The Packers have done all right of late against the NFC powerhouse from the Northwest – even with Mike McCarthy steering the ship. In 2018 they lost 27-24 in Seattle. Green Bay, however, opened the 2017 campaign with a home win, 17-9. In 2016, again at home, the Pack put a beating on the Hawks 38-10. And in 2015, they scored a nice 27-17 home win. The last time the teams met in the playoffs, in 2014, Seattle prevailed 26-21, and they also beat the Packers in the first game of that regular season, 36-16. Both of these games were played in Seattle.
The pattern is pronounced: the home team wins when these two clubs collide. It’s okay by me if that tendency holds up on Sunday.
Now that the Seahawks dynastic defense has been dispersed, the Hawks are Russell Wilson’s team, lock, stock, and barrel. They no longer possess the star-studded roster of recent past years.
Wilson finished his eighth year in Seattle with a 106.3 passer rating – fifth best overall. His 4,110 yards through the air was sixth best. He separated himself significantly from Aaron Rodgers, whose rating fell to 12th best and whose yardage, 4,002, came in at number eleven. Russ’s career passer rating is now up to 101.2 – at this rate, he’ll likely overtake the descending Rodgers (102.4) next year.
The past year featured one of Wilson’s best passing displays. But never mind, it’s Wilson’s competitiveness, not his throwing arm, that you worry about. He’s is the NFL’s fourth quarter maestro – his 21 fourth-quarter comebacks since he came into the league in 2012, are the league’s most in that time.
Russell doesn’t run the ball as much as he once did. He reserves that talent more and more until near the end of important games. Against the Eagles on Sunday, Wilson took off running nine times, for 45 yards – the rest of the team only rushed for 19 yards! On Sunday, you can expect Seattle’s leading rusher to once again be its quarterback.
That this enormously athletic receiver wasn’t chosen until pick 64 in the 2019 draft is an indictment of the entire NFL. After he lit up the Eagles for seven catches in nine targets, and for 160 yards and a touchdown, he’s no longer a secret weapon. If you want more of an introduction, please go here.
If you checked out the link, you know that Metcalf is very big, very strong, and very fast (4.33 speed) – with those attributes, who cares if he’s not yet a premier route runner? Even though he was raw as he entered the pros this season, he finished with 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Did I mention that this large man has 4.33 speed? Metcalf is a constant threat to go deep, and he just manhandles defensive backs who get in his way.
This is the league’s next Julio Jones – if he has another big game on Sunday, it’s over for the Packers.
This receiver and returner, a third round selection in 2015, suddenly doesn’t look so formidable now that Metcalf is becoming Wilson’s favorite target. Still, the 5’10” 182-pounder, who has 4.40 speed, is the kind of guy who often gives Green Basy defenses fits. With 82 catches, and 1,059 yards on the year, Lockett’s fifth year in the league was his best yet. He had four catches for 62 yards on Sunday.
This inside linebacker, who the Hawks use the same way the Packers use Blake Martinez, was the league’s leading tackler on the year – his 159 tackles edged out Martinez by four. Wagner is a faster, tougher, and more compact version of Blake – the 29-year old was just named first-team All-Pro for the fifth time.
The confrontation between the Seashawks’ run-stopper and Aaron Jones should be worth the price of admission. If the Packers excellent linemen and tight ends can get some good licks on Wagner, Aaron should have another 100+ yard rushing day.
Wagner had seven tackles on Sunday, though the Eagles as a team rushing for 120 yards in 26 tries. Surprisingly, veteran safety Bradley McDougall led Seattle, with 11 tackles, including two for losses and one sack.
The Seahawks have been devastated by serious late season injuries to their three top running backs, including Chris Carson, who rushed for 1,250 yards in his 15 outings. Against the Eagles, they were down to Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch, who came out of retirement on December 23 to try to save the day. But on Sunday the two totaled only 19 yards in 17 carries – so this means even more of the burden will be placed on Russell Wilson to keep the offense on the field – and get first downs, either by pass or by run.
While it appears, from Marshawn getting only six carries on Sunday (versus 12 carries the week before), that Lynch isn’t in football shape, one would be foolish to take the man lightly – especially in short-yardage-needed situations. In the last decade, Lynch was far and away the league’s top power runner. He easily surpassed the Packers’ Eddie Lacy, even during Lacy’s brief heyday in 2013-14, and Ezekiel Ellioott has never been comparable in terms of raw power or tackle-breaking ability. Though Lynch only weighs 215 pounds, he uses his massive thighs as battering rams.
I’ve always been a fan of the short-yardage leap by a running back, right over the backs of one’s blockers. Though it is almost impossible to defend, you seldom see anyone try a play of such recklessness. I do seem to recall that Walter Payton scored a bunch of touchdowns in this way. So there I was, watching the Seahawks battle the 49ers in Week 17, when good old Marshawn took to the air early in the third quarter and leaped over the goal line for Seattle’s first score. Easy-peasy.
As many Green Bay fans will recall, with 23 seconds remaining in the game, the Hawks had a first down on the 49ers’ one-yard line. It was the perfect time for Lynch to once again launch himself up and over the goal line. Instead, Seattle managed to get a delay-of-game penalty, and the 49ers, instead of the Packers, thereby captured the NFC’s number one playoff spot.
How will Mike Pettine exploit the apparent gigantic Seattle weakness at running back? Who knows, maybe we’ll often see the Smiths, Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez and a bunch of defensive backs.
The Toughest Matchup?
This will be Matt LaFleur’s first postseason game as a head coach. He’s going up against Pete Carroll, the elder statesman of NFL coaches. Since going to Seattle in 2010, the 68-year-old Carroll has now gone on to the postseason eight times. He won it all following the 2013 regular season, and lost to the Patriots following the 2014 season.
The only time Carroll has gone one-and-out was in 2016, when he lost to Dallas in the wild card game. This will be Carroll’s seventeenth postseason game with Seattle. He also made the playoffs, as head coach of the Patriots, in 1997 and 1998.
Though LaFleur would appear to be at a marked disadvantage in terms of facing one of the league’s most experienced coaches, Matt has already proven to be a quick learner. The Packers did well to gain the home-field advantage by closing out the season with five wins. I look for Green Bay to use that considerable benefit to prevail over the Seahawks on Sunday.
It’s great for the Packers to be hosting a playoff game. The last two times they had such an opportunity, they came out winners: following the 2014 season, they beat the Cowboys, 26-21, and after the 2016 season they dispatched the Giants, 38-12.