Green Bay vs. Seattle: Report Card Grades for Each Packers Unit
Even so, the Packers displayed a number of weaknesses in Seattle that, despite offseason work meant to correct them, looked all too similar to problems the team dealt with through the 2013 season. Missed tackles, not following through on big plays and a porous run defense were three areas that didn't look much improved to start off 2014.
The Seahawks were able to attack Green Bay's defense through the air and on the ground, but it was really the run game that did the most damage. Seattle had 207 rushing yards compared to Green Bay's 80 on 16 more attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per rush compared to 3.8 for the Packers.
The uptempo offense was shut down by a combination of crowd noise and Seattle's punishing defense, and Rodgers was so rattled that he tore into rookie center Corey Linsley on national television when the rookie messed up a snap, something the poised quarterback rarely does.
Much of the reason Rodgers was so uncharacteristically off on Thursday was due to his inability to find anyone to throw to. Because Seattle doesn't move its corners around the field, Rodgers essentially avoided Sherman's side of the field (where the Packers stationed Jarrett Boykin) and instead looked for Jordy Nelson against cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Rodgers is not a one-read quarterback by any means, but the Packers offense did not benefit from such limitations in his progressions.
Perhaps the biggest worry for the Packers Thursday night was the fact that the injuries continue to pile on. There's no word yet on how serious Bryan Bulaga's knee injury is, but it's worth noting the left knee is the same knee on which he tore his ACL last offseason.
Richard Rodgers, who got the starting nod at tight end, had a scare with a neck injury but returned to play. Eddie Lacy was being evaluated for a possible concussion, and by the end of the game, there was no word on his status for Week 2.
At the end of the day, most teams would have looked outplayed and overmatched against Seattle's at CenturyLink Field. But there weren't a lot of highlights for the Packers positional units after the loss, save for the secondary, which looked improved from 2013, and the pass rush, which is demonstrating that the offseason attention directed toward it is paying off.
The pass protection was suspect, and the entire right side of the field, where Richard Sherman was stationed, was taken out of Aaron Rodgers' progressions, but despite those mitigating factors, Rodgers looked out of sorts against the Seahawks.
Though he was not sacked eight times in one half like he was in 2012 against Seattle, Rodgers was sacked three times, and a pass that bounced off Jordy Nelson's hands and into Byron Maxwell's counted as an interception on his stat sheet. Michael Bennett also forced a Rodgers fumble that backup right tackle Derek Sherrod recovered in the end zone for a safety.
The Seattle defense was disruptive, and most of the time, Rodgers just couldn't find an open target.
Rodgers didn't throw a single pass Sherman's way, and because the Packers had Boykin there, he often found that Nelson and Randall Cobb couldn't gain separation. That limited him to just 5.7 yards per attempt.
But there were also some questionable decisions on Rodgers' part, including when he scrambled within a yard or two of a first down on 3rd-and-4 but instead threw the ball away. It demonstrated a lack of confidence in his protection, which was shaky at best.
And though the only glaring mistake rookie center Corey Linsley made was in snapping the ball after Rodgers had called for a timeout (which drew the vocal ire of the quarterback), Rodgers looked hesitant multiple times Thursday.
It wasn't a catastrophic performance for Rodgers by any means, but it was certainly below his very high average. Ultimately, a couple bad decisions compounded with the factors beyond his control made for a lackluster night.
Eddie Lacy should have been the difference-maker for this Packers offense against Seattle; against the Seahawks in 2012, before Lacy became the 2013 Rookie of the Year, Aaron Rodgers didn't hand the ball off for 16 straight plays to start the game.
After a couple big plays early, including a 15-yard gain up the middle, the Seattle run defense put a stop to that. Lacy gained half of his 34 total yards on two plays on the first drive of the night.
James Starks was able to get a little more bang for his buck on the ground, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt on seven carries. The Packers elected to sub Starks in for Lacy early after just three attempts by the latter, and though Starks went on to make something out of nothing on a couple plays in the second half, Lacy never got into a rhythm after the first drive.
Fullback John Kuhn, whom the Packers love to bring in on goal-line offense, had the only rushing touchdown of the night.
Lacy left the game in the fourth quarter with what was later confirmed to be a concussion by head coach Mike McCarthy after the game (via ESPN), and he can't play for 10 days. Green Bay will look to Starks, DuJuan Harris and possibly Kuhn on third downs in Week 2.
Just like for Rodgers, it was more that Seattle's defense was just that stout than a poor performance by Green Bay's running backs, but ultimately this performance can't be awarded anything more than an average grade.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
As previously mentioned, because the Packers lined Jarrett Boykin up on the right side of the field with Richard Sherman, he was literally a non-factor in the game, with no receptions and no targets.
