In one of the toughest environments in which to play on the road in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers will take on the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks are 17-1 the past two seasons at home.
To make matters even more treacherous, the Packers will be starting a rookie center in one of the loudest venues in the league. That being said, Corey Linsley has had a fine first training camp, plus he has played in similar environments when he started the past two seasons for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
I don't know if any of you have ever been to either Michigan Stadium or Camp Randall Stadium, but at times you can hardly hear yourself think at those storied stadiums. Linsley has started at center and played well (and won) at both locations versus the Wolverines and the Badgers.
But Linsley won't be the only rookie starting on the offensive line Thursday night. Justin Britt will be starting at right tackle for the Hawks. That won't exactly be a walk in the park for the former Missouri Tiger, as he'll be facing Clay Matthews for most of the game.
One of the biggest deciding factors in Thursday's game could be which rookie offensive lineman plays best.
Linsley will not only have to block well for both the run and the pass, but he'll have to make the correct line calls and be on the same page as quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the silent snap count. That will be very difficult to do with the boisterous "12th Man" taking the noise decibel upward in Seattle.
But Linsley has looked anything like a rookie all summer. He's played well in practice and in games. He's as strong as an ox (as evidenced by his combine performance) which helps to anchor the run game. No. 63 will also be protected by one of the best guard tandems in the NFC, with Josh Sitton on his left and T.J. Lang on his right.
Before training camp started, I talked to scout Chris Landry about both Linsley and JC Tretter and who would be his choice at center. Landry aligned himself more with the former Buckeye:
"I like Linsley. I think he's got maybe a little bit more natural ability than JC. What you would love to have, in my eyes, is to see Linsley develop into that guy, and then Tretter can be your third interior offensive lineman with quality enough to start at center or either guard spot. And maybe one of your best three interior offensive linemen who may earn a starting spot."
Linsley will be going up against the top defense in the NFL, based on how the Seahawks played in 2013. But things have changed a bit for the Hawks on defense this year. Seattle will be missing three members (Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Clinton McDonald) of last year's seven-man rotation on the defensive line as all have left the team.
I expect to see Linsley play well, along with the rest of the Packers offensive line.
I don't see the same thing happening with Britt, as he tries to stop one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the NFL in Matthews, who has 50 career sacks to go along with four Pro Bowl berths. The rookie might just see Matthews on one passing down and then see both Matthews and Julius Peppers (118.5 career sacks) coming at him on another play.
The Seahawks have one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the NFL in former Wisconsin Badger Russell Wilson. But a strong pass rush disrupts the timing of the pass patterns plus forces hurried throws when Wilson can't get outside the rush lanes.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a fine analysis of the game, and he mentions the issues Britt had this training camp.
Based on his performance in the summer, I believe Britt will have his hands full with No. 52 and company on Thursday night.
On the other hand, I see Linsley handling the pressure very well.
If those things indeed happen, the Packers will have a big advantage in winning this opening contest as the Packers try to get revenge on the Seahawks after the "Fail Mary" debacle in 2012.