Packers' Blowout Opening Loss Proves Green Bay Remains Well Behind NFC Elite

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Packers' Blowout Opening Loss Proves Green Bay Remains Well Behind NFC Elite
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Any doubt about the sizable gap remaining between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks was all but eliminated during Thursday night's regular-season opener. 

Roughly 250 days after crushing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, the defending champion Seahawks put together a comprehensive performance in a 36-16 win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. 

Green Bay's chance for a statement win to kick off 2014 was lost. Instead, the Seahawks announced their title defense in true CenturyLink Field form: loud, and proud.  

The swarming Seattle defense made controlling Rodgers—undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the game—look easy. Bulldozing running back Eddie Lacy, who was expected to add the balance needed to compete with the Seahawks, averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

Marshawn Lynch (110 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and Percy Harvin (100 all-purpose yards) highlighted a versatile offense that routinely manhandled Green Bay's new-look defense, rushing for over 200 yards and scoring with precision. 

The Packers, a chic pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX, were outclassed in all three phases. 

Rodgers, who is widely considered a top-two quarterback alongside Manning, attempted 33 passes but managed just 189 yards. His 5.7 yards per attempt against the Seahawks rank as the eighth worst of his starting career (95 games).

It was business as usual for Seattle's defense, a destructive unit that also held Manning—who threw an NFL record 55 touchdown passes in 2013—to 5.7 yards per attempt in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seahawks Defense vs. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning
Cmp/Att Yrds Yrd/Att TD/INT Rating
Rodgers, Thursday 23/33 189 5.7 1/1 81.5
Manning, SB XLVIII 34/49 280 5.7 1/2 73.5

*Combined scores of 76-24

Seattle's plan to make the Packers one-dimensional on offense worked.

Lacy managed a 15-yard run on Green Bay's first series, but the Seahawks made him a non-factor the rest of the game. His next 11 carries netted just 19 yards. He left the game in the second half to be evaluated for a head injury, which was later confirmed to be a concussion, per Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette

A dink-and-dunk passing approach played right into Seattle's hands. 

Rodgers completed 23 passes to five different receivers. Thanks to a fast, violent Seahawks defense that swallowed up everything underneath, all five receivers failed to average over 10 yards per catch. The group as a whole averaged just 8.2 yards per reception. 

Randall Cobb's 23-yard catch represented the only completion over 20 yards for the Packers offense. It was also Green Bay's only play over 20 yards. 

Maybe the most concerning of the developments came along the offensive line, where Bryan Bulaga's knee injury forced former first-round pick Derek Sherrod into the game. Seattle abused Sherrod—who was making his first regular-season appearance since snapping his leg in two places in 2011—during a number of key plays, including a fourth-down opportunity in the third quarter and on a strip-sack one series later that resulted in a safety. 

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Packers offensive line gave up three sacks.

On defense, Dom Capers' unit—now mostly unable to pin failure on talent or injury—looked much like Packers defenses of recent seasons.

The Seahawks averaged six yards per play, ran 37 times for 207 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and totaled 25 first downs. Capers threw out varying wrinkles, including looks in a 4-3 front and several exotic blitz packages. But the results were still the same. 

More of the Same? Packers Defense, Thursday vs. 2013
Thursday vs. SEA 2013 Averages (Rank)
Points 36 26.8 (24th)
Yards 398 372.3 (25th)
Rushing Yards 207 125.0 (25th)
Yards/carry 5.6 4.6 (29th)
Opposing Passer Rating 110.9 95.9 (25th)

Source: Pro Football Reference

The Packers forced just two punts—both in the third quarter—and Seattle scored on six of eight drives, discounting a drive that stalled near midfield at halftime and the final drive, which Russell Wilson killed off with kneel-downs. 

Wilson wasn't fantastic, but he still completed 19 of 28 passes for 191 yards and two scores, with zero turnovers. He took just one sack, and his passer rating was 110.9. 

Lynch and Harvin were the offensive catalysts. The Packers defense couldn't tackle the powerful Lynch or slippery Harvin, as the two combined for 224 total yards from scrimmage. Lynch rumbled through an overmatched Green Bay front seven, and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell routinely found creative ways—including the jet sweep—to get Harvin in space. 

A 17-10 scoreline at halftime erupted into a blowout when Seattle scored 19 of the game's final 25 points. The final dagger came when Wilson found fullback Derrick Coleman for a 15-yard touchdown on fourth down with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter.  

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Packers will now head back to Green Bay a humbled football team. 

An offseason spent perfecting the no-huddle offense with Rodgers and Lacy and rebuilding Capers' defense with Julius Peppers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix came up woefully short against the cream of the NFC crop. A perfect effort was required to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, and the Packers weren't anywhere near flawless Thursday night. 

When constructing imaginary tiers in the NFC, the Seahawks remain a step above everyone else, including the Packers. It's a disheartening reality for a team with championship aspirations. 

Since winning the Super Bowl in February 2011, the Packers have exited three straight postseasons before the conference title game. Green Bay is now 0-6 against Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers over the last three seasons, including the playoffs. Much can happen over the next 16 weeks, but the Seahawks sure look like a heavy front-runner to be the NFC's top seed, which will mean a return trip to Seattle for any NFC team on the postseason road to the Super Bowl. 

Are the Packers any closer to getting back to the big game? That question can't be answered in earnest now, but Thursday night proved Green Bay still has a sizable gap to close with the defending champions in the NFC.

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2

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