It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the Packers-Seahawks contest on September 10. Both teams are potential Super Bowl contenders. There’s bad blood between these combatants. One team’s star running back for four years is now on the other side.
In the previous five years, Green Bay has two regular season wins over the Seahawks, but Seattle eliminated the Packers in the playoffs in 2012 and 2014.
Both teams had roster gaps last year, so there are uncertainties over whether those gaps have been filled. I’m talking about cornerback and running back for the Packers, and the entire offensive line and some secondary spots for the Seahawks.
On the other hand, these two teams might possess the top two quarterbacks in the league. While Russell Wilson is not an incredible passer, he’s an all-around talent, a great competitor, three-time Pro Bowler, and he had the league’s top passer rating in 2015.
As I indicated earlier in the month, while the Packers try to preserve the health of their top players during the preseason, the Seahawks try to fully prepare theirs, by playing them in preseason games more than almost any other team.
The pattern continues this year. After two of four preseason games, QB Russell Wilson has completed 16 of 22 passes for 247 yards, he’s rushed three times, and he’s been sacked once. Wilson played the entire first half against the Vikings this past week. Seattle has outscored their two opponents by a 68 to 30 margin.
In contrast, Aaron Rodgers didn’t even suit up for game one. In Saturday’s game, he completed six of eight for 37 yards – and he only got that much playing time because the opening drive consumed 15 plays.
Certainly the messages to the players are divergent. Coach Pete Carroll is telling his charges that they are to begin the year fully prepped and primed to win that first vital game. Big Mike is conveying to the Packers that they need not be nearly as prepared or fine-tuned as their rival when the season commences.
I watched the first half of the Seahawks-Vikings game, and the atmosphere on the sidelines and in the stands was just like that of a regular season game. The atmosphere in the Packers’ two exhibition games has been much lower key, less intense – and unsurprisingly – more sloppy.
In their two games, Seattle has had two turnovers, but has caused six. Green Bay is now four and four, a pretty good indication of where the two teams are at in terms of preparedness.
So far, neither team appears to have suffered a prolonged injury to a skills-position starter. The Seahawks, however, just lost a key player: offensive tackle George Fant, who was carted off the field in the second quarter with an air cast around his knee. Carroll somewhat mysteriously termed the injury, which of course will require surgery, as “ACL-related” and “significant,” and added that Fant “will have trouble” returning this season.
If George Fant isn’t familiar to you, the second-year man, who is 6’5” and weighs 322 pounds, is no less than Seattle’s top left tackle – the “blind-side” position. It also happens to be Seattle’s thinnest position.
Fant’s route to getting to the NFL is unusual. After playing basketball for four years at Western Kentucky, he used his fifth year of eligibility to become a tight end for the football team. He packed on about 75 pounds in switching from basketball to becoming an NFL lineman. And yes, this was the Hawks’ top lineman.
Following an injury to starter Bradley Sowell in 2016, Fant went on to be the starting left tackle in the Seahawks’ final 10 games.
The only player behind him on the team’s left tackle depth chart is Rees Odhiambo, so Seattle might have to go treasure-hunting for a starting left tackle once the rest of the teams make their roster cuts – but that isn’t until just after the final preseason game on August 31.
The Seahawks already had a very inexperienced and unacclaimed set of offensive linemen. Now they will positively be scrambling to assemble a unit that can provide QB Wilson with adequate protection.
You get the idea: this injury is a major blow to the Seahawks’ prospects for 2017.
But Russell Wilson is a tremendous competitor, and he’s been in this boat before. When he has inferior blocking, he likes to take off and run. Until he hurt an ankle and then a knee last year, in his first four years Wilson averaged 607 rushing yards per season. I’m guessing he’ll surpass that number this year, and he might even surpass his crazy 849 rushing yards of 2014.
Packers’ Oh-So-Cautious Strategy
Getting back to the Packers, McCarthy’s, and his quarterback’s, strategy strikes me as a defeatist approach. Yeah, Aaron Rodgers is the guy who last year called the preseason games “meaningless,” and this year indicated they can get all that needs to be done in practice sessions rather than during the four exhibition games. I’m not buying it. Aaron, Jordy Nelson, Morgan Burnett, Bryan Bulaga, and a few others might not need preseason work, but these two games show that most Packers players need all the game-experience they can get.
I hope they are right of course, because a loss at home to start off the season would not portend well. A resounding loss – or two, if the team also loses an even tougher game a week later in Atlanta – could badly affect the team’s mindset and confidence for weeks to come.
I’ll discuss how ex-Packer Eddie Lacy has looked during the preseason in my next post.