Green Bay vs. Seattle: Seahawks Week 1 Preview
The first game of the 2014 NFL season will pit the Green Bay Packers against the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and mark the first time the Packers have played at CenturyLink Field since the teams' controversial finish in 2012.
The Seattle defense will face a legitimate test to all levels of the unit. The Packers offense is one of the most creative and efficient in the league with a healthy Aaron Rodgers at the helm. However, the last time Rodgers played against the Seahawks was in 2012.
In that game Rodgers completed 26 of 39 passes for 223 yards, zero touchdowns or interceptions and 17 yards rushing. The Seahawks were able to sack him eight times and hold the Packers to just 12 points.
Seattle's defense has grown immensely since 2012, and the offense appears to be on the verge of a breakout year, based on the team's play throughout the preseason.
Seattle Seahawks Week 4 Preseason Recap
In the final week of preseason action, head coach Pete Carroll gave the reserves a complete once over. The results of the game were tough to watch, but the play of the starters remained a positive.
Leading up to the game, the Seahawks had bulldozed their previous two opponents by a combined score of 75-20. On the starting offense's only drive of the game, Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to an easy four-play drive resulting in a touchdown.
Though the drive was against the Oakland Raiders' reserves, the drive was a strong reiteration of how well Seattle's starting offensive unit had been playing throughout the preseason. Overall, the game helped the coaching staff make some final decisions on who would make the team's final roster.
News and Notes
After a long and hard-fought positional battle at wide receiver, the Seattle Seahawks had surprisingly kept seven receivers on the final roster. Bryan Walters was not among that group.
However, just two days after being released from the Seahawks roster, Walters was re-signed to the team with Phil Bates being cut to make room. There was no apparent explanation for the move, but one could deduce that the maneuver was made to assist on the return teams.
The Seattle Seahawks put the finishing touches on their practice squad just days after chopping their roster down from 75 to 53 on Saturday. The group includes: TE RaShaun Allen, DB Josh Aubrey, RB Demitrius Bronson, QB B.J. Daniels, G Nate Isles, WR Chris Matthews, DB Terrance Parks, DT Jimmy Staten, S Steven Terrell and DE Julius Warmsley.
Earl Thomas Wins Punt Returner Role
Arguably the Seahawks' best defensive player, Earl Thomas, will now be the team's top punt returner heading into the Season, despite the re-signing of Walters to the team. What seemed to be a fit out of necessity has become permanent.
Thomas has not returned a punt during regular-season action in the four years he has been with the Seattle Seahawks.
Earl Thomas on winning the role of punt returner, per Terry Blount of ESPN.com:
I get to play punt returner and free safety. I get to play both ways. This is what I did in high school, so it just feels good to be on the ultimate stage like this and have that opportunity. I’m not putting a limit on anything. I just want to be the best and have fun. I know when I get the ball in my hand I’ll make something happen, though.
*All injury information gathered from CBSSports.com.
Jeremy Lane, Bruce Irvin and Kevin Norwood have all been limited in practice so far. Lane was injured during Week 2 of the preseason against the San Diego Chargers, while Irvin and Norwood have been on the road to recovery throughout the offseason.
With Tharold Simon also being banged up, newly acquired CB Marcus Burley may be thrust into action sooner than expected. Pierre-Louis' injury puts some early strain on a deep linebacker corps if he can't play on Thursday, but the team should be fine either way.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Percy Harvin vs. Packers Secondary
The Seahawks will finally have the opportunity to reveal the full capabilities of one of the league's most explosive weapons in the form of Percy Harvin. Harvin missed just about all of the 2013 season before breaking free for a kickoff return in the Super Bowl.
The Packers' secondary allowed 247.3 yards per game through the air last year. Green Bay used their first-round selection on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to help shore up the secondary, but that's hardly a guarantee of improvement in Week 1.
Expect Russell Wilson to find Harvin often to keep drives alive and to create big plays.
Seattle Front Seven vs. Eddie Lacy
The Legion of Boom appeared to be in midseason form throughout the preseason, after finishing the previous season as the best pass defense in the league. While it's safe to still expect some solid ball movement from Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, running back Eddie Lacy could easily become Green Bay's relied-upon form of offense.
Red Bryant was cut loose from the Seahawks roster, despite being a vocal leader, team captain and a mainstay of the defensive line's run-stopping force. The Seahawks replaced him by bringing in Kevin Williams, but the results may vary.
With Seattle run defense being a little softer than the pass defense, the Packers should test the Seahawks' new defensive line often.
Seahawks X-Factor of the Week
One of the key additions the Packers made over the offseason was adding Julius Peppers to the defense and shifting him from an end to a rush linebacker in their 3-4 defense. The addition puts a quality pass-rushing threat on the opposite side of longtime Packer Clay Matthews, meaning he cannot be double-teamed as readily as in previous years.
The Seahawks' offensive line has looked solid for most of the preseason, but with teams now scheming and blitzing, the proof will be in the pudding. While Russell Wilson has looked like a quarterback ready to take another step in his development, he'll have an awfully hard go of things if he's under duress throughout the game.
Rookie right tackle Justin Britt has been especially susceptible to being beaten in pass protection, and Seattle will need to give him help from a tight end or someone in the backfield to keep Wilson upright.
The Seattle Seahawks are just the secondary that can contain the explosive playmaking ability of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, having proven it in the past. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but with the warm welcome of the Seattle crowd behind them, the defense should be able to get up to speed for the game quickly.
Injuries to Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon may create a mismatch in three-wide receiver sets, but the Packers receiving corps is not as deep as it was a year ago. The play of Packers wideout Jarrett Boykin could sway the game in Green Bay's favor.
However, the Packers will have their hands full with the explosive-looking Seattle offense led by a fast-rising Russell Wilson. Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are all capable of making key catches and big plays at any point in a game.
And, not to be overlooked, is the bruising play of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch's tough running style could help wear down the Packers' revamped defensive front along with the backbreaking scrambling of Wilson.
Back in 2012, the Seahawks eked out a 14-12 victory. They started last season against the Carolina Panthers in very similar fashion with a 12-7 win. That's not the kind of game I'm expecting in this tilt, however.
The Seahawks offense is on the verge of being great, and the defense is already there. It's up to the Packers to come up with some stops on defense and jump out to a quick lead to force the Seattle offense to open up more than usual.
I simply cannot see the Seahawks allowing these things to happen with the way Wilson has looked.
Prediction: SEA—34, 20