It’s the first week of the regular season, and the Green Bay Packers have, perhaps, their toughest game of the season this Thursday as they head into Seattle to take on the reigning Super Bowl champions.
For many that game ending Fail Mary is all they remember from the last time the two teams met, and the loss still leaves a sour taste. After last February, the Seahawks look like an unbeatable team. And I’ll admit it, after watching Seattle dissect the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, I’m a little worried about their speed and ferocity.
But this is the Packers we’re talking about, not some slouch team. With many pundits going on the record stating that Green Bay is a team worthy of a Super Bowl bid, don’t expect the Packers to roll over and play dead Thursday night. Yet to win, they need to keep certain things in mind.
Balanced use of the no-huddle offense.
This has been a much ballyhooed element to a Packers offense that brings a sense of urgency and intensity to the field. It has received a lot of press and notice during training camp. Yes, it’s fast-paced. It can exhaust defenses and prevent them substituting. Let’s face it, exhausting Seattle’s punishing defense is one way to tear it down by keeping it on the field without reprieve.
But if overused, the no-huddle can set the Packers up for disaster. A steady dose of no-huddle reduces a very diverse Packers’ offensive repertoire down to only handful of scripted plays, and the team relies on hand signals to set the plan in motion.
Let’s not forget that Seattle’s Richard Sherman very publicly pointed out that deciphering that exact code–anticipating the common plays and translating hand signals–was precisely how the Seahawks neutralized Peyton Manning during the Super Bowl. In other words, too much no-huddle may play right into Sherman’s hands and he could pick the offense apart like a frog in a high school biology class.
The last thing any of us want is for Aaron Rodgers to get sacked eight times like the last time the two teams met.
A good friend once said, “Enough is too much.” While the no-huddle can speed things up and wear down defenses, the Packers need to practice this technique in moderation.
Don’t give up on the running game.
This goes without saying in any game, but it is crucial that the run be utilized early and often.
The Seahawks frequently use a Cover 3, aka three-deep zone defensive scheme. Typically it’s two corner backs and Richard Sherman covering the deep part of the field in thirds. It leaves eight in the box to rush the passer or stuff the run.
Why keep the run alive even if Lacy is stopped at the line of scrimmage several times over? Because those eight in the box are going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Rodgers if the Packers opt to for a strictly aerial game. But it’s also a simple scheme to neutralize the pass as it also allows seven to drop back in a zone pass coverage, effectively neutralizing any and all passing targets.
By keeping the run alive it forces the defense to hedge it’s bets. Are they going to throw everything they have at Eddie Lacy and try to stop the run while leaving the deep part of the field vulnerable to the pass? Let’s face it, Aaron Rodgers loves himself a deep ball, and no one else can thread a needle to a passer like Jordy Nelson. If those two connect, it’s off to he races for Jordy and an easy six points on the board.
Likewise if the eight in the box try to flatten Rodgers, all he has to do is hand off to Lacy and suddenly those beefy eight are covering the wrong player on the line. If the Packers keep an effective run alive alongside Rodgers’ formidable passing game, it will only force the Seahawks defense to hedge its bets. Guess right and it’s third and long. Guess wrong, and Aaron Rodgers is doing the belt and celebrating with his team after another touchdown.
Don’t believe the hype of the Twelfth Man and all the infamous noise.
CenturyLink Field is loud. Blah blah blah, whatever. The Packers already know it, and it’s not the first they have ever played in loud stadium. Come on, it’s not their first rodeo, so to speak.
These are professional athletes not some junior varsity Division 4 high school football team. These players have been used to playing before upwards of 100,000 screaming fans since their college playing days. Of course they are used to noise. Somewhere along the line they became experts in mastering the Cocktail Party Effect and hone the skill of selective attention. That is, the members of the Packers, by the sheer nature of their career, have become masters at focusing on one task and drowning out the extraneous noise and distraction. To figure out how they do that, consider the following exercise of counting a single ball among many that is readily accessible on YouTube:
Yes, CenturyLink is loud. But so was the Metrodome in Minneapolis as well as AT&T Stadium in Dallas, and the Packers have managed to win there, noisy distractions notwithstanding.
Yet the Packers can’t let the hype get in their collective heads. Worry about the noise, buy in to what the media keeps hyping about the Twelfth Man, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Acknowledge it is a noisy, rude place and the Packers will set the ground rules for head space and hopefully they realize the length of the field is still 100 yards and the goalposts are just as tall as they are at Lambeau.
Score early and often and don’t look back.
Seattle is not a team to score a few times, ease back on the gas a bit and go into a prevent defensive scheme like Mike McCarthy famously loves to do. It may work for lesser teams–get a little cushion than hit autopilot until time runs out. No, the Seahawks don’t play that way and will exploit such a passive approach to clock management. The Seahawks I watched against the Bears never let up. Their third and fourth strings were crashing at the quarterback with as much ferocity a the first team. If the Packers choose to sit on their proverbial laurels, they’re bound to get punched in the mouth repeatedly.
Rather, the Packers need to score by any means necessary–by ground or by air–for four full quarters. They can’t allow the defense to hold the high ground for the second half or the defense will collapse under its own sheer exhaustion. When that happens, Russell Wilson will be there to gash them with the pass and with Marshawn Lynch or his own running game.
Besides, it’s always easier to maintain the lead when you hold that high ground by a resounding margin. Give the Seahawks an inch, and they’ll take a mile.
There is no doubt the Seattle Seahawks will be an opposing foe. The Packers may lose the game, or they may emerge victorious. To win, they can’t play into Seattle’s hand. The Seahawks may have set traps for the Packers, but a little foresight into the Seattle mindset and game plan may be enough to give the Green Bay Packers the advantage.