When the Packers and Seahawks meet in the playoffs — or the regular season, for that matter — strange things tend to happen. Given the way most Seahawks games in recent years have gone, that’s not all that surprising. If we’re lucky, we’ll get another strange, memorable game when these two teams do battle at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Tyler Lockett, Aaron Jones, D.K. Metcalf, Za’Darius and Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, Bobby Wagner, and more should all have their chances to impact the outcome of this game. Let’s break things down.
How to watch
Time: Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET
Location: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin)
TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Line: Packers -4.5
When the Seahawks have the ball
The Seattle Seahawks want to run the ball. You know this. I know this. Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will tell anybody willing to listen at just about any opportunity.
Their stubbornness when it comes to running the ball can be a detriment to the team, though, and that was almost certainly the case in last week’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Seattle handed the ball off to Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch 17 times, and they gained a total of … 19 yards on the ground. The Seahawks’ insistence on running it kept the game far closer than it should have been, considering how Russell Wilson was tearing up the Philadelphia secondary. It was reminiscent of the Seahawks’ playoff loss to the Cowboys last season, when they just kept running right into the teeth of one of the NFL‘s premier run defenses rather than, in the parlance of Seahawks fans, running the “Let Russ Cook” offense.
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Couple Seattle’s strong preference for hand-offs with Carroll’s declaration earlier this week that Lynch (who has 18 carries for 41 yards in two games so far) will see more snaps as the team moves through the playoffs, and it’s not hard to envision what this Sunday’s game plan will look like. Running the ball against the Packers is typically a far more fruitful proposition than it is against the Eagles, though. Green Bay allowed the seventh-most yards per carry in the NFL this season, and ranked 23rd in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA. (Philly allowed the eighth-fewest yards per carry and ranked fourth in DVOA.)
Still, it’s difficult to imagine that forcing the ball to a 33-year-old running back who was not very effective last season and was out of the league until two weeks ago would be a better offensive strategy than letting one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks — who is coming off arguably the best regular season of his career and was an inner-circle MVP candidate for three-quarters of the year that will probably finish as the runner-up to Lamar Jackson — dictate the flow of the game with his ability to pass down the field and run it himself if nothing is open.
The Seahawks are at a distinct disadvantage in the matchup of their offensive line against the Green Bay defensive front, but that was also the case last week and Wilson managed it just fine. He’s used to working magic in pockets that barely exist. It’s what he does best. The Seahawks ranked 28th in the NFL in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, holding up on only 54 percent of passing snaps. That means at least one of his offensive linemen let his man get close to Wilson within 2.5 seconds of the snap 46 percent of the time. And he still managed to have a pretty incredible season. He’ll likely need more where that came from on Sunday, because the chances of this patchwork offensive line that could be down three of its starters holding up against Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, and the rest of the Green Bay pass rush are pretty low.
When he looks downfield, the particular matchups he sees will change based on whether or not the Packers decide to shadow with their corners. This would probably be a good game to do it, just because D.K. Metcalf’s size can be so overwhelming and the Packers would probably prefer to have Kevin King on him and Jaire Alexander on Tyler Lockett, if possible. Metcalf’s route tree and role have greatly expanded over the course of the season, and we saw last week that he is now just as capable as Lockett of dominating a game. They go about things in different ways due to their massive difference in stature, but they now appear to be two of the premier deep threats in the NFL, and they play with one of the league’s best deep-ball throwers.
Wilson ranked second in the NFL in the percentage of his throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air this season, per Pro Football Focus, and fourth in passer rating on those throws. Green Bay allowed 30 completions and 1,081 yards on those types of throws this season, per Sports Info Solutions, figures that ranked seventh- and sixth-highest in the league.
When the Packers have the ball
Aaron Rodgers was a far different quarterback at home this season than he was on the road. That’s been the case for the majority of his career, but the difference was far starker than usual this year. In games played away from Lambeau Field, Rodgers averaged only 6.1 yards per attempt and had an 89.6 passer rating. In the friendlier confines, Rodgers averaged 8.0 yards per attempt and had a 101.6 rating. He was also sacked twice as often (24 times) on the road as he was at home (12), even though he only had about 30 more drop-backs in away games. Lucky for the Packers, this weekend’s game is being played in Green Bay.
Rodgers also gets to go up against a Seattle defense that was largely friendly to opposing passers this season, though it’s notable that they did rank fifth in the NFL in both passing touchdowns allowed (19) and interceptions (16). Those totals helped the Seahawks rank a solid 15th in pass defense DVOA, with rankings just around the league average on throws to the left (12th), right (12th) and middle (18th) of the field, as well as against No. 1 receivers (12th), tight ends (17th), and running backs (12th).
The Seahawks almost exclusively play sides with their corners, which means the Packers will be able to get Davante Adams whatever matchup they want: Shaquill Griffin on the left, Tre Flowers on the right, or Ugo Amadi in the slot. Adams is Rodgers’ overwhelmingly preferred option in the passing game, with players like Allen Lazard, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jimmy Graham taking a significant back seat behind him, and usually behind running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams as well.
The level of involvement Jones in particular has in the passing game is often an indicator of how well Green Bay’s offense is working, with their best games tending to come when he does work through the air. Jones’ versatility makes him a tough cover for opposing defenses, as he can work out of the backfield as a receiver but also out wide or in the slot. The Packers at their best are unafraid to let him run the full route tree from the perimeter, even working double-moves against cornerbacks on occasion. Considering how nonthreatening the majority of their receiving corps is, they’d be wise to get the ball in his hands via the pass on Sunday.
Seattle will have to make sure it does not allow Rodgers to break the pocket, as he has long been one of the best scramble drill passers in the league. Packers pass-catchers know what to do in those situations in order to give Rodgers somewhere to go with the ball almost as well as players on the Seahawks do, and against a priority zone defense team like Seattle, wider throwing windows can present themselves as the seconds go by and Rodgers buys more and more time. Pressuring Rodgers from the edges and maintaining push up the middle will both be key, because he can escape both to the outside and by stepping up through the pocket.
The Packers will also presumably look to lean on Jones and Williams in the run game, given Seattle’s struggles stopping teams on the ground this season. The Seahawks ranked just 26th in run defense DVOA this season, and they were poor situationally as well. Seattle allowed conversions on 67 percent of third or fourth-down runs with two or fewer yards to go, per Football Outsiders, a mark that ranked 22nd in the league. The Packers themselves struggled horribly in those situations, though, with only a 54 percent conversion rate.
Green Bay’s best opportunity to make plays may actually come in the play-action game, where the Seahawks allowed a concerning 8.3 yards per attempt. Most expected the Packers to utilize a lot more play-action passing this year with Matt LaFleur replacing Mike McCarthy, but it didn’t really work out that way. Rodgers faked a run before 20 percent of his passes last season, but he was only at 26 percent this year, a figure that ranked 13th among 25 qualified quarterbacks. The Packers would benefit greatly if they went to those concepts more often.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Packers 21
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