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Packers face tough test in Seattle
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - When the NFL's schedule-makers tabbed the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks to square off as part of its prized Monday night package, they probably were envisioning an aerial shootout between Aaron Rodgers and former understudy Matt Flynn, Seattle's highest-profile offseason addition who honed his craft in a four-year apprenticeship with the Packers.
What they'll more likely get in this Week 3 encounter from CenturyLink Field, however, is an interesting matchup of teams coming off needed victories behind dominant defensive performances and one that will have one of the two featured quarterbacks watching from the sidelines.
That scenario also wasn't what the Seahawks had been anticipating after the team signed Flynn to a three-year, $19.5 million contract in March based off two highly impressive stand-in starts for Rodgers over the previous two seasons. However, the unexpected emergence of rookie Russell Wilson has placed Seattle's initially intended starting signal-caller back into a reserve role when Flynn's new team takes on his old one.
While Wilson hasn't dazzled as the operator of an offense that presently ranks last in the NFL in passing yards, the ex-University of Wisconsin star did make a contribution to his first career victory, a 27-7 home manhandling of a touted Dallas squad that was fueled by a smothering defensive display, momentum-turning plays on special teams and an outstanding individual effort from running back Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks forced a fumble on the game's opening kickoff that led to a quick field goal and blocked a punt for a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead just minutes later. Seattle would stay in front thanks to a defense that forced the Cowboys to punt on five of their final six possessions and the hard running of Lynch, who finished with 122 yards and a score on a workmanlike 26 carries.
Wilson did his part as well, completing 15-of-20 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown in an efficient and turnover-free day.
"All of that stuff is really what we want to do," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said afterward. "The quarterback played really smart. All of those things are emblematic of what we're shooting for."
The Packers' defense put on a show of its own in Week 2, relentlessly harassing Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to lead the defending NFC North champions to a convincing 23-10 triumph over their division rivals at Lambeau Field. The win took some of the sting out of Green Bay's disappointing 30-22 home loss to San Francisco in the opener.
Cutler was sacked seven times, with standout outside linebacker Clay Matthews responsible for 3 1/2 of those takedowns, and intercepted on four occasions by a swarming and determined Green Bay stop unit that limited the Bears to a meager 74 net passing yards and 168 total.
That excellent outing was in stark contrast to the group's usual results from last season, when the Packers ranked dead last in the NFL in total yards and passing yards allowed.
"We've got some talent now," said Matthews, who's racked up a league-high six sacks over the first two games. "It's going to be hard to double one guy and leave others single-blocked. If that's the case, so be it, but we've got some talent now getting after the quarterback, and hopefully that's here to stay."
Green Bay has amassed 11 sacks overall through the season's initial two weeks, the highest total in the NFL.
The Packers received have received a spark from their special teams as well during the early stages of this 2012 campaign. After wide receiver Randall Cobb returned a punt 75 yards in the San Francisco loss, punter Tim Masthay connected on a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tom Crabtree on a faked field goal attempt that helped spur last week's rout of the Bears.
Packers lead 8-5
Streak: Packers have won last two meetings Last Meeting: Packers 48, Seahawks 10 (Dec. 27, 2009 at Green Bay) Last Meeting at Site: Packers 27, Seahawks 17 (Oct. 12, 2008)
Packers HC Mike McCarthy vs. Seahawks: 3-1 Seahawks HC Pete Carroll vs. Packers: 0-2 overall, 0-0 with Seattle McCarthy vs. Carroll Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Packers have bested the Seahawks three consecutive times counting a 42-20 win at Lambeau Field in a 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff, with Seattle's last triumph in the series a 34-24 home verdict on Nov. 27, 2006. These teams also squared off in Green Bay during the opening round of the 2003 playoffs, with the Packers edging the Seahawks in a 33-27 overtime thriller. Counting those two postseason games, Green Bay has won six of the last seven meetings. Carroll has lost to Green Bay as the head coach of the New York Jets (1994) and New England (1997).
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Green Bay: 23rd overall (322.5 ypg), tied 26th rushing (75.5 ypg), 14th passing (247.0 ypg), tied 19th scoring (22.5 ppg)
Seattle: 28th overall (284.5 ypg), 7th rushing (148.5 ypg), 32nd passing (136.0 ypg), tied 23rd scoring (21.5 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Green Bay: 5th overall (272.5 ypg), 26th rushing (140.0 ypg), 2nd passing (132.5 ypg), 8th scoring (20.0 ppg)
Seattle: 6th overall (274.5 ypg), 2nd rushing (46.0 ypg), 14th passing (228.5 ypg), 3rd scoring (13.5 ppg)
Green Bay: +1 (4 takeaways, 3 giveaways) Seattle: +2 (4 takeaways, 2 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Green Bay: 60.0 percent (5 possessions, 3 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 13th overall Seattle: 28.6 percent (7 possessions, 2 TD, 4 FG) -- tied 27th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Green Bay: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 30th overall Seattle: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 11th overall
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Though Green Bay was able to run the ball reasonably effectively against Chicago, with former Bear Cedric Benson (99 rushing yards, 4 receptions) churning out a respectable 81 yards on 20 carries, the Packers figure to take to the air early and often on Monday considering Seattle's stoutness against the run. That strategy worked rather well last year, when Rodgers (522 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) threw for over 4,600 yards and 45 touchdowns in leading his team to a 15-1 regular-season mark and was nearly unanimously named the league's Most Valuable Player. He hasn't been quite as prolific at the start of this season, however, in part due to sometimes shaky protection from a front line that's allowed eight sacks thus far and a few untimely drops from his receiving corps. Green Bay also didn't have one of its best playmakers against the Bears, with wide receiver Greg Jennings (5 receptions) sitting out the contest with a groin strain, though the team is cautiously optimistic he'll be available in some capacity for this matchup. The two-time Pro Bowler's absence was felt, as fill-in James Jones (6 receptions) mustered an unproductive two catches totaling minus-one yard on five targets last week. The Packers still have enough to get by, however, as fellow wideout Jordy Nelson (11 receptions, 148 yards) is coming off a stellar 1,263-yard, 15- touchdown season, tight end Jermichael Finley (11 receptions, 1 TD) can be a high-impact -- albeit inconsistent -- matchup nightmare and the elusive Cobb (10 receptions) excels at gaining yards after the catch out of the slot.
