A Fast Start Is Key as Pack Looks for a Dose of PaybackPosted:Sep 18th, 2015 4:35 pm
I may miss Carrie Underwood's opening song on Sunday night. I don't want to see one minute of NBC's pregame show. Don't want to relive last season's NFC title game. Don't need to watch the "highlights." Not interested. I'll turn on the TV at 7:30 sharp. Only then will I be ready to face Seattle again. Let's hope the Pack is ready to deliver some payback right out of the gate.
First things first. This is not a revenge game. This is week two, not the championship game. Both teams are a little different--well the Seahawks are a lot different--more on that in a moment. But this game means a lot more to the 1-0 Packers than to the 0-1 Seachickens. The Pack needs to make a statement on Sunday night. They need to show that things will be different at Lambeau. They need to make sure that if it the playoff venue comes down to a tiebreaker that they win that tie this time around.
As Mike McCarthy reminded us earlier this week, the key to last year's 8-0 home slate was fast starts. The Pack jumped on virtually every team at home this year. Making Seattle play from behind would take them out of their comfort zone, and would force Russell Wilson to make plays and lessen Marshawn Lynch's impact.
However, the Pack will be missing two key offensive starters that helped provide those big home leads. Jody Nelson is gone and Bryan Bulaga will miss this one with a knee sprain. Neither injury will cause the offense to go into a shell, but it does change things. It would be a surprise if the Pack looks to beat them deep down the sidelines, a Nelson staple.
It's more likely that the offense will attack in the middle of the field, where the Seahawks' defense was especially susceptible last week against an average Rams offense. The holdout of safety Kam Chancellor is having a monumental effect on the Legion of Boom. He's the QB of the defense--makes sure everyone is in the right spot. And with a secondary featuring just two of its top five from last year, the newcomers could use that leader beside them.
Look for Rodgers to test that unproven secondary. Even the loquacious Richard Sherman struggled in week one, lining up primarily in the slot where he appears to be less than comfortable. Will he shadow Randall Cobb in the slot or will he cover Davante Adams or James Jones on the outside. Look for the Pack to exploit other matchups. The nickel corner play has dropped off and they struggled to cover the tight end last week. We could see a Richard Rodgers coming out party (not the Michael Sam kind, not that there's anything wrong with that).
I expect Lambeau to be loud and rocking and Rodgers to use that to his advantage, causing the aggressive defense to jump, keeping them off balance and mixing in plenty of work to Lacy and Starks on the ground. If the Pack can convert in the red zone, unlike last January, the offense should roll.
The big questions come on defense and special teams. The run defense was below average last week, but this units been preparing for this game since training camp. The likely return of Morgan Burnett should make a difference. Of course the Pack has lost Sam Barrington for the season, weakening the weakest position on the roster. Clay Matthews gets the headset and will run the defense going forward. He played two-thirds of the snaps inside last week and the run-dominated Seattle offense should cause that percentage to continue. Ryan Palmer will likely fill in for Barrington--we'll see if rookie Jake Ryan gets some snaps as well.
Seattle's weakness is there offensive line, with just two returning starters from a year ago and they struggled mightily against the Rams. That front four may be the best in the business so most O-lines may have a tough time against them. They tallied six sacks, seven hits and 13 hurries. I don't expect the Pack to generate that kind of pressure, but keeping Russell Wilson off balance and uncomfortable is a must. His targets remain pedestrian: his top three WRs would all sit behind the Pack's top three, and the arrival of Jimmy Graham will pay dividends in the red zone. But he is being asked to play a lot next to the tackle and block to help the sieve-like line, something he's not keen to do.
Special teams can be the great equalizer in games like these and the Pack needs to be on top of its game. Week one went well, but they'll be challenged to contain electric rookie Tyler Lockett, who took a punt return to the house last week, and scored twice in the preseason. Let's hope Tim Masthay kicks away from him and that the coverage unit stays disciplined and gets him down.
Rodgers has struggled in his last three games against the 'Hawks, but all three came at Qwest. At Lambeau he's been nearly perfect. Last season: 24 TDs and 0 interceptions with a passer rating of 133.2. That's sick. And without Chancellor to try to keep up, Rodgers should shine again. On Sunday nights, the Packers are at their best, with an all time record of 22-7, best in the NFL. They've won nine of their last 12 on the peacock.
I think the Seahawks may stick around, but the Packers get it done.