb one on one, which is a safe bet. If Griffin can, with help over the top, hold Nelson to a reasonable day and not give up over a hundred yards and multiple touchdowns, that would force them to rely on Martellus Bennett more and open up the team to greater pressure from the new look Seahawks Defensive Line.
3. Living the Dream
Stop me if you have heard this one before, but friends….what is living the dream for a Defensive Coach in the NFL?
That’s right. Getting pressure with 4. The newly dubbed Death Row Defensive Line of the Seahawks features the likes of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, and Sheldon Richardson as known pass rushing commodities. However, you also have Jarran Reed who looks to have improved, as well as Naz Jones and David Bass who both had an excellent preseason that they will be looking to build upon. In returning production from that group you have 29.5 Sacks, which was more than 5 teams had for their entire Defense. When you factor in that it was a down year for both Richardson and Bennett, and that Reed and Clark are likely to take a step forward, you can see why other teams are not looking forward to having to deal with this group.
Specifically this week, you have a Packers team that has replaced two Pro Bowl Offensive Guards the last two seasons with players that have big questions following them, a replacement at Center, and possibly their Top 5 NFL Right Tackle missing the game. If the Defensive Line can take advantage of the Offensive Line that would force the Packers to either risk the health of Aaron Rodgers, or to keep their Tight Ends in to help block and severely decrease the weapons Rodgers gets to throw to. This is likely the key to the game, as Defensive Pressure is really the only way to put a cap on what Rodgers can do and slow down what is truly a pass reliant attack in Green Bay. If the Seahawks get to double digit QB Hits/Hurries, there is a good chance that will lead to a win.