After four weeks of preseason and final cuts, Green Bay still has several questions to answer ahead of week one. Here are a few of them.
If Bryan Bulaga doesn’t suit up, who will be the right tackle?
The Packers decided to keep 10 offensive linemen on the final roster (nine now that Don Barclay has gone to injured reserve), and that depth will be tested if Bulaga isn’t ready for action with an ankle injury that’s kept him out of practice for a week and a half. It’s no secret that the Seattle Seahawks are an aggressive pass rushing team, boasting impact players such as Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and the recently acquired Sheldon Richardson.
Although the rest of the line is intact, Green Bay would have a big decision to make at right tackle in Bulaga’s absence. Although Jason Spriggs was considered to be the best swing tackle option on the roster last season, fellow 2016 draft pick Kyle Murphy performed more consistently during the preseason on the right side. The concern with Murphy of course is his lack of NFL regular season experience and throwing him into the fire against Seattle would be worrisome. But with the pass protection he showed in camp, Murphy is the probable fill-in if Bulaga can’t play.
Green Bay’s defense was disruptive against Seattle last season. Can they do it again?
For a defense that struggled mightily over the course of the 2016 season, the Packers had a breakout performance against the Seahawks that catapulted the whole team for the remainder of the season.
The Packers’ defense pressured Russell Wilson all game long, totaling three sacks and five interceptions in what may have been Wilson’s worst game as a pro. The Seahawks had an offensive line that was ranked dead last in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus and doesn’t figure to be overwhelmingly better in 2017. While center Justin Britt graded out as both the team’s best pass and run blocker, the rest of the offensive line has been shuffled around. Mark Glowinski is moving from left to right guard, Germain Ifedi is going from right guard to right tackle, and relative newcomer Luke Joeckel is shifting from a career at left tackle to one at left guard. If Green Bay can get a healthy Nick Perry and Dean Lowry back from injury, the Packers can capitalize on one of Seattle’s biggest weaknesses.
Ty Montgomery is the starting running back, but will they miss the guy on the other side?
Throughout the preseason, Montgomery showed flashes of being a true weapon out of the backfield. Having been a receiver, his hands are elite for the position and the ability to use him on swing passes, screens, and check downs across the middle should only add to the weapons Green Bay has on offense. Montgomery still has a bit to prove as a pass blocker, but he has shown he has enough power to run between the tackles. He’s faster, but not as powerful as new Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy, and Green Bay may miss that dimension in the early part of the season.
Fourth round pick Jamaal Williams was expected to be the change of pace bruiser when he was drafted in April, but he didn’t display as many signs of that trait in preseason as his college tape suggested. Although Lacy is lost in a crowded backfield of Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise in Seattle, Green Bay may miss that physical dimension on short yardage downs.
Will Green Bay’s new packages on defense contain Seattle’s tight ends?
The Packers experimented last season with safeties Morgan Burnett and Kentrell Brice in a linebacker role. The “Nitro” and “Sooner” packages offer Green Bay the flexibility to be faster and more athletic at the linebacker position on passing downs, while maintaining the physicality needed in run support. The Packers also added second round pick Josh Jones in hopes that he could add more depth, creativity, and playmaking to this role.
A common theme for the Packers’ defense over the past several seasons has been allowing the opposing tight end to run rampant in the middle of the field, especially on third downs. Players like Martellus Bennett, Delanie Walker, and Jordan Reed have had their way against Green Bay’s defense in the past and the Packers’ secondary will be tested again with Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson on Sunday. Graham is coming off a bounce-back season in which he nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving. Willson continues to be a reliable second tight end receiving option, though he hasn’t regained the same production as he did in a 40-catch season two years ago. Green Bay’s safeties, as well as linebacker Joe Thomas, must be up to the task in shutting down the duo or it could be a long day for the defense.
Can the Packers win the special teams battle?
Without going into too much historical context, special teams blunders have cost the Packers against the Seahawks in the past. Seattle wide receiver Tyler Lockett is a deadly returner, but has not played since suffering a broken leg last December. Yet, Lockett is expected to be ready for week one and poses a challenge for the Green Bay coverage units.
For the Packers, Trevor Davis is expected to be the punt return man and his struggles with cleanly catching punts have been well-documented. However, Davis has shown lightning potential with the ball in his hands if he can keep it there. Against a tough Seattle defense, even one stellar special teams play could pull the Packers to a win. Mason Crosby has been solid this preseason once again, but will they get consistent field position help from Davis and new punter Justin Vogel?