Packers vs. Seahawks: Keys to the game

Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck hasn't played since Week 7. Green Bay's Brett Favre was knocked out of last week's game. Their performances will help decide the outcome of tonight's matchup in Seattle.

There are no shortage of storylines for tonight's game at Seattle.

Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren, on the same field for perhaps the last time.

Quarterbacks Favre and Matt Hasselbeck, coming off injuries.

Ahman Green and Marquand Manuel, returning to Seattle.

The Seahawks and Packers, two teams coming off disappointing losses.

Who will win? Here are this week's keys to the game.

Defense vs. Hasselbeck

Hasselbeck, with an injured knee, hasn't played since the Week 7 loss to Minnesota. Likely, he'll have to fight through some rust before he gets into a groove.

"Once I get going and once I break a sweat, it relaxes, and then I kind of forget it's there," Hasselbeck said of the protective brace he'll be wearing.

The challenge for the Packers' woeful pass defense is to keep the Pro Bowl quarterback from getting into that groove. The pass rush must reappear after a one-game hiatus last week. The Packers probably like their chances of accomplishing that goal. Seattle has allowed the fifth-most sacks in the league (34), and Green Bay has the fourth-most sacks (33).

The secondary breakdowns must disappear, because nothing will get Hasselbeck back into a comfort level faster than connecting for a big gain. The Packers have given up big gainers the last three weeks. They can't afford to make it four in a row.

Remember how to run

Remember when the much-hyped zone running scheme appeared to have found its traction, with Ahman Green playing like he was younger and the offensive line playing like it was older?

Then the last two weeks struck, and Green Bay's running game fizzled. In the last two games, Green has carried 35 times for 83 yards.

The Packers must find their running game this week, for two major reasons. One, Favre played poorly last week before getting injured. The Packers don't want him to have to throw the ball 40 times. Second, the Packers were abysmal last week on third downs, and a good running game is the difference between third-and-3 and third-and-8.

The Packers no doubt are optimistic after watching a week's worth of film. Last week, San Francisco's Frank Gore rushed for 212 yards in the 49ers' upset win, and the Seahawks are allowing a porous 4.5 yards per rush on the season.

"As long as we stick with the run, even if we're not able to accumulate a huge number of yards with it, it keeps the defense honest," center Scott Wells said. "It keeps us a two-dimensional offense, and it opens up plays in the passing game."

The tackles' pass blocking

A successful running game will be critical for Green Bay, because the Packers will have some problems against Seattle's pass rush, and Seattle definitely will want to attack and test Favre.

Left tackle Chad Clifton aggravated a hamstring during practice this week. His matchup with defensive end Grant Wistrom, not to mention his ability to handle the blitzes of speedy outside linebacker Julian Peterson — who has a team-high eight sacks — is a big one.

On the other side, rookie Tony Moll will make his second straight start in place of Mark Tauscher at right tackle. Expect the Seahawks to test his ability to pick up blitzes and stunts.

The noise factor

Seattle's Qwest Field, which opened for business in 2002, is perhaps the NFL's loudest venue. And that's perhaps the biggest reason of all why Green Bay must be able to run the ball.

A loud crowd is bad news for an offensive line, especially on passing downs, when the tackles have to look in toward the ball to see the snap. That slows them down for a split second, and that could be the difference between a successful pass block or Favre getting hit. An antsy offensive line often commits false-start penalties. Last year, the Giants committed an unheard of 11 such infractions.

The Packers successfully hushed the Vikings' crowd in the Metrodome two weeks ago. They did it by playing well early, running just well enough to prevent the Vikings from teeing off on Favre, and by consistently converting third downs.

"It won't be a factor if we jump up on them early and take the crowd out of the game," tight end Bubba Franks said.

Hodge vs. Holmgren

Big-hitting rookie Abdul Hodge opened plenty of eyes during training camp, and there was talk the Packers should give him a shot as the starting middle linebacker. Well, Hodge gets his chance tonight, with Nick Barnett unable to play with a broken hand.

The knock on Hodge during training camp and the preseason was his ability to play the pass. Holmgren, a passing game guru, no doubt will test Hodge early and often by isolating running backs and tight ends against Hodge and sending receivers across the middle on crossing routes.

How Hodge handles all of this — along with dealing with the nerves of his first NFL start and being the defense's quarterback — will go a long way toward determining how successful the Packers will be in slowing Seattle's potent offense.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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