“Running” being the operative word.
Over the last six games — and especially the last two games — the Packers have come out and run the ball down their opponents’ throats. Last week against Dallas, the Packers ran the ball seven times for 45 yards en route to a touchdown. In Week 17 against Detroit, the Packers ran the ball eight times for 61 yards.
“Mike’s kind of gone that direction and we’ve made it work,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling. “We’ve had some big runs on those first drives. It gives us a good balance, and that’s what you need when you play good defenses.”
The Packers will be playing more than a good defense in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Seattle. The Seahawks’ defense is the best in the NFL. While their “Legion of Boom” secondary is the obvious focal point — as Rodgers can attest in Week 1 and Peyton Manning painfully remembers from last year’s Super Bowl — Seattle’s run defense is almost as good.
Seattle finished third in the league with 81.5 rushing yards allowed per game and second with 3.43 yards per attempt. That’s good. During their season-ending six-game winning streak, which allowed the Seahawks to pass the Packers and grab the No. 1 seed, they allowed 66.0 rushing yards per game and 3.14 yards per attempt. That’s great.
With Eddie Lacy coming off of games of 97, 99, 100 and 101 yards, the Packers feel their running game can succeed against any defense and at any venue. That point was driven home on that opening drive against Detroit. While they got stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1, the tone was set early against a run defense that finished first in the league this season and ninth all-time.
“I think it lets us establish what our plan is,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We’re planning to be physical and let teams know we’re going to run the ball. It gives us a chance to go out and try to set the tone. It’s hard to do that when you’re passing the ball because you can’t be as physical as you are when you run it. I don’t think it’s been by design. It’s just the way that it’s played out and lets you see how the defense is going to play you. Aaron’s always checking to different plays. He gives us a chance up front to get a feel on how they’re trying to play us on defense and set the tone.”
It took a while for the run game to get to this level of production and confidence. In the Week 1 loss to Seattle, Lacy managed only 34 yards on 12 attempts. That was part of a dreadful start to the season by the Packers’ rushing attack, in general, and Lacy, in particular. In the first four games, he rushed for 161 yards and averaged 3.0 yards per carry. Over the last 13 games, Lacy has rushed for 1,079 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
“He's a fantastic football player,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We loved him coming out (of Alabama in the 2013 draft) and just being a brute in college, and he's continued that. He's got great style about him. He's a big-bodied guy. He bounces off guys. He has a fantastic knack for spinning and making guys fall off the tackle. He runs with a great attitude. It's exactly like we would cherish. We've got our guy (Marshawn Lynch) that does the same, and we love that about him. He adds a real style to them. I think he's been a great addition. And then catch the football and all that, he can do everything. He's a big factor.”
Lacy will have to be a big factor on Sunday. A healthy Rodgers couldn’t beat the Seahawks in Week 1. It’s hard to imagine he could beat the Seahawks on a bad calf without a big helping hand from his running game on Sunday.
A first-drive statement from the running game would send a message — just like it did against powerhouses Dallas, Detroit and New England (five rushes, 41 yards) down the stretch. In the last six games, the Packers have run the ball 29 times on their opening possession for 208 yards. That’s 7.2 yards per carry. Lacy and Co. have ripped off nine runs of 10-plus yards, including four of at least 21. For perspective, that’s 13.4 percent of the Packers’ second-ranked 67 runs of 10-plus yards.
“It just pumps everybody up and we know we can do it,” Lacy said.
Can the Packers do it again? Can they set the tone — and silence the crowd — by imposing their will behind a superb line and running back? And if the Seahawks are ready for Green Bay to come out running, is there a big play to be made in the passing game?
“Every game’s different. The opponent’s different. How the opponent’s playing you is different,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t come out and run it exactly the same each and every week. You really have to give a lot of the credit to the players. The preparation component carries over to the field and to have success early in the run game is definitely a reflection of the execution.”
Seahawks’ Speed Racer Defense
For Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, the problem with staying away from cornerback Richard Sherman is there aren’t a lot of better options.
Seattle’s defense isn’t just great. It’s historically great.
The Seahawks have led the NFL in scoring defense in each of the past three seasons. Only the Cleveland Browns (1953 through 1957) and Minnesota Vikings (1969 through 1971) have accomplished that in NFL history. They’ve allowed the fewest yards and points in each of the past two seasons. Only the Browns (1954 and 1955), Vikings (1969 and 1970 and Bears (1985 and 1986) have done that.
