When Seattle Passes the Ball ...

Who will be the main characters when underrated Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson drops back to pass? Rob Rang, one of the top NFL writers around, covers the Seahawks for Scout.com and lends his insight in the final part of our four-part series.

Seattle Passing Game

In an era of wide-open passing attacks that have assaulted NFL defenses as well as its record books, the Seahawks would appear to be lagging behind.

Quarterback Russell Wilson “only” threw for 20 touchdowns over the regular season – that’s half of what fellow 2012 product Andrew Luck tossed this season for the Indianapolis Colts, and one less than what rookie Derek Carr completed for the Oakland Raiders or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – owners of the No. 1 overall pick (and widely assumed to be considering taking a quarterback) – finished the year with. Only six teams threw for fewer touchdowns over the regular season than Seattle. None of them made the playoffs.

Rather than an indictment on Wilson, the receivers or offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Seattle’s relatively pedestrian passing numbers are a reflection of Pete Carroll’s defensive-minded philosophies. The Seahawks may have ranked 27th in passing (203.1 yards per game) but a closer look shows that Wilson’s passer rating of 95.0 was eighth among NFL starters and only Aaron Rodgers (five) and Alex Smith (six) threw fewer interceptions than Seattle’s quarterback. In the few situations this season in which Wilson has been allowed to pick up the tempo and aggressively pass the ball, he’s proven quite effective. He’s accurate from inside the pocket, demonstrating terrific ball placement to guide his receivers away from contact, and routinely makes Pro Bowl-caliber throws requiring velocity or touch. He is just as accurate on the move, making Wilson (along with Rodgers and Dallas’ Tony Romo) a nightmare for defenses to handle on so-called scramble drills.

Like their quarterback, Seattle’s receiving corps lack ideal measureables. The starters – Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse – do not possess explosive speed or great size. Each is a reliable route-runner, however, and possess soft hands. Baldwin is Wilson’s favorite target on “money” downs, consistently generating separation with subtle fakes and terrific burst out of his breaks. Kearse is Seattle’s most gifted pass-catcher, often contorting in space to make dramatic catches look easy. He accelerates smoothly, lulling defenders asleep and surprising them by sneaking over the top.

The loss of rookie Paul Richardson is a significant one for Seattle. Though he only caught 29 passes for 271 yards and a single score over the regular season, his 4.4 speed kept free safeties deep, opening up room for Seattle’s much preferred underneath routes and running game. Richardson tore the ACL in his left knee in last week’s playoff win over Carolina. Ricardo Lockette possesses similar straight-line speed but isn’t as polished as a route-runner and too often allows the ball into his pads, resulting in some drops. Fellow rookie Kevin Norwood could see more action this week. He has good hands but isn’t a breakaway threat.

Given Green Bay’s pass rush, tight end Luke Willson could play a critical role in this game. The 6-5, 252-pounder possesses 4.5 speed as well as the lateral agility to elude defenders. He’s been split out wide with increasing regularity, breaking free for a pair of 25-plus yard receptions last week against Carolina, including a touchdown.

Like the rest of their passing attack, Seattle’s offensive line is better on tape than on the stat sheet. According to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks rank 17th in pass blocking. Some of this, however, is a reflection of the frenetic style with which Wilson plays. Rather than firing passes out of a quick and controlled three-step drop, Wilson often takes extra time to survey the field, leading to an exorbitant number of pressures and sometimes sacks.

Seattle will need to pay extra attention to Green Bay’s best rushers, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Containing these two is critical and could be even more difficult with right tackle Justin Britt (who has started all 17 games, thus far) officially listed as questionable due to a knee injury sustained last week against Carolina.

If Britt is unable to play, veteran Alvin Bailey would take his place. Bailey, who played both sides of the offensive line while playing collegiately at Arkansas, has started this season at left tackle and left guard when injuries kept Russell Okung and James Carpenter out of the lineup. While physical, the 6-3, 320-pounder does not possess the same length and lateral agility as Britt (6-6, 325), which could make the long armed and athletic Peppers that much more of a potential headache for Wilson and the Seahawks.


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When Green Bay passes the ball ...

When Green Bay runs the ball ...

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Packers Pass Defense

No team in the league rivals Seattle’s secondary but the Packers feel like they have the horses in the secondary to slow down the Russell Wilson-led passing game.

It starts at cornerback with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Since the start of the 2010 season, Seattle’s Richard Sherman leads the NFL with 25 interceptions (including playoffs). Williams is next with 22 and Shields is third with 19.

While Atlanta’s Julio Jones torched the Packers for 11 receptions for 259 yards and a touchdown on Dec. 8, that was the exception and not the rule. The Packers have allowed only three 100-yard games from a receiver all season. The others, back-to-back 100-yard games by Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin at midseason, were skewed by some garbage-time catches in blowouts. Against Dallas last week, the Packers limited Dez Bryant to three receptions for just 38 yards.

Clearly, the Packers will need Shields and Williams to play excellent games, because safety Morgan Burnett is going to be used in run support to help slow Marshawn Lynch. Burnett led the team by a mile in tackles because he spends so much time at the line of scrimmage.

In nickel situations, the Packers bring in second-year player Micah Hyde, who is a smart player and a good tackler. Hyde started at safety in Week 1 but has been supplanted by top pick HaHa Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix, a physical player and versatile defender, was named to the all-rookie team this week. He’s improved dramatically since looking foolish on Ricardo Lockette’s Week 1 touchdown.

The pass rush is excellent, as well, and it’s come with defensive coordinator Dom Capers cutting back on the blitzing. The Packers finished 12th during the season with a sack rate of 7.27 percent. They sacked Dallas’ Tony Romo four times last week, even with Romo dropping back to pass only 23 times and having three Pro Bowlers providing protection. It starts with Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, who finished with a team-high 11 sacks. He had a big second half of the season, with 8.5 sacks coming in the eight games after moving part-time to inside linebacker. Whether it’s rushing the passer or dropping into coverage, he’s excelled. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who turns 35 on Sunday, recorded his 11th turnover play of the season last week against Dallas (combined six forced fumbles, three recoveries and two interceptions). He had seven sacks in the regular season and another against the Cowboys. The expanded role for Matthews has meant more playing time for outside linebackers Mike Neal (4.5) and Nick Perry (3.0), who combined for 7.5 sacks during the regular season. Perry added 1.5 and Neal 0.5 vs the Cowboys. The best of the interior rushers is defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who had 5.5 sacks.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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