Throwing the football can be a chore against an athletic Seattle defense that fields two good-sized and physical outside cornerbacks in the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner (8 tackles, 1 INT) and 6-foot-3 Richard Sherman (8 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PD) and a rangy free safety that can deny the deep ball in 2011 Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas (6 tackles). The question is whether or not the Seahawks have enough secondary depth to deal with the wealth of pass-catching options Rodgers will have at his disposal assuming Jennings plays and the Packers plan to spread the field. A strong pass rush would go a long way towards offsetting that potential problem, and the Seahawks were able to get good pressure on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo by forcing the Cowboys into obvious passing situations after stifling the ground game. Dallas running back DeMarco Murray netted a harmless 44 yards on 12 totes against a rugged Seattle front seven that routinely won the battles up front, with 320-pound end Red Bryant (5 tackles) and underrated nose tackle Brandon Mebane (6 tackles) particularly disruptive. Seattle did manage only one sack of Romo, which was split by rookie end Bruce Irvin and situational tackle Jason Jones, but those two along with veteran sack artist Chris Clemons (3 tackles, 1 sack) were still able to have an impact.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
It's no secret that Seattle's offensive blueprint will involve a heavy dose of Lynch (207 rushing yards, 1 TD), the NFC's leader in rush attempts and yards gained via the ground over the past two weeks, and when the workhorse running back is going well, the Seahawks have proven to be tough to beat. For that to happen, however, Wilson (304 rushing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) will need to hit on some throws like the rookie was able to do against the Cowboys, while continuing to display the poise and intelligence that enabled him to wrest the starting job away from Flynn. Most of Wilson's passes last week involved short-range looks to wide receivers Sidney Rice (7 receptions, 1 TD) and Golden Tate (3 receptions) as well as tight end Anthony McCoy, who garnered a team-best five catches for 41 yards and his first career touchdown after taking over for hobbled starter Zach Miller (4 receptions). Still, the 2012 third-round pick did show better downfield accuracy than he exhibited in completing just 18-of-34 attempts in his pro debut. With Miller questionable for this week due to a nagging foot injury, McCoy could be counted on for a significant role as well on Monday. The Seahawks do expect to have starting left tackle Russell Okung (knee) back after he sat out the Dallas game, and although replacement Frank Omiyale was fine in a substitute start, the team will need its best blockers on the field to combat Matthews and the Packers' strong collection of pass rushers.
The Packers' primary defensive purpose on Monday will obviously be to minimize Lynch's impact and make the still-developing Wilson throw the football, though that could be a task easier said than done. Green Bay wasn't good in that department in giving up 186 rushing yards to the 49ers in Week 1, and Chicago's Matt Forte was having a good night last week before exiting with a sprained ankle. The Packers have surrendered an average of 140 yards per game on the ground and a lackluster 5.1 yards per carry thus far in 2012, and they'll need players like nose tackle B.J. Raji and inside linebackers D.J. Smith (16 tackles, 1 sack) and A.J. Hawk (19 tackles) to fill gaps and tackle cleanly in order to cause the Seahawks to deviate from their approach. The pass defense has fewer issues, with cornerbacks Tramon Williams (8 tackles, 2 INT) and Sam Shields rendering Bears star receiver Brandon Marshall into a non-factor in their last outing and big-play veteran Charles Woodson (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) still an on-field force whether the 15-year pro is lined up at safety, manning the slot, or coming on a blitz. He and the relentless Matthews (10 tackles, 6 sacks) were each major contributors to the defense's clampdown on the Bears, with Smith and rookie outside linebacker Nick Perry (8 tackles) also putting together good games in coordinator Dom Capers' aggressive and attacking game plan.
The Packers have yet to really find their groove on offense, and that could very well be the case once again this week in a matchup with a Seattle outfit that's fast, skilled and pretty disciplined on the defensive end. The same can be said for Green Bay's stoppers, however, and you can bet that the seasoned and crafty Capers will devise ways to make Wilson look like an overmatched rookie at times. Rodgers won't have it easy either, but he gives the Packers a distinct advantage at the quarterback position that could be the difference in what shapes up to be a rather low-scoring and hard-hitting affair. The resourceful Seahawks should create a few splash plays to stay in the game and will surely get a boost from one of the league's most energetic crowds, but Green Bay's overall superior collection of skill players and strong overall track record gives the visitors the nod.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 20, Seahawks 13
09/24 11:39:29 ET
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