BJ Raji was once a dominant force in the middle of the Packers defensive line. He has trailed off considerably, but the news that he was lost for the year with a torn bicep still takes a starter in the center of their defense off the field. Perhaps more impactful was the news that starting center JC Tretter is out for at least six weeks. The Packers let a high quality center in Evan Dietrich-Smith walk in free agency to the Bucs, largely due to their confidence in Tretter.
Tough place to get your first start
Corey Linsley will play in place of Tretter, and get his first start in CenturyLink Field. The center/quarterback exchange is tough enough on a neutral field when the two player have little experience playing together. Linsley will face the NFL’s toughest crowd on a night they are certain to be raring to go.
It will also give the interior of the Seahawks line an edge versus the run, which could be a key to the outcome given the quality of Eddie Lacy in the backfield. The Packers love to run up the middle, and are now clearly weaker there. And, of course, pass protection will be chaotic. Seattle uses twists and line movement as well as any team in the league. They play with speed and persistent energy that can confuse even the most experienced lines. The Packers experienced it a couple years ago when the Seahawks recorded 8 sacks in the first half. Expecting a repeat of that type of pressure is unrealistic, but it will no doubt weigh on the Packers coaching staff as they game plan. Of course, the best remedy for alleviating pass rush is a good running game. Linsley will be at the center of things in a variety of ways.
Raji played horribly last year, but it says something that he was still the starter at nose tackle. The Packers added Julius Peppers to an already solid pass rush with Clay Mathews, but the Seahawks are a run-first team that is now getting possible Pro Bowl play from their guards, and their center has All-Pro credentials. Add to that their increased ability to spread a defense wide with their quick passing game and jet sweeps, and the middle of their opponents’ defense will always be challenged.
A Seahawks team that can run effectively up the middle becomes a very difficult team to beat. The Packers will likely add a veteran free agent to help address the gap, but they will remain vulnerable.
Nothing is given
This Packers team remains one of the strongest challengers to the Seahawks in the NFC. Nobody is better than Aaron Rodgers. Lacy is as close as there is to a young Marshawn Lynch in the NFL, and they have some special players on defense as well. These injuries reduce their chances of winning in week one, but those chances are still as good as almost any team that will visit CenturyLink this season. Nine more days…