Tonight on Monday Night Football, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and the Seattle Seahawks' defense will face its biggest challenge yet. Aaron Rodgers has looked good in his first two games of the 2012 season, but he hasn't looked MVP good.
Many have begged the question, what's wrong with him? The simple answer is, there's nothing wrong with him. His performance is a direct result of an offensive line that has had some issues in pass protection. Not to mention the fact Rodgers squared off against two strong defensive units.
When the Packers lost to the 49ers in Week 1, it was a reality check because last year, he did not face one Top 10 defense. With Green Bay squaring off against the NFC West this year, he will have the opportunity to square off against three of the top defenses in the NFL.
As I mentioned above, he has already been taken down by Vic Fangio's defense, so will tonight be more of the same? If Seattle plays defense like it did in Weeks 1 and 2, stopping No. 12 will become a real possibility. Obviously, the Packers' offense is better than those of Arizona and Dallas, so it won't be a walk in the park.
With the help of NFL Game Rewind, let's take a quick look at the two things Seattle must do to lock down Green Bay's offensive attack.
Put Pressure on Rodgers
Putting pressure on A-Rod is no easy feat, as the Packers' offensive line has shown that it is one of the top units in football. Currently, Pro Football Focus (members access) ranks Green Bay's offensive line as the sixth-best unit in the NFL.
The line has only surrendered 17 total pressures through the first to games of the season, which means it's on pace for 136 total pressures. A big improvement over 2011, considering it allowed 177 total pressures last season.
The advancement of Marshall Newhouse has provided stability along the left side of the line. But will he continue to impress against one of the best pass-rushers in the league? Chris Clemons may not have the sack numbers of Clay Matthews, yet PFF grades him the second-best pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end.
Last week, Clemons matched up against one of the top up-and-coming left tackles in the game, Tyron Smith. And it's safe to say he didn't disappoint; he recorded four quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit.
Here is one of the most impressive pressures he had against Smith. His speed rush around the corner appeared to be in full force on this play. Bradley's defense showed an interesting look, as he had six players standing on the line of scrimmage. Four were standing up, with only Clemons and Bruce Irvin down in a stance far to the right.
It obviously confused the Cowboys' offensive line. By the time Smith realized what was going on, No. 91 was getting ready to lay it on Romo. Unfortunately, Romo spun away and avoided the sack. Nonetheless, the throw ended up being incomplete, as the pressure forced him to get rid of it.
Seattle is going to have to use some of these exotic looks to put pressure on Rodgers tonight, making him move around and force him off his base. The last thing you want him to have is a clean pocket; if that's the case, he will just sit back there and pick you apart.
Also, Bruce Irvin needs to see the field more tonight. He has played about 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps. In limited action, Irvin has shown he can get to the quarterback, and if the defensive line expects to get pressure with the front four, he needs to be heavily involved.
To me, the key to the Seahawks' defense is the play of their secondary. And if they expect to stop the Packers' passing game in its tracks, they will have to do what they do best: Use their physical presence to slow down the wide receivers.
Seattle's defensive backs are big, strong and annoying. They get under wideouts' skin by continuously bumping them off of their routes. Right now, there is not a bigger and better duo in the NFL. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are both above 6'3" and 200-plus pounds.
Without question, the Packers' wide receivers are the best unit the NFL has to offer.
By beating Green Bay at its own game, Bradley's secondary can slow down and own the passing game by playing press coverage and bumping off the line. This game plan helped its defense completely shut down Larry Fitzgerald in Week 1.
In the screenshot above, you can see the continual progression of press coverage coupled with a strong pass rush makes throwing the ball difficult. On this play, Seattle is in a cover 1 look with bump coverage off the line. But the interesting thing is that defensively, it was only bumping Fitzgerald, the Cardinals' biggest weapon.
You can see the pressure from Clemons forces Arizona quarterback John Skelton to make an errant throw off his back foot, which in turn results in an under-thrown ball that he was actually trying to throw away. Sherman takes advantage of the poorly thrown ball and makes an incredible sideline-tiptoe interception.
It's simple coverage with a basic four-man rush, yet it's the perfect example of how everything must work together in order to be successful. Pete Carroll's teams never back down, so I fully expect Carroll to throw the kitchen sink at Green Bay tonight.
It should turn out to be a physical game with plenty of attitude.