Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette answers five questions about Sunday's Seahawks-Packers game.
Here are five questions with Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette about Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Packers game at Lambeau Field.
Q1: Do you think there will be a different atmosphere for this game there given the way the NFC Championship game unfolded? Have the players talked much about wanting to get back at the Seahawks for that?
A: It’s hard to definitively say whether Sunday night’s matchup will be that different, because primetime games inside Lambeau Field are always tough for opponents. The Packers were the only team in the NFC to go 8-0 at home last season. In three nighttime kickoffs, they averaged 46.6 points per game.
With that said, Packers fans will be out for blood Sunday. There’s no question about that. The Seahawks sent all of Wisconsin into mourning last January. The NFC title game is one of the most painful losses in Packers history, and it was the final straw for fans after the Fail Mary game and 20-point drubbing in last season’s opener.
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The Packers have no shortage of rivals – they don’t call the NFC North the black-and-blue division for nothing – but the Seahawks currently sit at the top of everyone’s list in northeast Wisconsin.
Q2: The expectations there seem to be Super Bowl or bust. Is that just based on how close Green Bay got last season or does this seem to be a better team potentially than last season?
A: I think it’s both. This is the team with the least turnover from last season, and everyone inside Lambeau Field believes the Packers should’ve played the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. General manager Ted Thompson is always patient with his team-building approach, but that hit a new level this offseason. The Packers were the only team that did not sign a player who had a single snap on another team in 2014, right up until they signed James Jones one week before the opener.
I’m not sure the Packers believe they’re better than last season, but they think they’re every bit as good as a team that had every chance of winning the Super Bowl. The biggest reason is Aaron Rodgers. He’s a two-time MVP now, and at 31 years old is still in the prime of his career. Rodgers isn’t getting any younger, and I think the Packers are aware of the limited window they have over the next couple years.
Q3: How has the offense had to adjust to playing without Jordy Nelson?
A: There are two dynamics the Packers especially miss without Jordy Nelson. The first is having a security blanket for Rodgers. Nelson and Rodgers are known for their back-shoulder throws. It’s a play they’ve developed together through experience, and that experience breeds trust. When Nelson was lost for the season, Randall Cobb was the only receiver on the Packers roster who had played more than one NFL season – and Cobb is just 25 years old. That’s the biggest reason the Packers went out and signed Jones, and that transaction has already netted benefits.
The second dynamic is irreplaceable. Few receivers in the NFL – and nobody inside the Packers’ locker room – can stretch a defense vertically like Nelson. He caught seven touchdowns of at least 40 yards last season, and Rodgers likes to take chances on “shot plays” targeted in his direction. Without Nelson, there’s no question this is a less explosive, more methodical offense.
Q4: Statistically, Seattle did well shutting down Aaron Rodgers last season. What is the view in Green Bay of what Seattle did to make that happen?
A: Whether they’re legitimate or not, I think last season’s struggles are attributed to two excuses.
The first game came in the opener, when an already raucous crowd was even louder on a night the Seahawks unveiled their Super Bowl banner. Not sure any quarterback could succeed heading into that hornets’ nest. In the second game, Rodgers had a significant calf strain that stole his mobility and made him a one-dimensional quarterback. To this day, the Packers believe they would’ve beaten Seattle in the NFC title game if Rodgers was healthy.
It’s no secret the Seahawks have had the best secondary in the NFL over the past couple years, and their talent can’t be discredited. Still, there’s a wait-and-see feel entering this game. With Rodgers facing a Seahawks secondary missing Kam Chancellor, and with this game finally at Lambeau Field, he needs a big game. If not, you have to wonder whether the Seahawks simply have his number.
Q5: Finally, it sounds as if Green Bay’s run defense is a concern. What are the major reasons for that?
A: It’s definitely a concern, primarily because the Packers open their season with a really tough stretch of running backs. They had Matt Forte in the opener, Marshawn Lynch this week, Jamaal Charles next week and Colin Kaepernick (who’s always given them fits) in the hole. But the 189 yards they allowed to Chicago was a bit inflated. The Packers were without starting strong safety Morgan Burnett, who’s probably their best run defender. Burnett should be back this week, and his return would boost the Packers’ run defense.
Their run defense took another hit this week when starting inside linebacker Sam Barrington was lost for the season with a foot injury. Barrington was a rising player in the Packers’ defense, and his loss will be missed. But as long as the Packers have Clay Matthews at inside linebacker, they should be better than the last-place run defense they were through the first eight games of last season.