With the Green Bay Packers' second game (and second win) of the season now in the books, it's time for us at APC to put our heads together and give you our individual reactions to the 27-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Yes, Jayrone Elliott is a popular topic of discussion, but several of us credited coaches on both sides of the ball for their efforts in helping the Packers emerge with a win. Also, since nobody mentioned special teams coordinator Ron Zook, he deserves to get a little credit as well for his units keeping dangerous return man Tyler Lockett in check.
Here's what we thought of Sunday night's win.
Whew. I think the biggest emotion I feel right now is relief. Relief that the Packers made a 4th-quarter stop against Seattle, relief that the offense functioned (at least at times) without Bryan Bulaga, Eddie Lacy, and a fully-healthy Davante Adams, and relief that finally we will stop hearing about last January's NFC Championship.
All told, the key to the game in my opinion was three-fold. First, the offensive adjustments that Mike McCarthy, Tom Clements, and the Packers' coaches made in the fourth quarter had a huge impact. Leaving the running backs off the field and going with the group of Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Jones, and Richard Rodgers spread out the Seahawks in a way that they could not handle, and Rodgers' pinpoint passing to the slot receivers was critical.
Third, the blocking schemes used by the Packers up front helped keep Aaron Rodgers clean despite the struggles of David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay. Though they both allowed plenty of pressure, they almost invariably diverted it deep into the pocket. The middle was kept clean by Sitton, Linsley, and Lang, allowing Rodgers to step up in the pocket all night long and have both throwing lanes and running alleys to work with. That was a clear game-planning tactic by the Packers and their coaching staff, and it ended up being a key to the offense.
The final key is just one name: Jayrone Elliott. The second-year linebacker played great in the fourth quarter, making a great interception (after breaking off his rush when he diagnosed the screen pass in his direction) and forcing the game-sealing fumble when trailing Fred Jackson with 30 seconds left. The Seahawks looked like they were about to tie the game before the pick, and were moving comfortably (if a little rushed and running out of time) before the second. My game ball goes to the former Toledo Rocket, for sure.
At full strength, there may not be a team in the NFL as talented as the Seahawks. However, this Seattle roster lacks several important players, none more important than All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor. The Seahawks didn't help themselves by losing their composure, with defensive end Michael Bennett and cornerback Richard Sherman getting flagged for all manner of infractions. The Packers played well enough to win regardless, but their opponent made things considerably easier.
While most of the post-game discussion will focus on the Green Bay revenge angle, Dom Capers' masterful performance shouldn't get short shrift. The Packers' defensive coordinator designed a game plan that effectively neutralized Marshawn Lynch (15 carries for 41 yards) and limited the number of big passing plays. The defense even adjusted to the read option, long Green Bay's Achilles heel. The Packers may have poor defensive performances later this season, but Capers can still produce some magic against top competition.
I picked Seattle to win this game because I thought Green Bay's defense would struggle, but I was wrong. It turned out to be the other way around.
Jay Elliott was the star of the night, creating two turnovers for the Packers defense, with the second one coming when they needed it the most. The defensive line showed up in a big way against the Seahawks' offensive unit, holding Marshawn Lynch to just 41 yards. They played with much higher intensity after letting Matt Forte carve them up Week 1.
And then the Packers secondary held tight end Jimmy Graham to just two pass targets, and outside of Doug Baldwin (seven catches, 92 yards), nobody on the Seahawks gained over 36 receiving yards. Although Russell Wilson had success on the ground, they forced him to use his feet by taking away his downfield options.
I think B.J. Raji had the best performance of all players on defense. He was great, owning Seahawks center Drew Nowak in running and passing situations, and helped eliminate cut-back lanes for Lynch. Raji's is off to a really good start.
The performance by the defense was the highlight of the win for me.
We hear all the time about how difficult it is to sustain the same intensity that got you to the top after you get there, and I think it's pretty clear now that the Seahawks just don't have it anymore. And that's not really a shot at them, either. Between shifting locker room dynamics (which, there seem to be plenty of in Seattle), guys finally getting paid, the coach's rah-rah words running out of steam, or just plain exhaustion, there are plenty of reasons a team can run out of juice. For me, that was the big story of last night.
In a way, maybe I should have seen this coming. Even in last year's NFC Championship Game, Seattle wasn't the same bully they'd been in the last few matchups. And last night, they did what all bullies do once they finally get hit back - they lose their composure. That Seattle resorted to dirty play once they realized they couldn't impose their physicality anymore though shouldn't be a surprise. While I respect them greatly, this is a team that isn't exactly known for their even-keel demeanors. Which of course, played perfectly into what might - along with maybe the Patriots - be the steadiest team in the league: the Green Bay Packers.
Aaron Rodgers' brilliance (and mobility, this time) along with good game plans on both sides of the ball (side note: I thought Tom Clements' resorting to a dink-and-dunk style of play toward the end was masterful and exhibited the kind of in-game flexibility that McCarthy rarely showed) led to the Packers simply out-classing the Seahawks. But even though the Packers were clearly the better team, I couldn't help but think of a movie I saw earlier in the day - Everest. I won't spoil it, but the lesson of the movie now seems like a perfect analogy for what seems to be happening to the Seahawks. That is, the way up is never the hard part. It's the way down.
It's never easy against "tough defenses," as they almost dare officials to make it a flag fest. The Seahawk defense is tough, but not quite as good as it was last year (for now), and once the Packer offense sussed out its weaknesses it was able to move with great efficiency behind the powerful running of James Starks and the clutch physical receiving of Richard Rodgers. Ty Montgomery even chipped in, also powerfully.
Down several star players, the win was almost miraculous. Don Barclay was nothing short of spectacular, and what else is there to say about Jayrone Elliott? Heroes, all of them. The Packers continue to have an underrated coaching staff, and while they can, like all coaching staffs, baffle at times, few are better at dissecting their opponents and putting number 12 to work with the scalpel.
I don't want to over-analyze this one too much. The Seahawks are loathed and deservedly so. In the majority of alternate universes, the Fail Mary and Bostick never happened and announcers are talking about how the Packers "have their number". In this one we'll settle for finally taking it to those jerks. Let's savor the day.
The Packers managed to lay to rest every concern I had leading into this game. The run defense made all the right adjustments necessary from Week 1 and shut down one of the most dominant run games in the league. They bottled up Lynch and when Seattle tried switching to the read option, they adjusted to limit its effectiveness. Dom Capers deserves a lot of praise for the defensive effort in this game.
On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers does so many great things so often that I have nearly become immune to it. His command of a beaten and battered offense is just what they needed to limit Seattle's chances of gaining any momentum. James Starks and Ty Montgomery stepped up when called on, and Don Barclay must have done what was asked of him because we never heard his name get called.
All in all, a very satisfying win. Seattle may not be the same team as the last two years, but the Packers cleared a huge hurdle regardless with the win. I imagine the confidence they gained will only help them the rest of the way.