When the NFL schedule was first released in the spring, many Green Bay Packer fans had the team’s road opener circled on their calendar as one of the "must-watch" games.
It had the potential to be another retelling of a classic storyline: The student takes on the mentor as former Packers backup, Matt Flynn, would go up against his old team and mentor, Aaron Rodgers, after signing in Seattle during the offseason to presumably become their starting quarterback.
What is it that they said about the “best laid plans?”
In a surprising move in April, the Seahawks drafted quarterback Russell Wilson out of (ironically) the University of Wisconsin and declared the competition for the starting quarterback position to be open for training camp.
Wilson won, and there went the big storyline everyone had been anticipating when the schedule was released. That wasn’t the only thing that made this game intriguing, however. Here are the most critical matchups the Packers will have to deal with during the game Monday night in Seattle.
Marshawn Lynch vs. BJ Raji
If anyone still has any doubts about Lynch’s abilities, please go back and watch the New Orleans vs. Seattle playoff game from January 2011—the tackle-busting touchdown run which which Lynch had helped propel the 7-9 Seahawks to an upset win over the then-defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Last week in their win over the Cowboys, Lynch ran for 122 yards but 100 of them came in the second half.
This means B.J. Raji, as the anchor of the Packers defensive line, has to be on his toes as the game goes on. The Seahawks may get off to a slower start against the Packers running the ball, but Lynch’s blockers improved as the game went on so the Packers cannot let up in getting after Lynch. This would be crucial should the game still be close in the second half so the Seahawks won’t have to start airing the ball out with Wilson.
Clay Matthews vs. Double Teams, Nick Perry/Erik Walden/Jerel Worthy vs. Seahawks Offensive Line
Clay Matthews has six sacks already this season, which equals his total for the entire 2011 season. After his monster performance against the Bears last Thursday where Matthews tallied 3.5 sacks, it is certain Matthews is going to be looking at some double teams by the Seahawks.
This is the situation GM Ted Thompson had in mind when he drafted Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy in the first and second rounds of this spring’s NFL draft, respectively. Getting Erik Walden back last week after he served a one-game suspension also seemed to light a spark in the Packers pass rush, which actually also had a decent game against the San Francisco 49ers in the Packers’ season-opening loss.
It was that reason that the Packers really had no pass rush last season. Aside from Matthews, no other player demonstrated a consistent ability to get to the quarterback. If any of the above three can get to Wilson that should ease some of the pressure off of Matthews and that would be a nightmare situation for the Seahawks’ rookie quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Seattle Defense
The Seahawks defense is well on its way to proving that it is the best defense in franchise history. Last season they finished ninth in yards allowed and seventh in scoring defense. Two games into 2012, they rank sixth in yards allowed, second in rushing defense and third in scoring defense.
This means Cedric Benson could be in for a long day and that Aaron Rodgers needs to get all the points where he can get them. If the Seahawks get off to another slow start running the ball against the Packers, then Rodgers and the offense need to take advantage and get off to a quick start and put some points on the board immediately.
Much has been made the past two weeks of the Packers' “struggles” on offense, and the league’s reigning MVP has got to be sick of hearing about it by now. Rodgers knows he can play better and even seemed a little down when he was interviewed down on the field after the win over the Bears last Thursday.
There is no better time for the Packers to once again flex their offensive muscle than against one of the league’s up and coming defenses.
Packers vs. Seattle’s 12th Man
A key for Rodgers and company getting to a fast start will be dealing with the crowd noise at CenturyLink Field. Seahawks fans have earned a reputation as being one of the loudest groups of fans in the NFL and when you combine that with the design of the stadium, the Packers will be playing in one of their loudest road venues of the season that will even rival Mall of America Field in Minneapolis.
The silent count is going to be crucial for Rodgers to properly communicate with his offensive line at the line of scrimmage. The Packers through the first two games have had some issues with penalties and with the noise of CenturyLink Field combined with the fact that the replacement officials are still on the job, which means the Packers had better have put a big focus on working on the silent count in practice this week.
Jermichael Finley vs. Himself
It’s never easy with Jermichael Finley.
A week after he was credited with three drops against the 49ers, Finley dropped a couple more balls to go along with one fumble (though the fumble should be credited to a textbook punch-out by Bears safety Charles Tillman. Finley could have done little to prevent it).
Even with the drops that have already earned him some scorn amongst the team’s passionate fans, another off-field issue involving Finley arose involving his agent. Blake Baratz took to Twitter to invoke Rodgers saying that he is a great QB, not a great leader . The statement set the Packers Twitterverse so abuzz that Rodgers’ teammates came out publicly to defend him. Finley himself did not say whether or not his agent spoke for him, which led this controversy to blow absurdly out of proportions.
If Finley can perform this week and the Packers win, this will disappear rather quickly. If Finley struggles again and the Packers end up losing the game, then this non-controversy will get even more controversial potentially creating what coach Mike McCarthy calls a “polluted mindset” and could become a bigger distraction.
Packers 28, Seahawks 21
It will be a close game throughout, but like many games in the NFL it comes down to the quarterback. Wilson may very well go on to have a decent career, but at this point he is nowhere near Rodgers’ status despite how many people were drooling over the Seahawks rookie’s performance in the preseason, beating out Flynn.
If the Packers can get to Wilson and Rodgers is just a bit more accurate than he’s been so far this season, then Packers should have no trouble handling the Seahawks even in a loud stadium.
Kris Burke is a freelance sportswriter currently residing in Wisconsin. You can read his work at AllGreenBayPackers.com and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KrisLBurke
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