“It is something that has been brought up,” linebacker K.J. Wright said in a conference call when asked about the Seahawks’ place in history. “I know (defensive end Michael Bennett) has said that we could be like the Bears, like the Ravens were back in the day. It’s something that I won’t realize how good we are until like 10 years from now — when we look back and see what we accomplished. Right now, we’re just worried about today. I definitely believe that in the future, looking back, we can definitely be one of the greats.”
The name of the game is speed, as is apparent from the 40-yard times their safeties and linebackers ran at their Scouting Combines. Safety Earl Thomas (first round, 2010) ran his 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and towering safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round, 2010) — who is as big as a linebacker — ran his in 4.62. Outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (first round, 2012) ran in 4.41, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (second round, 2012) ran in 4.46 and outside linebacker Wright (fourth round, 2011) is the turtle of the group with a 40 time of 4.75.
“I don’t know if you can simulate as fast as those guys are,” Rodgers said. “You try and get the looks in practice and you balance your looks in practice with setting your plan and studying the film. And then trust in your preparation when you get out there. You know, we’ve played in that environment before, we’ve won a couple games out there over the years, and we’ve got to go up there with a lot of confidence thinking we can do it again.”
The Seahawks’ speed means it’s tough for a receiver to get open. And once he’s open, it’s hard to stay open. That means tight windows for Rodgers. In the running game, that means a lot of fast-moving targets for the linemen to block. Throw in the physicality and playmaking skills, and the Seahawks are as complete of a defense as the NFL has seen in years.
“They fly around, they fly to the ball,” Lang said. “Their front, they’ve got a lot of speed. It feels like you’re a split-second behind them just being on a silent count. With the noise and everything, it makes it feel like you’re playing from behind, even when you’re not. They play fast. Their linebackers fly to the ball, their safeties are down inside the box in a second and ready to make the tackle. I feel like we have some pretty good athletes up front, too. I wouldn’t categorize them on just being an athletic defense because they’re also very physical, too. It’s something that’s rare to see a defense that moves around that well and also hits that well. We’re going to have to try to match their effort and their intensity and let them know that they’re not going to intimidate us.”
Seattle’s defense is playing at a rare level. Even with Carolina scoring a garbage-time touchdown late in last week’s divisional game, Seattle has allowed just 56 points over its last seven games. That’s 8.0 per game. It was total domination during the final six regular-season games. The averages: 6.5 points, 202.2 yards, 66.0 rushing yards, 136.2 passing yards and 13.8 first downs.
How do you combat such dominance?
“You execute, you focus on the little things, you pick some plays you really like (and) you feel confident with, (and) you run those and you make them work,” Rodgers said.
Green Bay’s fast-starting running game will face a daunting challenge against a defense that hasn’t allowed a single run of 12-plus yards in six games this season. It’s just as hard to block in the passing game. Remarkably, the Seahawks had 13 sacks in the first 10 games but 24 in the last six, which isn’t particularly good news for the gimpy Rodgers.
During the regular season, Seattle allowed 267.1 yards and 15.9 points per game. Those figures ranked first by a significant margin, with Detroit allowing 300.9 yards per game and Kansas City 17.6 points per game. Throw in the Panthers’ 17 points last week and the Seahawks have allowed fewer points in 17 games (271) than runner-up Kansas City did in 16 (281).
“I think they’re the best defense in the league,” said backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who spent 2012 with the Seahawks. “They fly around and they play confidently. They have the type of mentality that they’re not going to ever let you get 1 yard.”
Best vs. Best at Quarterback
Last week, Rodgers knocked off Tony Romo in a battle of the quarterbacks ranked first and second in career passer rating and second and first in 2014 passer rating.
This week, it’s Rodgers against Russell Wilson in a battle of two quarterbacks authoring superb postseason resumes.
Against Dallas last week, a gimpy Rodgers completed his final 10 passes and finished 24-of-35 for 316 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 125.4. Rodgers' career rating of 108.2 in road playoff games is the best in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.
Against Carolina last week, Wilson went 15-of-22 for 268 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. That 149.2 rating is the fifth-best in NFL postseason history and improved Wilson’s career postseason rating to 109.6. That’s No. 1 all-time ahead of Packers greats from today (Rodgers, 105.3) and yesterday (Bart Starr,104.8.) among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts.
“He’s a very good decision-maker. He’s got a mastery of their offense,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “If you overload in any area, he has the ability to check to where he thinks you’re vulnerable from a coverage standpoint. Same way with the run game. If you’re going to try to overload try to take away one area, he has a good feel and will attack your vulnerability.”
