The Green Bay Packers are favored heading into Sunday’s Divisional Playoff matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, but they’ll need to bring everything they’ve got to advance to the NFC Championship. How can they do it? We asked our writers for their strategies. Here’s what they had to say.
Jon Meerdink - Pressure Russell Wilson without blitzing
The Packers defense is much improved this year, but they’ve feasted down the stretch on quarterbacks that could be charitably described as “lower tier.” Russell Wilson is decidedly not a lower tier quarterback; the Packers have a tall task ahead to stop him. I think that strategy involves getting as many bodies downfield as possible.
Trying to affect Wilson as a passer with the blitz seems foolish. He’s too smart and savvy to be really affected by Mike Pettine’s exotic blitzes. He showed as much in the Packers/Seahawks matchup last season.
Mike Pettine’s 3rd down pressure scheme caused lots of problems for young QBs... Lots of post snap movement— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) June 24, 2019
But some of the vets (Stafford and Russell Wilson here) beat the blitz with their arms. Gotta have plans for them in 2019... They can ‘post snap process’ as good as anyone pic.twitter.com/tTnrBi4WJr
Pettine has been less likely to blitz this year anyway, so to get to Wilson while maximizing coverage, the Packers will have to beat the Seahawks rushing as few as possible. The Smiths and Kenny Clark seem prepared for the task, and Seattle’s offensive line hardly inspires overwhelming confidence. If the Packers are to slow Wilson, this is the way.
Evan “Tex” Western - Find a way to minimize Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright
I feel really good about how the Packers’ defense matches up with Seattle’s offense. The Smiths should be able to pressure Russell Wilson, who took 48 sacks in the regular season and who will be missing a few key offensive linemen in front of him. Play two high safeties, dare the Seahawks to run the ball, and spy Wilson; do that and they should be able to hold Seattle under 20 points.
My concern is about the Packers’ offense getting significant traction on Seattle’s defense, and my specific concern relates to their exceptional linebackers. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are as good as they come, and they are probably the two best players on that unit. I believe in the Packers’ line’s ability to hold up against Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed up front, but getting to the second level in the run game to keep Wagner and Wright from making plays will be critical to the Packers’ ability to run the football.
Both are excellent in coverage as well, so the Packers must find ways to attack them with physical mismatches (Aaron Jones and Tyler Ervin perhaps?). In addition, getting them away from the play’s intended receiver will be important as well. If Matt LaFleur can roll out some creative route concepts like those that sprung receivers open in Detroit, the passing game should flourish.
If the Seahawks win, I’m certain that it will be in large part due to the play of their linebackers. They must be the focus for LaFleur, Nathaniel Hackett, and Aaron Rodgers in the game plan and on Sunday evening.
Mike Vieth - Contain the Seahawks passing game
The Packers and Seahawks have had some epic playoff games over the years. From the Al Harris winning pick six after Matt Hasselbeck saying, “We want the ball and we’re going to score,” to the Bradon Bostick botched onside kick. The biggest thing from those games was that both teams were pretty even as far as overall team performance and coaching with one play deciding the game.
This season would be similar except for the fact on injuries. The Packers have been fortunate all season where no major injuries have carried over into the playoffs. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have been crushed. They’ve lost numerous starters including their top three running backs, Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and CJ Prosise. That will have a huge impact on the game.
The Seahawks had to bring in Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin to fill the void along with the lone roster healthy running back, Travis Homer. While Lynch and Turbin have had overall success in the past, since they’ve been back, they haven’t provided much of a spark. Turbin hasn’t even recorded a rush yet while Lynch has only topped out at 41 yards over two games. Lynch has scored two touchdowns but both were from inside the five yard line. Homer has had the most success over the two games but combined he has only rushed for 74 yards and zero touchdowns.
So, the running game doesn’t scare me but the man that does is Russell Wilson. He has a knack for making great plays on a regular basis and he has a pair of receivers that seem to be coming into their own. Big time return man, Tyler Lockett is a consistent deep threat that always needs to be monitored. I’d expect Kevin King to be locked onto Lockett with some help coming from the safety position.
On the other side, Wilson has emerging star DK Metcalf. Metcalf had a huge game against the Eagles and keeps getting better each week. After all the injuries, he has become Wilson’s top target and should get to know Jaire Alexander pretty well on Sunday. I’m sure Alexander will get some help from the safeties from time to time but could be one-on-one for a good part of the game.
Seattle has Jacob Hollister filling in at tight end for the injured WIll Dissly and Ed Dickson. While he is decent, I don’t expect him to be much of a threat and should be able to be contained by a linebacker or one of the safeties from time to time. These will all be fascinating matchups that will have the biggest impact on the game.
If Alexander and King can keep making plays like they have all year, the Packers should be in good shape. Wilson and company will get some yards and make a play here and there but the Packers just can’t let the big play bite them. If they can keep Wilson under 250 yards and not let Metcalf or Lockett run up the stats, we should have a good chance at advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
Paul Noonan - Don’t screw up
Every Seahawks game is kind of the same. They run the ball too much like morons, keep their opponents in the game, get desperate, and then Russell Wilson goes out and wins it. The key to beating them is to understand that this game is essentially a Mario Kart race. The more you’re up, the more Russell will snap into action and bring them back. If you have a lead and try to sit on it, you will absolutely lose.
If you actually grasp this and keep putting up points, and don’t screw up, you’ll be fine. The Seahawks feast on opposing mistakes and improvisational nonsense. They really only beat you in crushing, demoralizing ways. The good news is you control many of the factors that allow upsets to happen, and with some discipline, can avoid them. That’s also the bad news.
Peter Bukowski - Don’t get beat deep
This dovetails with Paul’s point. If the Packers don’t give up big plays, a problem for them much of the season, the Seahawks are only marginally better at avoiding three-and-outs than the Packers at 23rd in the league. Russell Wilson is a magician, but his magic comes out on deep shots where he has two shot-play killers to go with the best deep ball thrower in football.
Green Bay can rush four and create pressure to mitigate this play and with the top two running backs out for Seattle, Mike Pettine can play two deep safeties and not worry too much about getting killed in the run game. I love the match up overall here, but the Seahawks can flip this game with big plays. If the defense doesn’t give them up, they win by 10+