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Week 2 Preview: Packers Host Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in the marquee matchup of the NFL’s second week.  These teams have played only 18 total games, three of which occurred in the playoffs.  The Packers lead the series 8-7 in the regular season, and 2-1 in the Playoffs.  Despite this slim history, this has become one of the premier (if one-sided) “rivalries” in the league.

For a time in the 2000’s, the Packers were in control of the series. That included playoff wins in 2004 (when Al Harris intercepted Matt “We’ll take the ball, and we’re going to score” Hassleback) and 2007 (an easy 42-20 victory in the snow).  Both games were in Lambeau Field, as were follow-up wins for the Packers in 2008 and 2009.

That of course has changed, with Seattle domination beginning in 2012 and the infamous “Interceptouchdown” game.  The Seahawks were just emerging as a powerhouse, and while the end may have been controversial, the win over the Packers announced their arrival among the league’s best.

The Seahawks have since backed up that victory with two more wins, one to start the 2014 season (a 36-16 whipping in Seattle), and of course the 2014 NFC Championship Game.   The Packers were leading 16-0 at halftime of the latter game, and 19-7 with a mere 2:09 to go.  But after Russell Wilson ran for a one-yard touchdown, the Seahawks recovered an onside kick when former Packer tight end Brandon Bostick eschewed his assignment in an effort to play hero.  The Seahawks drove for another touchdown and converted a 2-point conversion for a three-point lead.  Though the Packers forced overtime with a field goal, it seemed obvious the Seahawks would win when they obtained the ball.  Win they did when Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown.  Thus ended the worst collapse in Packer history.

Coming into this season, these teams were the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  The Packers’ odds took a small dip when they lost wide receiver Jordy Nelson, but a week 1 victory over the Bears started the season on the right foot.  For the Seahawks’ part, their defense did not look its normal self in the opening week, and they lost on the road to the Rams.

Looking forward to this week, here are three keys to the Packers reversing the trend, and getting back to the former winning ways against Seattle.

Rodgers must be the MVP

Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers has struggled against the Seahawks in Seattle in three straight games.  His stat lines over those three losses are as follows:

January 18, 2015

19 for 34, 178 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, 5.2 YPA, 55.8 Rating

September 4, 2014

23 for 33, 189 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5.7 YPA, 81.5 Rating

September 24, 2012

26 of 39, 223 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 5.7 YPA, 81.5 Rating

It is no secret that Rodgers drives the Packers’ success.  In order to comfortably win today, he must avoid turnovers against the vaunted Seattle defense, increase his yards per attempt, and force Seattle to cover the entire field. One would except him to feature Randall Cobb after the Patriots’ success throwing to Julian Edelman in the Super Bowl.

Don Barclay must Hold his Own

That task may be made more difficult by the loss of Bryan Bulaga, the Packers’ starting right tackle.  Last year the Packers’ line was healthy after a week one loss to former starting center JC Tretter, and Rodgers enjoyed some of the best protection of his career and of any quarterback in the league.  Backup Don Barclay did not look strong in the preseason, and the Seahawks are sure to attack him on passing downs.  While expecting perfection is probably unrealistic, he cannot be a sieve.  The Packers cannot afford providing him tight end or running back assistance on passing downs all day.  They need all available weapons to beat the Seattle secondary.

Lean on Eddie

When things were going well for the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, it largely had to do with the play of Eddie Lacy.  The numbers (21 carries for 73 yards, 3.5 YPA) do not appear that strong, but they are largely impacted by the Packers repeatedly running on obvious downs in the fourth quarter.  Lacy and the running game were strong through three quarters.  This time, they need to be strong through all four.

Not only will that relieve Rodgers of the pressure of a herculean effort against the Seattle secondary, perhaps more importantly it should help Barclay.  The more the Seahawks are able to be aggressive in the passing game, the harder his day is likely to be.  Barclay is a small for a tackle, and has shown more as a bruiser in the run game than on passing downs.  Building confidence on running downs may help him succeed in replacing Bulaga.

No Big Plays

The Packers’ collapse last year had as much to do with defensive lapses on big plays as anything.  This has been an issue for Green Bay for a number of years.  The secondary went through significant turnover in the offseason, and was tested in week 1 by the Bears.

Seattle and Russell Wilson have a knack for making big plays in key moments.  Their offense appears more oriented around those strikes than consistent drives.  The Packers absolutely have to remain solid, and not permit Seattle to score on long passes or on special teams.  This last key may be the most difficult of all, and perhaps the most important to winning the game.

Prediction

Given recent history, it is difficult to trust the Packers in this game.  However, the home team has had significant advantage in this series, and the Packers were perfect in Lambeau Field last season.  Until they lose at home, I will not be picking against them in Green Bay.  Packers 27, Seahawks 21.