Not unlike Green Bay’s offense with Lacy, the threat of Lynch creates big plays in the passing game. According to ProFootballFocus.com, 30.8 percent of Wilson’s passes come via play-action, the second-highest rate in the league. His accuracy rate of 46.2 percent on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield ranks eighth. And despite being just 5-foot-11 — too small to play quarterback, many scouts believed — he’s been impervious to pressure. His 68.6 percent accuracy rate ranks sixth.
“I think you have to be able to do both,” Capers said of rushing for the sack but trying to keep Wilson in the pocket. “You can’t just sit there and spy him all day. I think one of the very best things he does is he has a real good pocket presence and a feel and, if you four-man rush him, he knows where that seam is and he’ll take that seam and start to slide. That’s why the discipline of your rush lanes is going to be important because he has the ability not only to make the big play coming out and running with the ball but, really, he’s more of a guy who’s going to try to buy more time to throw the ball down the field. Most of their big plays are because of his ability to slide and do a lot of the things we see Aaron do here.”
Wilson adds the dual threat of being a major threat with his legs, whether it’s the read-option run game on deadly fakes to Lynch or extending plays in the passing game. Since the 1970 merger, his 849 rushing yards this season rank fifth among quarterbacks. He averaged an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry.
“He’s well equipped to do everything that we ask him to do,” Carroll said. “He can get in the pocket and hang there. If he finds his receivers, he’s going to stay on rhythm. If it’s not to his liking, if the read doesn’t come out right, he’s going to take off and move to make something happen. Sometimes he takes off, runs, scrambles and gets out of the pocket, and sometimes it’s just a subtle movement that quarterbacks need to do to move to find their receivers. He can move to do all of those things, and I think what separates him is his sense for maximizing his opportunities what he gets out — to run and to pass. What I cherish about that is it’s the most difficult thing to defend. Play starts, there’s a normal dropback pass, everyone defends that and, when the quarterback can’t throw the ball and he moves, everything starts all over again. It’s as difficult as it can get for a defense”
That description would have suited Rodgers until he sustained the calf injury that’s had him mostly stuck in the pocket for the last month. Gimpy or not, his play has impressed Sherman — the man who Rodgers didn’t challenge in Week 1. One play stood out in particular: Rodgers’ touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers.
“It was a gutsy, gutsy, gutsy throw,” Sherman said. “I think if he's healthy, he runs that football and he probably runs it in. But when you have a safety closing in from one side and a corner closing in and window closing quickly and you're on a bum calf and not a lot of people would even attempt to make that play. And it's just a testament to who he is as a player.”
Esteemed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn called facing Rodgers — healthy or not — a “terrific” challenge for his exceptional unit.
“It’s a blast to play against them,” Quinn said. “We have lots of respect for their staff and the way that they play. They make you go through the whole process all the way through the week so it’s a great challenge – one that we’re really looking forward to.”
Overall Playoff Passer Rating
|Minimum 150 attempts|
Road Playoff Passer Rating
|Minimum 100 attempts|
The other sideline
— In 2009, McCarthy’s fourth season on the job, the Packers were guilty of 118 penalties. It was the fourth-most in franchise history. That seems like ancient history. From 2010 through 2013, the Packers have been guilty of the fourth-fewest penalties in the league. This year, they had the seventh-fewest.
Contrast that to Seattle. The Seahawks were guilty of a league-high 130 penalties. Wright said he didn’t know they led the league. That ignorance speaks volumes about their style of play. They’re not a dirty team — not by a long shot — but they play with an edge.
“We do play aggressive,” Wright said. “It definitely is our style of play. Everybody knows we’re an aggressive team. We’re pressing for the most part. The way we tackle — we might grab a face mask or two and we might jump offsides (with) guys trying to get sacks. There is definitely more reward than there is bad stuff happening to us.”
When the NFL cracked down on contact in the secondary, the Seahawks allegedly were the focal point. That really hasn’t been the case, though, because good players can adapt to whatever the rules. They were flagged 14 times for defensive holding (10th-most in NFL) but six times for pass interference (24th-most). In fact, they rank at the bottom of the league in false starts and near the bottom in defensive offside.
“I don’t know if it’s tolerated but they’re coached to be aggressive,” Flynn said. “You see it on the film. They’re the best defense in the NFL. They play aggressive and they play downhill and they play fast and they play confident.”
