The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks are obviously on different levels when it comes to the NFC’s power structure, but the disparity isn’t as huge as it once was.
Seattle boasts a very legitimate defensive group and a rapidly-improving offense. Even though these guys haven't really been tested over the long-term yet, through two games, the Seahawks seem to have all of the makings of a squad on the come-up.
The Packers, meanwhile, appear to have a much-improved defense this year (or the Chicago Bears' offensive line just makes everyone look really, really good), but the offense hasn’t been clicking. A strong showing tonight can get this squad’s season back on track; a weak one will revive all of the concerns everyone had following Week 1.
This is a big game for all involved, albeit for very different reasons. Green Bay wants to reclaim its place atop the mountain. Seattle wants legitimacy. Who will walk out of tonight’s battle victorious? We’ll find out soon enough.
Here are three things to keep an eye on from each squad during tonight’s game:
1. Can Aaron Rodgers get back to being Aaron Rodgers?
So far, through two games, Aaron Rodgers has put up 522 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 52-of-76 passing. While there are probably a lot of quarterbacks in the league who would take those totals, Rodgers isn’t one of them. He’s 28th in the league in passing yardage, fifth in competition percentage and 20th in yards per attempt. If those numbers seem like they’re all over the place – it’s because they are.
Last year Rodgers was a model of consistency, this year he’s on the brink of mediocrity. Green Bay won thanks to their defense last week, but you can’t face Jay Cutler and Jay Cutler’s porous offensive line everytime. Sooner or later this team is going to need to see their offensive leader to return to his 2011 superhman form.
2. Will the ground game get anything going?
Seattle has a solid defense this year, so if the Packers think they can just rely on airing it out to win this one they have another thing coming. At some point Green Bay’s running attack is going to need to break through. (Currently 29th in the NFL.)
Thus far Cedric Benson has been completely and totally useless (99 yards on 29 attempts, 0 touchdowns) – that needs to change tonight. If it doesn’t? Well, then don’t be too shocked if Aaron Rodgers has more interceptions in this one that you’re typically used to seeing from him.
3. How many rushers get sent at Russell Wilson?
By now everyone has heard the news: Russell Wilson is nearly twice as effective when he has five or less rushers coming his way than when he has five or more rushers coming his way. The Packers know the formula – now it’s just a matter of putting it to work.
According to ESPN, this year Green Bay has sent five or more rushers on more 37 percent of the team’s defensive plays – good for 10th highest in the league. Clay Matthews has more sacks through two games right now than he had through 15 last year. If the Packers can shake Wilson early, this could turn into a blowout.
1. How Will Russell Wilson handle himself?
In his two professional starts Russell Wilson has played one good defense and one bad defense. Against the good defense he threw for 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 18-of-34 passing. (And his team lost.) Against a bad defense (well, you know), he threw for 151 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions on 15-of-20 passing. (And his team won.)
No matter what, he’s not going to blow the Packers defense out of the water. The key here is going to be efficiency. That’s how Wilson’s performance will be judged tonight – not by whether or not he can put up gaudy yardage totals, but by his efficiency and ability to protect the football. If he can handle that side of things, then Marshawn Lynch should be able to handle the rest.
2. Can Marshawn Lynch play the way he needs to play?
Plain and simple: Seattle doesn’t win this game if Marshawn Lynch doesn’t explode. Through two games he’s put up 207 yards and a score on about 4.4 yards per carry.
The offensive line will have its hands full tonight with a lot of pass rushers looking to make Russell Wilson into a pancake; the only way Wilson stays off his back is if Lynch takes up a good chunk of the defense’s attention. Mark it down – if Lynch doesn’t have a huge outing, this is going to be a Seahawks loss regardless of how solid the defense is.
3. Can the offensive line protect against the inevitable five-plus man rush?
Again, everyone knows Russell Wilson’s numbers when he is rushed by five or more – including the Seahawks. Russell Okung has shown glimpses of brilliance over the course of his career, but unless he and his fellow lineman play to up to their potential (and size), the Seahawks could get taken out of this one in the early going.