With so much hype and so bright a spotlight shining on the season-opening game at Seattle, it would be human nature to overreact to the Green Bay Packers’ 36-16 loss. After all, there weren’t a whole lot of bright spots. That starts with a defense that, despite major schematic changes and a major personnel addition with Julius Peppers, didn’t look all that different from defenses that had no answers in recent playoff losses to the Giants and 49ers.
On the second play of the game, Dom Capers rolled out his biggest offseason adjustment. Capers, one of the top defensive coordinators in NFL history, rose to prominence with an attacking 3-4 scheme. On second-and-6, Capers unveiled a 4-3. Or a 2-5. Whatever you want to call it, it had two defensive linemen, flanked by Mike Neal and Julius Peppers (playing from a two-point stance like outside linebackers) to form a four-man front. Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk lined up as traditional 3-4-scheme inside linebackers about 5 yards off the ball. Clay Matthews lined up to the outside of Neal, about 3 yards off the line of scrimmage.
The Packers had used that package throughout the offseason and training camp, though they had kept it in mothballs for the preseason games. The package would have been central to Capers’ plans this season, anyway, but only grew in importance when nose tackle B.J. Raji was lost for the season with a torn biceps.
The early returns couldn’t have been much worse. With hard-charging Marshawn Lynch carrying 20 times for 110 yards, Seattle gashed Green Bay for 207 rushing yards. The Seahawks finished the night with 398 yards; they had 401 until taking a knee to run out the clock.
So much for coach Mike McCarthy’s big-letters promise that the defense would be better. The key to that predicted improvement would be two dramatic and related changes. One was the addition of Peppers, who built a Hall of Fame career playing as a 4-3 defensive end. The second was Capers’ departure from his famed 3-4 to a multiple scheme capable of playing out of the 3-4 on one play and the 4-3 on the next.
On the first snap of Capers’ new package, Letroy Guion fought through a block and had a chance to drop Lynch in the backfield. Instead, Lynch ran through the tackle and gained 5 yards.
It was a common theme throughout the night. When he simply wasn’t moving the pile, Lynch was breaking tackles. No amount of scheme can solve that issue.
“Really, they ran the ball and they ran it well,” McCarthy said after the game. “It’s obviously the starting point of their offense. Marshawn Lynch had a huge night. The action and the plays off of that were effective and they were able to hit some of the downfield throws. To me, it really started with the run game.”
Green Bay’s revamped defensive line, which went from almost 1,000 pounds up front with Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly to 905 pounds with Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Guion, couldn’t withstand the Seahawks’ power. With Daniels making his second career start, Jones his first career start and Guion missing most of training camp with an injured hamstring, this unit can — and must — improve.
“They just got after us,” Daniels said. “That’s the best way I can say it. They just got after us. You could see it in their eyes. They just got after us. I want to spit, the way I played. I can only speak for myself, but that was a pitiful performance. We’re way better than that. ... I don’t think I’ve played that bad since I was about 8. Monday we get back to the drawing board.”
Because of Lynch and a couple big runs on sweeps by an in-motion Percy Harvin, the Seahawks had the Packers’ defense on its heels all night. It was a troubling development. Green Bay had all offseason to get ready for this game and Seattle’s running game, yet the results were no better than last season, when it yielded at least 150 rushing yards in six of the final 10 games. The defensive line got pushed around, the inside linebackers were ineffective. If that left the defense dazed, Russell Wilson’s fakes too often left the defenders confused and chasing the wrong player.
“We didn’t bring what we started in the preseason. We’ve got to regroup and figure it out,” Brad Jones said. “That’s just not the defense that we can play. That wasn’t it. We’ve got to figure out what we did because that is not acceptable.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.