As an aside, the penalty chart is an interesting mix of teams. Seattle was No. 1, Denver and New England were tied for No. 4 and Detroit was No. 7. The three-least penalized teams — Miami was 30th, New Orleans 31st and Jacksonville 32nd — didn’t make the playoffs. Indianapolis, the other member of this weekend’s Final Four, was No. 18 in penalties.
— The Seahawks finish a game like an in-his-prime Mike Tyson finished a fight.
During the season-ending six-game winning streak, Seattle outscored its opponents 45-0 in the fourth quarter. In the divisional playoffs against Carolina, the Seahawks finished off the Panthers by scoring the first 17 points of the fourth quarter before giving up a late touchdown.
“That's what we do. We finish,” Wagner said. “Whenever a fourth quarter comes around we understand those are when games are won. That's when big- time players make big- time plays. And that's when the good teams show up. You can't win games in the first three quarters. You have to finish the games off, and that's what we pride ourselves in.”
For the season, the Seahawks outscored opponents 122-67 in the fourth quarter. The Packers were outscored 133-92.
“Our ability to finish is something we take great pride in,” Carroll said. “These guys know they can kind of smell the finish line that's coming, and they just seem to just get sharper.”
— Behind a powerhouse running game and a stifling defense, the Seahawks dominate what can be defined as explosive plays: passes gaining at least 16 yards and runs of at least 12 yards. Seattle’s offense had the most explosive plays in the league and its defense allowed the fewest.
Offensively, it starts with Lynch, who ranked fourth in the league with 1,306 rushing yards and tied for first with 13 rushing touchdowns. The rampaging runner does most of his work after contact. He finished second in the league with 829 yards after contact, first with 3.0 yards after contact per rush and first with 88 missed tackles, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He killed the Packers in the opener by forcing eight missed tackles en route to 110 yards.
“I think he might be the toughest guy in the league to get down with one guy because he’s so strong, and he runs with a very aggressive style in his lower body,” Capers said. “He’s one of those guys that very seldom do you see one guy make a hit and get him down. You’ve got to get the second and third guy there. He’s bouncing off tackles and falling forward, so those 2-, 3-yard gains turn into 5-, 6-yard gains and that really influences the down-and-distance aspect of the game.”
When lined up at inside linebacker, Matthews figures to get up close and personal with Lynch on a number of occasions.
“I would prefer that I would have my teammates come along with me because he is a very talented back and, as he has shown throughout his career — especially this year — he can break tackles from many positions,” Matthews said in a national conference call on Friday. “I am always confident in my abilities but I would much prefer to have my teammates alongside of me and hopefully they will be there on Sunday.”
Explosive on Offense ...
And Explosive on Defense ...
Starters Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse entered the league as undrafted free agents. Without second-rounder Richardson, Ricardo Lockette is elevated into the No. 3 role. He, too, entered the league as an undrafted free agent, as well. Of the six receivers on the roster, only rookie Kevin Norwood was drafted. He was a fourth-round pick out of Alabama.
“They definitely get after you,” Packers nickel defender Micah Hyde said. “I don’t think anyone’s really paying attention to undrafteds. Once you’re in the NFL and in the playoffs, all that stuff is out the window. They obviously know what they’re doing. To us, they stick out on film. They don’t drop many passes and they’ll catch a short ball and take it to the house and they like to block.”
To Hyde’s point, the Seahawks dropped 16 passes — second-fewest in the league, according to STATS. Baldwin (5-foot-10) led the team with 66 receptions for 825 yards and three scores. Kearse (6-1) caught 38 passes for 537 yards and one touchdown. Lockette (6-2) caught 11 balls, Norwood (6-2) nine, Bryan Walters (6-0) six and Chris Matthews (6-5) one. Of the six, only Baldwin and Norwood haven’t been released at one point in their careers.
“We've always looked for unique qualities,” Carroll said. “Receivers come in all shapes and sizes. They all can have their own style and all of that. We're just trying to find guys that we thought would really battle and be tough and compete the way we wanted them to. That is kind of how we look at it in general, and it applies maybe a little more clearly in the receiver position, when you get guys that can be from the small, fast guys, to the tall guys and all of that. But it's always been about the competitiveness first, is what we're looking for, then we'll figure out what their talents are.”
Tight end Luke Willson, a fifth-round pick last year who played baseball in the Blue Jays’ organization, caught 22 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns. One of those was an 80-yarder against Arizona in Week 16.
