Oregon Sports News writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath discuss and predict the week 14 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (8–3–1) and the Green Bay Packers (6–6).
When: 1:25 p.m. PT, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc.
Rogers: This matchup comes down to which Seahawks team shows up at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Will it be the team that beat the New England Patriots at Foxborough in impressive fashion, or the Seahawks team that bumbled and stumbled to defeat in Tampa two weeks prior?
So the question becomes can one or two games be called a resurgence? Because the Packers, after having lost four straight games in historically bad fashion (franchise-worst most points allowed in a four-game stretch, all-time) have now won two straight. The Seahawks, after looking lost in Florida last month, bounced back at home to throttle the flailing Carolina Panthers to the tune of 40–7. Of course, that was at home, where the Seahawks play best.
Jess, are both teams trending up, for real? And which one do you think can keep their momentum going in Wisconsin?
Ridpath: I just got your email insisting that I write my reply in the form of a poem. As you wish…
Cheeseheads are yellow Twelves are blue Earl Thomas is broken But Seattle will still kick Green Bay’s ass.
Rogers: Your rhyme scheme broke down there in the back end like Steven Terrell trying to cover Ted Ginn.
Ridpath: To be fair, it would have been pretty remarkable if Terrell had been able to hop right off the bench and keep pace with one of the fastest players in the NFL.
And to be honest, I don’t really think the Seahawks have a decided edge facing off against the Packers at the always formidable Lambeau Field. It’s just that having to write poetry on demand makes me cranky.
Your snarky comeback about Seattle’s downgraded secondary is well taken, however: We hardly know who the Seahawks are without Earl Thomas on the field. If their week 13 clunker (when Thomas was out with a hamstring injury) is any indication, then it’s a good thing the blue birds are sitting comfortably atop the NFC West—three games ahead of the their closest competitor (Arizona). Looking ahead to the post-season, the Seahawks need wins if they want to the claim the NFC’s second seed and a first-round bye. That said, I think staying healthy is more important for Seattle than coming home victorious this week.
At 6–6 (two games behind Detroit), the view in Green Bay is anything but comfortable. Outside of their week 12 win over the Eagles, the Packers’ mid-season offense has been sputtering—and it continued to look feeble in the first half of last week’s victory. Feeble enough that I’m not ready to say they’ve turned a corner. But they do have a couple key things going for them: 1) Desperation can be a powerful motivator, and 2) Aaron Rodgers has won 14 consecutive home games in December.
Julian, Green Bay beat Philadelphia two weeks ago by sculpting their offensive attack around short, quick passes from Rodgers. But you wouldn’t have known that from watching last week’s game. Will Mike McCarthy go back to that winning recipe against the Seahawks? And will it work?
Rogers: He had better. And yes, it can work. And yes, the Packers consider themselves to be in desperate times. They are essentially in playoff mode for now the third game straight. It’s made quite a difference.
The Packers’ path to the playoffs is almost only centered on winning the NFC North. A Wild Card slot is pretty unlikely. They believe they need to run the table to have a shot at the division. They’ve been right the past two weeks, but the Seahawks represent a much stiffer test than the Houston Texans or the Philadelphia Eagles.
The key difference in the Packers’ winning streak has been the play of Aaron Rodgers. For stretches earlier in the season, Rodgers played mystifyingly poor. He missed open receivers on easy routes. His fundamentals were inexplicably shoddy. He refused to “throw receivers open,” instead, waiting to see them uncover before he would pull the trigger, like a sophomore Division II college quarterback. To Packers observers, it was a stunning reversal of his ability.
His QB ratings reflected his ineffectiveness: Early in the season, Rodgers’ had some ratings in the basement: 65.0, 70.7, 79.8. He was downright Gelbaugh/Stouffer/McGwire-ish.
Recently, Rodgers has shaken those bad habits off, for the most part. In his past three outings, Rodgers’ quarterback ratings have all resided decidedly north of 100: 115 against Washington (L), 116.7 against Philadelphia (W) and 108.9 against Houston (W). As former Packers tight end (and social media smartass) Tom Crabtree noted, the Lions “peed down their legs” watching the Packers’ recent resurgence —And Aaron Rodgers’ resurgence in particular.
The Seahawks would do well to make sure they use the restroom before lining up against Rodgers and his receiving corps on Sunday. Here’s the thing to know about the Packers’ offense: There is no telling who is going to be the breakout player to focus on. Last week, it was Jordy Nelson, who dominated the Texans with eight catches for 118 yards and the game-clinching touchdown. He now has 10 on the year — tied for second in the league. Davante Adams has had some monster games, including five for 113 and two touchdowns against the Eagles two weeks ago, and a couple other midseason games with even more catches and yards. Adams is tied for fourth in the league in receiving touchdowns with eight. (The Seahawks’ leading touchdown catcher is Jimmy Graham, with five.)
