- Seattle Seahawks
- After beating the Panthers last weekend, the Seahawks will face their hardest matchup in months this Sunday.
While it’s always time to be insufferable here on the Insufferable Journey to Rewinnining the Super Bowl, this week’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game is also a time to be serious. Insufferablerious, if you will. The Seahawks are very close to the Super Bowl, but to get there they’ll have to fight through the hardest matchup they have faced in months. So make your most insufferablerious game face, as we’re going to dive into some actual football analysis here:
Pete Carroll said of this game that the Seahawks will have to play their best football to have a chance to win. That’s some serious respect that Carroll is showing for how the Packers have evolved since the Seahawks throttled them in week one. This is a really fierce opponent, and the manner in which we exploited them en route to a week-one blowout is no longer available to us. So how do we win?
The Seahawks' best football on offense means establishing the run and avoiding turnovers. These are both things that we can do against the Packers. Let’s handle the turnover issue first: The Packers' corners are good, but not elite, ballhawks. Wilson will be able to throw into coverage without the ball necessarily being picked, and Wilson has been incredibly good at avoiding turnovers all year. I don’t expect that to change, with a caveat that’ll come up later.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the move of Clay Matthews to inside linebacker has jump-started the Packers' run defense against top running backs. That said, one imagines that he’ll be forced to spy Wilson regularly to make sure our QB doesn’t go bananas running the ball. Throw in Max Unger likely playing center, and it’s easy to see holes to the second level open as often as the Seahawks would like. This means that zone read runs with both Wilson and Lynch will be available; it’ll just be up to Wilson to make great decisions. If he does, the Seahawks should be able to put together a number of scoring drives. The Seahawks executing their best offense against the Packers means 27 points, no turnovers (or maybe one, tops), and a lot of clock used.
The Seahawks' best game on defense involves creating turnovers while limiting explosive plays (defined roughly as runs of 12 or more yards and passes of 16 or more yards). With Byron Maxwell healthy, the Seahawks have the pieces they need in the secondary to contain Aaron Rodgers as much as Aaron Rodgers can be contained. However, this is probably the moment to acknowledge how good Aaron Rodgers is: Aaron Rodgers is goddamn incredible. There is no one in the league playing quarterback at his level. He’ll get his, but the Seahawks will scheme to take away the big plays over the top. Last game this meant Rodgers literally never threw toward Sherman; why risk it if all he’s giving up is short gains? This game, I expect to see a little more diversity from the Packers, but I don’t expect a Rodgers explosion. Two hundred yards, a touchdown or two, but mostly 8- to 12-yard gains, rather than those 60-yard Jordy Nelson backbreakers.
So the question is how well the Seahawks can stop Packers running back Eddy Lacy without committing members of the secondary to stopping the run. Lacy is going to get his; he’s a powerful running back, and the Packers' offensive line has done a great job of late getting him past defensive linemen. And, sure, if Kam Chancellor hits Lacy in the second level, Lacy will explode into his component atoms. But the Seahawks will likely be unable to bring Chancellor that close to the line, lest they risk the Packers receivers getting behind the rest of the Seahawks defense. This puts the onus on Bobby Wagner to fill holes and hit Lacy hard enough that he falls over, and Earl Thomas to be able to both play center field against Aaron Rodgers and use his closing speed to prevent decent runs from turning into great runs. Were we talking about any other linebacker/free safety pair, we’d be boned. But we aren’t talking about any other pair; we’re talking about Wagner and Thomas, so it’s cool.
That said, if the Packers do manage to grind the ball down the field, they could look a lot like the San Diego team that beat the Seahawks early this season. I just don’t see that happening, because I think the Packers will turn the ball over a couple of times.
Aaron Rodgers has a moderate-to-severe calf injury, and while it’s not enough to knock him out, it’s enough to make me think the Packers don’t have enough to beat the Seahawks. Sure, Rodgers managed to fight through the pain to beat the Cowboys last week, but he sailed a number of passes and was unable to avoid pressure in the pocket at his normal elite level. Sail throws against our defense? That’s a pick. Fail to move forward in the pocket as pressure comes from the outside? That’s a strip sack. Based on last week, Rodgers is enough below his peak level that instead of hardly ever turning the ball over, as he normally would against our defense with this offensive line, he could do so two or three times. If that happens, the Seahawks win this game.
What are some other little things to watch?
• Russell Wilson’s play-off hair looks good. Real, real good.
Russell Wilson is so handsome. Love his hair... pic.twitter.com/NIoSpBtSVC
— The Inkwell Diaries (@inkwelldiaries) January 12, 2015
• You must read this MMQB piece, in which reporter Robert Klemko watches the Packers-Cowboys game with cornerback Richard Sherman. It paints a revealing picture of Sherman’s footballing intelligence and natural exuberance. Plus, Sherman’s instant take on the most important matchup for the NFC Championship Game (the Seahawks' pass rush against the Packers' revitalized O-Line) agrees with my instant take from Monday’s recap. Score one for me getting to be extra insufferable about that time Richard Sherman and I agreed on basic football strategy.
• Turnover caveat time! The Seahawks' fumble luck as been absurdly positive on the offensive side of the football, and absurdly negative on the defensive side. There were four fumbles in last week’s game, all of which were recovered by the team that fumbled. This is the sort of variable that could turn either way in the next two games and make the Seahawks look incredibly dominant or push them to the brink of elimination.
• Seahawks general manager John Schneider used to work for the Packers and is the godfather of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s son. In a fact I pulled from Davis Hsu’s excellent Twitter account (a must-follow if you want to know what you’re talking about re: the Seahawks' salary cap situation), upon getting the job in Seattle, Schneider sent his old buddy McCarthy a copy of Pete Carroll’s book. Power move by Schneider. Power. Move.
• The Packers are 2-0 against the Seahawks in play-off history, with both losses coming in Green Bay over the past 15 years. Another way to phrase that is that the home team is 2-0 in Seahawks/Packers postseason matchups. It would be cool if we pushed that second stat to 3-0, eh? Super lame if we did that with the first stat though.
• Where to watch the game? Well, the Central Library is open again, which, hey, okay. Also, this is an early game, with a noon kickoff on Sunday. So church, maybe? Somewhere with mimosas, definitely? I’ll be watching and insufferably live-slogging from a bar in Massachusetts (home to the most insufferable football fans in America). So wherever you are, have a computer close. Or your phone. What I’m saying is, don’t watch the game, watch my typo-filled live coverage of the game.
• Oh, and a prediction. It’s gonna be an insufferablerious one: 30-24 Seahawks. Let’s do this.