RT Justin Britt/Alvin Bailey vs Julius Peppers
In the Week One win in Seattle, the Seahawks rushed for 207 yards and allowed just 80. Britt was a big part of that success, earning the second-highest grade among Seattle's linemen (behind Max Unger) according to Pro Football Focus. Britt's performance was exciting given that it came in the first regular season start of his career and that he was often tasked with slowing Julius Peppers, the 8-time Pro Bowler.
Of course, it was also the first start (of sorts) for Peppers. The 34-year old signed with Green Bay after a mostly disappointing tour in Chicago that led some to question what he had left in the tank. He was being asked to play in space and in the two-point stance at outside linebacker rather than defensive end, where he'd starred dating back to college. He recorded four tackles and registered a hit on Russell Wilson but wasn't a significant factor in the game.
As he's become more comfortable in Dom Capers' defense, however, Peppers has added bite to Green Bay's pass rush, forming the dramatic one-two punch with Clay Matthews that the Packers envisioned when signing him. Dez Bryant's controversial non-catch was deservedly the most talked-about snap in the Packers' win over Dallas last week but Peppers' strip forced fumble of DeMarco Murray was arguably the play of the game. As noted earlier this week by Bill Huber of PackersInsider.com, it was Peppers' 10th turnover-producing play of the year.
Peppers is particularly troubling for Seattle because Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson have each had the ball knocked free from them on similar plays this season. Further, while Lynch and Wilson are two of the best at making defenders miss with subtle leans and fakes, because of his long arms and strong hands, Pepper is often able to reach out and trip up ball-carriers even when the rest of his body is falling away.
Peppers is remarkably athletic for his 6-7, 287 pound frame and his greater comfort in Green Bay's defense makes him the key defender Seattle must contain regardless of who lines up at right tackle. Britt, 6-6, 325 pounds, has been Seattle's starter all year long and is therefore obviously preferred. He suffered a knee injury against Carolina and will be a game-time decision, however. If Britt is unable to play, Alvin Bailey will get the nod. Bailey has more of a traditional guard's frame at a listed 6-3, 320 pounds but he's balanced and surprisingly light on his feet, as he proved in stepping in for left tackle Russell Okung and left guard James Carpenter when they injured earlier in the year. Bailey has experience playing on the right side dating back to his college days at Arkansas.
Anything short of constant pressure or a forced turnover by Peppers would be a significant achievement for Seattle's right tackle (whoever he is) and very likely will result in a Seahawks win.
WR Randall Cobb vs. CB Jeremy Lane/Byron Maxwell
If Peppers is the defender Seattle must focus on, Cobb could be the target on offense and special teams. The 5-10, 192 pound Cobb has a game similar to former Seahawk Golden Tate, using a combination of natural elusiveness, strength to break tackles and good acceleration to generate chunk yardage. Cobb lines up in the slot, outside, in the backfield and split time with Micah Hyde as the Green Bay's punt returner. He caught eight passes for 116 yards last week against Dallas - the third time in the Green Bay's last four games in which he's been targeted by Aaron Rodgers on at least 11 passes.
In the Week One win, Lane and Marcus Burley most often lined up against Cobb. Lane is likely to draw Cobb again. The 6-0, 190 pound Lane is Seattle's quickest corner. He's highly aggressive, which has earned him a few penalty flags, but his physicality and competitiveness makes him very effective at nickel corner.
Maxwell has also performed well when asked to slide inside. After missing virtually every snap a week ago with illness, he's expected to be back in the starting lineup against the Packers. Tharold Simon struggled against the 6-5, 240 pound Kelvin Benjamin last week in Maxwell's place but he could be called upon this week depending on how often Green Bay shifts to a four receiver set. Cobb and Jordy Nelson deserve all of the attention they receive but rookies Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers have emerged as cheaper, younger, healthier replacements for James Jones and Jermichael Finley in Green Bay's offense.
Between the game's most accurate passer in Rodgers, a bowling ball of butcher knives in Eddie Lacy and their terrific pass-catchers, the Packers boast the most formidable offense the Seahawks have seen in at least two years.
C Corey Linsley vs. DT Michael Bennett
The key to controlling the explosive Green Bay offense is pressuring Rodgers. The Seahawks won't be able to do that without first slowing down Lacy, so that remains the clear top priority. With the obvious stated, let's shift to where Seattle has a significant advantage - inside with Bennett (and perhaps delayed blitzers and looping defensive ends) lining up against Linsley.
Bruce Irvin famously told reporters prior to the season-opener that he would "pray" for Linsley, a fifth round pick out of Ohio State who was pressed into duty when J.C. Tretter fractured his left knee during the preseason. Linsley quietly performed well against the Seahawks in Week One and has outplayed his draft status since, starting every game for Green Bay and earning the No. 5 overall grade among center by Pro Football Focus.
For as good as he was during the regular season, Linsley struggled last week against Dallas. His premature snap to Aaron Rodgers resulted in the game's first turnover and he gave up a sack on a stunt by edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence in the second quarter, as well. Nose guard Kevin Williams will line up often against Linsley and is quick enough to give Green Bay's rookie problems, himself. Bennett, however, could be the key inside - though not necessarily in the way you might be thinking.
Fans want to see sacks. The Seahawks, however, believe that forcing a quarterback to reset his feet is very nearly as good. Between the raucous home crowd and the speed off the edge that Cliff Avril, Irvin and O'Brien Schofield provide, Rodgers will likely often have to step up in the pocket to deliver passes. Though his mobility was clearly limited in the victory over Dallas last week, Rodgers showed no hesitancy in doing precisely this, throwing strikes for scores.
If Bennett and Co. are undisciplined with their rush lanes, Rodgers will have opportunities to slip by and see the field as clearly as he did against Dallas. Because of his extraordinary accuracy even on the move, this is a recipe for disaster from a Seahawks' perspective.
Rather than haphazardly rushing upfield to Rodgers, the Seahawks' interior defenders should be looking to slide laterally off their blocks.
That's because if Seattle's defensive speed and crowd is dictating the action as it hopes, Rodgers will be coming to them on his own.
Seahawks vs. Packers: Three Key Matchups
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