As far as the short passing game, the Packers inexplicably went away from it, for the most part, against the Texans last week. That was odd because the short, quick throws were devastating to the Eagles in the week prior. Rodgers did rely on a few early short passes to Nelson to convert third downs, which opened up the secondary later in the game for Nelson’s longer key receptions. Watch for more of that against Seattle, be it Nelson, Adams, Randall Cobb or Ty Montgomery (who is lately spending most of his time at running back.) The Packers’ offensive line is pretty good, despite losing two starters to injury, and Rodgers likes to hold the ball, scramble and find holes in the deep and middle sections of the secondary. He rarely throws to his first reads in traffic this season, but when he does, it can be quite effective. It makes up for the Packers’ lack of a running game and keeps defensive linemen frustrated.
Jess, I find it amusing that the Seahawks’ leading rusher in 2016 will be wearing green and gold this weekend. Thomas Rawls is on a tear of late, having dominated the Panthers. How do you see the ground games for both teams impacting this matchup?
Ridpath: Seattle’s rushing attack has improved dramatically in the last few weeks. Back in week 10, their ground game was a basement-dwelling 30th in the league. They’ve climbed back to 20th, thanks largely to Rawls’ and Wilson’s newly healthy legs. (Tyler Lockett’s surprise end-around for 75 yards last week didn’t hurt either.)
Looking at season-long team stats, it’s hard to say that one team or the other has the clear advantage on the ground. Ranked 24th in rushing offense, the Packers are averaging 99.1 rush yards per game, compared to 101.5 for the Hawks. When it comes to defending the run, Green Bay sits higher in the rankings (9th versus 14th)—but the difference is nominal: Just 75 total rushing yards, and a per-carry average of 3.8 versus 3.6.
But with Eddie Lacy on injured reserve and Rawls surging (7.1 yards per carry last week, with 106 total yards and two touchdowns), Seattle appears to have the superior ground game right now. Another important factor is long yardage on the ground: Seattle has only allowed three runs of more than 20 yards. The Packers have allowed eight. Fresh off last week’s big gains from Rawls and Lockett, this might be an area the Seahawks can exploit.
Let’s talk about defense for minute, Julian. Seattle’s defense has been characteristically stellar nearly all season—with each and every Seahawks’ loss clearly attributable to an underperforming offense. In the Packers’ losses, they’ve struggled on both sides of the ball. This difference is clearly evident in points allowed per game: 16.2 for the Hawks (1st in the league) versus 25.2 for the Pack (23rd). What do Green Bay’s defenders need to do to narrow this gap?
Rogers: Green Bay’s best hope is that Rawls and Russell Wilson miss the flight to Green Bay. There is no question that the Packers defense is going to be stressed in this game as much as the Seahawks defense will, because the Packers have been exposed repeatedly this season.
Despite starting out near the top of the league in rush defense, they’ve suffered numerous breakdowns since then, as you noted in their mediocre rankings. That’s on film and has been a recurring issue when trying to get off the field on third down.
What killed them was facing a top-notch running back, like Ezekiel Elliott, who rampaged his way through the Packers defense like pretty much every other team the Dallas Cowboys have faced this season. In fact, the Packers’ run defense has fallen apart of late. Even with Texans back Lamar Miller in and out of the game due to injury, Houston gained 123 yards on 27 carries, a 4.6 average. A repeat of that kind of output would be the high ceiling of rush defense excellence that I expect from the Packers on Sunday.
Enter Thomas Rawls, who is now clearly back to peak ability. That is a decided matchup advantage for the Seahawks.
The Packers have also had major issues covering receivers, having, at one point early in the season, lost their top three cornerbacks, Sam Shields (injured reserve, concussion), Damarious Randall (groin), and Quinten Rollins (groin). There is no team in the NFL that can excel in pass defense when they are starting their fourth and fifth cornerbacks for a major chunk of the season. For good measure, they also lost their starting two interior linebackers and their best pass rusher, outside linebacker Clay Matthews for four games. It’s been and remains a patchwork defense for Green Bay.
So Green Bay has no sympathy for the Seahawks, who have lost their defensive quarterback in Earl Thomas. Randall, Rollins, Matthews and Jake Ryan have returned to play, but none of them are at full capacity. Matthews, in fact, has had to abandon his outside linebacker slot to fill in at inside linebacker. And then he famously got blasted in the Eagles game by a blindside block that continues to leave him compromised.
