The Green Bay Packers face a substantial uphill battle this week, traveling two time zones over on a ridiculously short week, to play in one of the NFL’s most hostile environments against an underrated and dangerous Seattle team. The Packers have, more often than not, played very well against Seattle, but they’ve also suffered some of the most crushing defeats in recent history despite playing well — due to bad luck and referee incompetence. Nothing is ever as it seems with Seattle, and if the Packers are going to win, they need to do the following things well.
1. Beat up Wilson
The Packers have actually done a good job bottling up Wilson in recent years, and it was Wilson, along with Colin Kaerpernick when he was a 49er, who led to the wildly successful experiment of using Clay Matthews at inside linebacker. Once former defensive coordinator Dom Capers made that switch, Wilson’s mobility became much less of an issue, and the Packers mostly kept him in check.
Mobile quarterbacks like Wilson (and Aaron Rodgers) can sometimes burn you with their feet, but because they also tend to hold the ball longer, they take a lot of sacks. Wilson has taken a ton of them this year, ranking 4th in the league at 29, and they tend to be big sacks as he’s 2nd-worst in the league (behind only Eli Manning) with 204 yards lost on those sacks. (Aaron Rodgers is 3rd at 186 yards lost.) In any case, it’s clear that hitting Wilson is effective as the Seahawks are 0-4 when he is sacked 4 or more times, and 4-1 when sacked 2 or fewer times. (Yes, there is some selection bias here. More on that in point 2.)
The Packer pass rush has been fierce under Mike Pettine, even with terrible outside linebacker play, and while his blitzes sometimes put his defensive backs in tough spots, they’ve generally worked, especially on 3rd down. The Packers currently lead the league in sacks, and this is one area where they have a distinct advantage against Seattle as the Seahawks’ pass rush is tied for 18th.
2. Get ahead/make them pass-heavy
In order to sack Wilson, you need to make him throw the ball (which is one of the reasons he is sacked more in losses), and you can’t do that if you are trailing. The Packers and Seahawks mirror each other defensively in that they are quite good against the pass (Seattle ranks 6th per DVOA, Green Bay ranks 9th), but awful against the run (20th, and 26th respectively). In addition to the running threat Wilson provides, Seattle features several promising backs, lead by Chris Carson (4.5 yards per carry, 10, yards per catch) and rookie Rashaad Penny, who has come on strong lately, upping his average to 4.7 yards per carry and proving to be a deft receiver in his own right.
Pettine’s defense is built by design to sacrifice some effectiveness against the run, but Seattle is one of the few teams who can really capitalize on such a defense. Getting a lead, and forcing Seattle to play to the strength of the Packers is essential. That said, when they pass it’s important to....
3. Don’t get beat deep, especially by Tyler Lockett
Lockett is actually the 4th most efficient receiver in the league by DVOA, and boasts a lofty 14.6 yards per reception average while hauling in 75% of his targets. Lockett is by far their best receiver, ahead of Doug Baldwin and speedster David Moore, and that also plays into the Packers’ hands. Rookie Jaire Alexander is proving to be a young star, and if he can take away Lockett, it would cripple the Seahawks’ passing game.
The Packers have struggled mightily against the deep ball, and I expect Seattle to test them early and often, but the personnel is also a different now with so much turnover at safety, and if they can hold up, Seattle will have a hard time generating touchdowns.
4. Use Jones, use Adams
Seattle is only the 16th-best team at covering number one receivers, which is their weakest split against any receiver type. Marquez Valdes-Scantling may find it tough going out of the slot, where Seattle ranks 4th, but it shouldn’t matter. A healthy dose of Aaron Jones on the ground against their porous run defense, in addition to leaning on Davante Adams, should be all it takes offensively. Easy peasy.
This version of the Seahawks is full of holes, and their biggest advantage is simply being at home on a short week. That’s huge, and it’s entirely possible that the Packers simply lay an egg due to fatigue, but in terms of specific matchups, the Packers have a lot going for them this week.