Taking away an entire side of the field, even though it meant Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb faced more favorable matchups, still impacted the effectiveness of Green Bay's passing game. Nelson's box score—nine receptions for 83 yards—looks fine on paper, but he caused a costly interception when he got both hands on the ball but let it fall into the hands of Byron Maxwell.
Nelson was Rodgers' first read throughout the night, and he struggled to gain separation and to make much off the short screens on which he was often used.
Randall Cobb was good for six points in garbage time when he connected with Rodgers on a three-yard pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and he had a nice 23-yard reception over the middle (the Packers' only play of 20-plus yards). His opportunities were limited due to Rodgers' lack of pass protection and the Seattle secondary taking away most of Rodgers' options.
Rookie tight end Richard Rodgers got the starting nod in Seattle but had a scary neck injury in the first half that sent him to the locker room. He returned in the third quarter but didn't contribute to the passing game.
In his absence, Andrew Quarless had three catches on four targets for 26 yards, but the Packers' lack of a legitimate pass-catching threat since they lost Jermichael Finley was evident Thursday.
There were no real concerns here save for Nelson's inability to bring in a few catches (his nine receptions came on 14 targets). The Seahawks did a solid job of taking away most of Rodgers' options, and the receivers' performances suffered as a result.
This unit was Green Bay's thinnest heading into the regular season, and it took another hit it may not be able to withstand when Bryan Bulaga left the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury.
It's the same knee to which Bulaga suffered a torn ACL last offseason, and if that's what he's re-injured, it could mean big trouble for Green Bay.
Already playing with a rookie center taking his first professional snaps in Corey Linsley and without the depth provided by Don Barclay, who is lost for the season, Green Bay brought in backup tackle Derek Sherrod.
Sherrod struggled in his first regular-season action since 2011, calling into question the depth (or lack thereof) on this line. After allowing Cliff Avril to sack Rodgers, Sherrod couldn't hold up against Michael Bennett, who strip-sacked Rodgers. Sherrod recovered the fumble but in so doing gave the Seahawks two points on the safety.
Despite running the no-huddle in the loudest venue in the NFL and having taken very few snaps with Aaron Rodgers, Linsley held his own Thursday night and was a reassurance on an otherwise worrisome offensive line.
Other than the one play he miscommunicated with Rodgers, burning a timeout and getting an earful from the quarterback on national television, Linsley looked fine. He should be serviceable at center until J.C. Tretter returns.
The offensive line gave up three sacks, and Rodgers did not appear to trust his pass protection throughout the game, leading to some uncharacteristic hesitancy on his part. This line could be the unit that prevents the Packers from contending if Bulaga's injury proves to be serious and Sherrod doesn't become a more reliable backup.
Was that a 4-3 alignment that Dom Capers unveiled in Seattle? It sure was—the look Capers had been working on all offseason and wanted to hold back until Thursday night.
With a front four of Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels and Datone Jones and Clay Matthews lining up next to Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk, the Packers pass rush looked reinvigorated, but the run defense may have been missing big body B.J. Raji more than it was projected to.
When the Packers did run a 3-4 front, Letroy Guion came in at the nose, and he did not look ready to be starting there. He was constantly blown off the line of scrimmage and was a liability in the run game, as was the entire middle consisting of Guion and inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.
We'll deal with Hawk and Jones separately, but suffice it to say that unlike in 2013, when Green Bay began the season with a top-three run defense before it devolved into a mess, the Packers just looked porous against the run to start Thursday. They allowed the Seahawks 207 rushing yards, including 110 and a score by Marshawn Lynch.
Green Bay actively sought to get younger and faster on the defensive line, but on Thursday, it was overmatched. It couldn't get any push and was soft against the run. Though Daniels and Jones are important contributors for an interior pass rush, it was obvious the Packers were really missing size in the middle to stop the run.
The Packers allocated a lot of resources this offseason to improving their pass rush, and it was one of the highlights of an otherwise troublesome night for Green Bay.
"We're a better pass rush team today than we've been in a long time," McCarthy said Monday, per The Associated Press. "Some of the things we've changed schematically, we've worked at it a lot more...and I think we saw the benefits in the preseason."
Dom Capers now has multiple looks to use to bring pressure, including the 4-3 front with Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels and Datone Jones and Clay Matthews lining up next to Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk with the option of rushing Peppers and Neal off the edge.
However, as promising as the pass rush and the outside linebackers looked Thursday, the inside 'backers were worrisome at best and a liability at worst. After Brad Jones' lackluster performance in 2013, many thought Green Bay would target an inside linebacker in the draft. But when the Packers expressed confidence in Jones as the starter, it suggested he would improve in 2014.
In Week 1 that wasn't the case. Jones began to play his way out of the starting job Thursday, demonstrating a complete inability to defend against the run. When Peppers and Matthews had a big-play combined sack, it was eradicated by a Jones penalty.