The status of Matthews will be a major factor in Sunday’s game against the Seahawks. At full capacity, he has the ability to be a difference-maker. In his current state, having come back from sitting out multiple games with a bad hamstring and now a gruesome-looking torn AC joint in his shoulder that leaves him mostly one-armed, he will be on the field, but mostly in spirit. He admitted after the Texans game last week that it hurt and compromised him more than he thought it would and the tape bears that out. He was no factor in pass rush. Depending on how he progresses this week, he will likely be of little impact rushing against the Seahawks’ soft spot: their pass protection.
Matthews will also be at a significant deficit trying to tackle Rawls. The rest of the Packers will have to step up to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, but predictably, based on his full-career history, linebacker Nick Perry broke his hand last week and has been ruled out for the game. Perry was having a breakout season, but now the onus falls on three other Packers defenders to hold together the Packers defense on Sunday: safety Darren Sharper (who is moving down to linebacker often to play that in-vogue hybrid role), defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who has been dominant and absent for stretches this season, and veteran’s veteran Julius Peppers, who continues to make plays in his limited playing time.
I believe the Seahawks will find it easier to score points in this game than they did the last time the two teams met in week two of the 2015 season when the Packers won 27 – 17. The Seahawks offense has grown and diversified since early 2015.
Jess, who ya got in this one (oh, the drama)?
Ridpath: I was all set to pick the Seahawks (obviously) … until I listened to the radio this morning and heard my favorite local DJ say that Seattle has not won at Lambeau since 1999 — in a game that saw Brett Favre throw four interceptions. However, upon further inspection, that stat is not quite as ominous as it sounds: Seattle has only traveled to Green Bay once in the Wilson-LOB era—resulting in the 2015 loss that you mentioned.
In any case, this will be a close game and a hard-won victory. Seattle clearly has the superior team, and if this were a home game, I’d be 100 percent certain of a Seahawks victory. But playing in Green Bay levels the playing field significantly—just not quite enough. Prediction: Seattle 30, Green Bay 27.
Rogers: “Clearly superior”? Yes and no. The Packers have a distinctly better offensive line, more productive receivers and probably an edge at quarterback since this game is being played in Green Bay and Rodgers is on a hot streak. Let’s also not forget that the Seahawks’ leading rusher now plays for Green Bay. My wild guess hunch says that Christine Michael scores his first touchdown as a Packer in his revenge game against Seattle.
But matchups will determine this one. The Seahawks were down one safety the last time they met (Chancellor was holding out) and they’ll be down another one this time. Call that a wash. Jordy Nelson did not play last time due to his season-ending knee injury. The Seahawks will work to take Nelson out of the equation and may very well achieve that. The problem then becomes Davante Adams, who is having a breakout year and only had five catches for 33 yards against Seattle. The Seahawk killer that day was Randall Cobb, who had eight catches for 118 yards. Any one of the Packers’ top three wide receivers will likely have a major impact on the game with the way Rodgers is playing of late. The wild card is Ty Montgomery, who technically is a receiver but plays most of the time in the backfield, which means the defense doesn’t know if the Packers are going run heavy personnel or pass personnel when he goes into the huddle.
The Packers will go running-back-by-committee all day and feed the hot hand, which could be Michael, Montgomery, fullback Aaron Ripkowski or James Starks, who had a big game against Seattle last time. Fun fact: the only Packers rushers to score a touchdown on the ground this season are named Aaron. I think that changes this Sunday and the desperate Packers come away with a scrappy win. Prediction: Green Bay 31, Seattle 26.
Owning up Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The game winner. I’m 6–6 on the Seahawks season. I pointed out Cam Newton’s poor completion percentage and other passing failings when facing the Seahawks. He underperformed even those historical low points.
What he got wrong: I expected Newton to exploit his superior rushing ability to keep the Seahawks off balance. He only rushed three times for a ho-hum 12 yards. I reported that the Seahawks and Carolina Panthers always play close games and I expected another one. It was anything but.
What she got right: The game winner, keeping me even with my counterpart at 6–6. I predicted a good game and a touchdown for Jimmy Graham, and he delivered (never mind that the game was already comfortably in hand by the time he scored.)
What she got wrong: Just about everything else: I thought the game would be close. I expected more from Newton and less from Seattle’s ground game. I said that Graham would be a “deciding factor”—when that honor clearly goes to Rawls and Lockett.