“He's gotten downfield and caused some problems for opponents — big plays, because he's a big, fast kid,” Carroll said. “He can really get downfield and stretch it out, and Russell has a great sense for him now.”
— The Seahawks have won eight consecutive home playoff games and are 10-2 all-time at home in the postseason. That .833 winning percentage is the best in NFL history. The Packers, on the other hand, have earned a league-high 10 postseason road victories.
If Seattle can extend that home streak to nine, it will become the 12th team in NFL history to reach a Super Bowl after winning it all the previous season. The Patriots were the last, with their back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004. Amazingly, over the past decade, Seattle is the only defending Super Bowl champion to have reached the Final Four.
Working in Green Bay’s favor is history. When Seattle beat San Francisco for the NFC title last season, it broke a three-game winning streak for the road team. Green Bay won at Chicago in 2010, the Giants won at San Francisco in 2011 and San Francisco won at Atlanta in 2012.
— Each of the last seven NFC title games has been decided by seven points or less, including overtime games in 2007, 2009 and 2011. What does that mean for Sunday? The Packers are 6-0 in games decided by seven or less this season, including last week’s playoff win over Dallas. The Seahawks went just 3-3 in close games, with the losses being 30-23 at home to Dallas, 28-26 at St. Louis and 24-20 at Kansas City. They did, however, go 2-0 at home in close games, including 26-20 over Denver in overtime in Week 3.
— The Packers are 7.5-point underdogs against the Seahawks. According to OddsShark.com, there have been 12 conference championship games that had a favorite of at least seven points since 1998. Interestingly, the underdog is 5-7 straight-up in those games. The last touchdown-underdog to win? The Giants were seven-point dogs when they beat the Packers for the 2007 championship.
Seattle has won eight in row as a playoff favorite; the Packers are 2-6 as a playoff underdog since 1996. The wins came at Philadelphia and at Atlanta in the 2010 playoffs.
— The Packers played at Seattle, Detroit and Buffalo this season. Those teams finished first, third and fourth in points allowed. Green Bay went 0-3 in those games and was outscored 76-36.
The Seahawks faced the Packers, Broncos, Eagles and Cowboys. Those teams finished first, second, third and finish in scoring. Seattle went 3-1 and scored those teams 109-80.
— Never mind Sunday’s game for a minute. What about the what-if game?
What if Jordy Nelson hadn’t dropped a likely touchdown pass at Buffalo? What if Rodgers had seen a wide-open Nelson rather than being intercepted on a pass to Randall Cobb later in that game? What if Lacy hadn’t fumbled on the opening series at Detroit, a miscue that was returned for a touchdown? What if Rodgers had stayed healthy at New Orleans?
If the Packers would have won any of those games, they would be hosting the Seahawks. For both teams, there’s no place like home. Green Bay, of course, went 9-0 at Lambeau Field this season. The Seahawks have the league’s best homefield advantage. They’ve won 25 of their last 27 at CenturyLink Field, with their 7-1 mark this season including a 20-point win over the Packers in Week 1. Over the past three regular seasons, Seattle and Denver are a league-best 22-2 at home. Seattle has the second-best point differential (plus-382), most takeaways (55) and best turnover ratio (plus-30).
— For his career, Wilson has completed 73.9 percent of his third-down passes in postseason play. Since STATS began tracking that date in 1991, that’s the best ever. He went 8-for-8 on third down against Carolina.
“Russell is a really smart guy,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “That’s one of the things that jumps out at you when you immediately see him on film. To be a guy that young, to be that smart and savvy, that doesn’t come around too often. He has the ability, he has the tools to be pretty much do whatever. Obviously he’s grown over the years and he continues to grow in that offense.”
— The Packers and Seahawks rightfully are playing for the NFC Championship because they’ve been elite teams for most of the season. And chances are, they’ll be back on this stage again. According to the Seahawks’ pregame release, Green Bay fielded the fourth-youngest roster at season’s end with an average age of 26 years, 136 days.
“It’s been a loose and confident bunch this week,” Rodgers said. “That’s kind of how we’ve been. It’s a tight-knit group. We’re excited to still be playing. Excited about the opportunity in front of us. A lot of guys who weren’t a part of that run in 2010, so don’t really know how special it is, and they want to taste that, so it’s a fun time of the year to still be playing and I’m excited about our guys, excited about the focus that we’ve had this week. Everybody knows the test in front of us, and what lies after that if we can come away with the win.”
Seattle has the ninth-youngest team at 26 years, 210 days. The defense is especially young, with Chancellor and Thomas being the elder statesmen as fifth-year pros.
