Green Bay's Passing Attack:
Seattle's pass defense made Aaron Rodgers look like just another quarterback in Week 1, but Rodgers is the Las Vegas favorite to capture his second league MVP award.
Rodgers, who owns the best passer rating in NFL history, finished second in that statistic behind Tony Romo this season. With 38 touchdown passes against five interceptions, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7.6 was twice as good as Romo's runner-up 3.8. Rodgers dominates just about every phase, whether it's beating the blitz or moving the chains on third down. It's not just his arm strength and accuracy but his movement in the pocket and ability to outwit defenses at the line of scrimmage. Because of Rodgers, the Packers almost never run a play that has no chance for success. That was a point mentioned several times by Patriots coach Bill Belichick before the teams played in November.
Rodgers’ mobility, however, is severely restricted by a strained left calf. He tore apart the Cowboys in the second half of last week's playoff game, anyway, but Seattle's defense is superior to Dallas' in just about every way imaginable.
The passing game runs through Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. They are the only receiver duo in NFL history to both have at least 90 receptions, 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Nelson is one of the game's elite long-ball receivers and Cobb is one of the best after the catch. In Week 1, they were targeted on 23 of Rodgers' 33 passes; no other receiver had even one ball thrown their way. One of Green Bay's big developments since then is the rise of second-round receiver Davante Adams and third-round tight end Richard Rodgers. Adams has put up big numbers some weeks and been AWOL for others; the Packers wouldn't have beaten the Cowboys without his seven receptions. The tight ends have been afterthoughts for most of the season, though Rodgers caught five passes in a key Week 17 win over Detroit and the winning touchdown last week. Whether it’s a screen or checkdown, the Packers love getting the ball to 230-pound running back Eddie Lacy in space.
The pass protection has been outstanding, and the Packers will need the line to come through in spades to give the injured Rodgers time against Seattle's elite secondary. Rodgers was sacked three times in Week 1 and nine times in the first three weeks. In the last nine games, however, Rodgers has been dropped nine times. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who missed the second half of 2012, all of 2013 and part of the 2014 opener at Seattle, has come on strong, as well. Second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick in 2013, has held his own just about every week. Rookie center Corey Linsley, who was thrown into the lineup late in training came due to injury and was on the receiving end of prayers from Seahawks defenders before Week 1, has exceeded everyone's expectations. If the front wall doesn't turn in a winning performance, the Packers probably don't have a prayer.
Seattle's Pass Defense:
The Seahawks finished No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense in 2014 and it wasn't close, allowing 185.6 yards per game — nearly 18 yards less than the No. 2 ranked Kansas City. To put that in perspective, if adding 18 yards to the Chiefs' average of 203.2 passing yards allowed per game, Kansas City would have ranked sixth.
On the surface, playing in the relatively QB-needy NFC West might appear to pad Seattle's statistics. Consider, however, that the Seahawks often held significant leads, thereby inviting teams to build the meaningless passing statistics at the end of games in an attempt to get back into the game. When opponents become one dimensional, the Seahawks' predatory tendencies are at their most lethal.
The Legion of Boom certainly deserves most of the attention. Free safety Earl Thomas is vital to the club's success because his incredible range makes Seattle perhaps less vulnerable to deep verticals and post routes than any other club in the league. That's significant, given that these routes generally result in more touchdown passes than any other. Kam Chancellor is the enforcer on crossing routes. Few slot receivers possess the courage to cross the middle in front of him ... at least not twice.
Richard Sherman deserves the credit he's received as one of the elite corners in the league. He's much more fluid than his lanky frame looks and possesses both excellent route recognition and ball-skills due to his experience playing wide receiver at Stanford. Sherman has 24 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2011 — that's eight more than his closest competitor. Green Bay famously steered clear of Sherman in Week 1. Aaron Rodgers may elect to challenge him in the NFC Championship but he'd be advised to do so on quick crossers, rather than attempting to challenge deep — where Sherman's length and poise with the ball in the air make him as likely to catch the ball as most receivers.
A potentially interesting matchup could occur in the slot between Randall Cobb and Jeremy Lane, Seattle's underrated nickel corner. Lane, like normal starting corner Byron Maxwell, is more physical than Sherman. Both are quick and aggressive. Maxwell is back and practicing after sitting on the sideline much of last week while recovering from illness.
An underrated element of Seattle's pass defense is their outside linebackers. K.J. Wright's agility and length has made him Seattle's top cover linebacker in the past. Bruce Irvin deserves a great deal of credit, as he entered the league as a terrific speed rusher but has really taken another step this season in coverage, showing fluidity, awareness and soft hands. While each has performed well this season, if there is an area in which Seattle has proven vulnerable this season, it has been against tight ends. Of the 17 passing touchdowns that Seattle has given up this season, 11 of them have come against tight ends.
Of course, for football purists, the most interesting battles could be on the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks will challenge Green Bay's tackles with undersized speed rushers Cliff Avril and O'Brien Schofield, as well as Irvin, on occasion. The matchup to watch in this contest, however, could be versatile defensive lineman Michael Bennett against Linsley, Green Bay's rookie center. Bennett possesses extraordinary quickness, which is, of course, aided by the raucous Seattle crowd.
From a statistical standpoint, Seattle's 37 sacks don't look that imposing. That total ranks 20th in the league. Green Bay, on the other hand, is tied for ninth with 41.
It might surprise some to learn that some inside the organization feel that sacks are one of the more overrated statistics in football, however. The Seahawks believe that by forcing quarterbacks to reset, they are much more likely to force inaccurate passes. As such, Seattle is often very nearly as happy with quarterback hurries as they are sacks.
Rodgers — like Russell Wilson — is generally one of the league's best at stepping up or laterally and attacking defenses with his arm. The odds-on-favorite to win MVP proved as much yet again last week against Dallas. Rodgers was clearly bothered by the calf injury, however, and could find the Seahawks' pass defense much more effective than the Cowboys ... especially in Seattle.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.