A.J. Hawk was similarly leaky against the run; the entire middle was soft. The missed tackles that plagued the defense in 2013 appeared to be back to strike again in Week 1. It's almost unfair the grade for this unit has to average the performance by the outside linebacker and the inside 'backers because they were on different levels entirely.
By far Green Bay's biggest problem unit in 2013, the secondary was another area of improvement to begin this season.
The unit was able to limit yards after the catch and showed nice closing speed in pursuit. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who recorded the only sack on Russell Wilson on the night, proved he has the potential to be a playmaker for this defense.
Sam Shields, meanwhile, proved he earned his extension this offseason.
Though he took the bait on the pop-pass play and was caught with his eyes on the backfield when Russell Wilson connected on a 33-yard touchdown to Ricardo Lockette, he made up for it throughout he rest of the game. He bailed his teammates out by saving a first down in space after Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward whiffed on tackling Doug Baldwin.
Though the secondary, like the linebackers, struggled with a couple missed tackles, the unit looks much improved over last season, with Hyde and Clinton-Dix joining Burnett at safety. There's a sense the safety group, which did not produce a single interception last season and certainly wasn't a sack-producing unit, will finally make some plays in 2014.
Special teams is an area in which the Packers' lack of playmakers has hurt them in the past, leading to the coaching decision to use starting players in the return game in order to maximize potential gains there. Thursday, however, it was less the lack of flashiness in the return game and more the simple mistakes that dragged this unit down.
In the first quarter, Mike Daniels was called for running into the kicker at the Green Bay 44, and the penalty gave Seattle a fresh set of downs to get into field-goal position and walk away with the first three points of the game.
That error aside, the Packers were lackluster in the return game, with Micah Hyde and DuJuan Harris each returning two kicks and averaging less than 25 yards per return.
Mason Crosby only got one opportunity Thursday, and he gave the Packers three of their 16 points on a 23-yard field goal.
Ultimately, the early penalty that led to points for Seattle drags down the grade for special teams.
The question on everyone's mind in 2013 returned this season in Green Bay's disappointing 36-16 loss to Seattle: Is the problem personnel or coaching?
“I don’t feel very good about anything right now,” McCarthy said after the loss, per Packers.com's Vic Ketchman. The lackluster showing was in some ways hard to pin on play-calling; Seattle shut down whatever the Packers tried to do on the ground or through the air.
But after Lacy had a 15-yard gain early on, he was either shut down or simply not used until the fourth quarter when he sustained a concussion.
And as the Packers avoided Richard Sherman on the right side of the field, it really limited the reads for Aaron Rodgers.
McCarthy was aggressive, going for it on 4th-and-5 at midfield and attempting a two-point conversion after Randall Cobb's three-yard touchdown, both of which the Packers failed to convert.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had a new 4-3 defensive alignment, but it proved to be ineffective at stopping the run. However, while personnel schemes can be blamed on Capers, players missing tackles can't be. If the defense continues to whiff and let big plays slip through its fingers literally, Capers can call whatever he wants, and it won't make a difference.
The play-calling didn't lose this game for Green Bay; the strength of Seattle's defense and the balanced attack it presented on both sides of the ball did. But the offensive play-calling was predictable, and the defensive scheme wasn't always what was needed against the run.
Special Teams: C
Cumulative Grade: C
Ultimately, the Packers could hardly get anything going on offense, whether through the air or on the ground, and the defense was outmatched against Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. Green Bay looked outplayed in nearly every aspect of the game, from rushing to the run defense and the passing game to the pass defense.
Seattle is very likely the best team in the league, and the Packers had the unfortunate luck of having to face them at home on a national stage to start their season.
The good news is that Week 2 against the New York Jets should be a much more reasonable evaluation of where the Packers currently stand, but there are some ongoing worries about this squad heading into the rest of the season.
If Bryan Bulaga's knee injury is bad, this offensive line could go from subpar to truly bad. Pass protection was a recurring issue Thursday, and without time in the pocket to progress through his reads, Aaron Rodgers will have a difficult time getting the passing game going.
The run defense was the biggest blemish on Green Bay's performance in Seattle, and Dom Capers needs to work on strengthening that middle, while the defensive line and inside linebackers need to be sure they can get back to basics and finish their tackles.
Brad Jones put himself in serious jeopardy of losing his starting job if he doesn't get back on track in the coming weeks, and the Packers did nothing to instill any confidence in the idea they could be at all improved against the run from 2013.
In some ways this was the best test for Green Bay to face in Week 1, as it exposed the areas on which the team still needs to work to improve. But if those improvements don't come fast in the way of holding up against the run and protecting Rodgers, the playoffs will become further and further out of reach.