“I don't think there is a ceiling, because a lot of our guys are 23, 24, 25,” Wagner said. “We're not even close to 30 yet. So we're still relatively young. We've still got a lot of room to grow. We feel like we're still good players but we can still get better at and still have room to grow. We feel like if we make those improvements, it could really be scary.”
— If 100 is the magic number for single-game passer rating, then Rodgers and Wilson are the equivalent of Houdini. Rodgers has had a 100-plus rating a league-high 62 times in his 103 starts since taking over as the starter in 2008. The Packers are 52-10 in those games. Wilson has a rating of 100-plus in 28 of 54 starts. The Seahawks are 21-3 in those games.
— Legacies are on the line.
The NFL will crown its 49th Super Bowl champion in a little more than two weeks. Only 11 starting quarterbacks have won two of them. Only 13 coaches have hoisted a pair of Lombardi Trophies.
“Yeah, it does. It definitely does,” Rodgers said when asked if that legacy ever occupies his thoughts. “Something you think about in the offseason. You know, I entered this season thinking about half of my career potentially being done and liking to play another six, seven, eight, nine years. You’d like to win a couple more because that’s when you really kind of cement your legacy and do something really special. You look at some of the stuff we’ve done this fall. Re-signed Ted (Thompson), re-signing Mike, it’s set up to really do something special. The three of us working the majority of our careers together. It would be great to add a couple more trophies.”
No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since New England in 2003 and 2004. Not that “repeat” is in the Seahawks’ vocabulary.
“Definitely not,” Wright said. “The words allowed in the locker room are ‘1-0’ That’s all we preach. Coach Carroll says it all the time. Russell says it all the time. We don’t look that far ahead of ourselves. If you look that far, you miss what’s in front of you. We focus on the present, man. We just worry about our next opponent. If we look too far ahead of ourselves, we might overlook something.”
— The Packers are a picture of health — Rodgers’ calf notwithstanding. Of a total of 85 games for the offensive line, the starting five has lined up for 84 of them. Rodgers, Lacy and the receivers have played all 17 games. So, too, has Matthews, Peppers, Daniels and Williams among the key defenders.
That health has paid big dividends. That’s especially true up front, which Quinn noted in discussing the Packers’ improved running game.
“Oftentimes when you’re playing your best at the end – it’s that continuity that you have when you’re playing together,” he said. “Those guys have been fortunate from an injury standpoint where they’ve stayed healthy and now 10, 12, 14 games into it. That communication is really important and their line is certainly playing well and that’s a big part of it.”
Meanwhile, the Seahawks have 17 players on injured reserve. Many of them are backups but they’ve been hit hard at defensive tackle, with starters Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill on IR. Tight end Zach Miller and fullback Derrick Coleman are on IR, too. They’ve gone through four starting centers and Wagner missed five games at midseason.
— Kearse’s 129-yard game against Carolina last week, which included a 63-yard touchdown, is the most by any receiver in this year’s playoffs. Davante Adams’ 117 yards last week against Dallas is tied for the second-most yards.
“They threw him the ball and he caught it. That's pretty much all I saw,” an unimpressed Sherman said matter-of-factly.
Can Adams do it again? The brief history suggests he won’t. After catching five passes for 50 yards against the Jets in Week 2, he caught two passes for 11 yards at Detroit. After catching six passes for 77 yards against Miami in Week 6, he caught one pass for 21 yards and a touchdown vs. Carolina. And after catching six passes for 121 yards against New England, he caught one pass for 6 yards vs. Atlanta and just four passes for 29 yards over the final four games combined.
— In what could be a close game, this is where the Packers have a big edge. In the red zone, Green Bay ranked 10th on offense with a touchdown rate of 57.8 percent. Seattle ranked a stunning 26th on defense as opponents scored touchdowns 59.5 percent of the time. A four-point swing could be a major difference.
Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels, on what’s changed on defense: “We've got some attitude. We flat-out didn't come to play last time. We've got Sam Barrington there in the middle. He's going to thump you. After he thumps you, he's going to tell you thumped you. HaHa (Clinton-Dix) does the same thing. Letroy (Guion), the last time we played up there, that was his fourth time in pads. The guy missed all of camp. He was hurt. He's been playing a lot of good football since then. Those are just amongst some other things, obviously. Clay (Matthews) is playing at that level that Clay Matthews plays at. Julius (Peppers), he's like wine, man, he's getting better with age. I'm looking forward to getting up there.”