Packers vs. Seahawks: Three things to watch in Week 14 showdown

Sep 20, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scrambles away from Seattle Seahawks defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (95) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scrambles away from Seattle Seahawks defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (95) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The 6-6 Green Bay Packers host the 8-3-1 Seattle Seahawks this Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field in a game crucial for the Packers’ playoff hopes.

Here’s three things to watch and my prediction for the contest.

1. Depleted Edges

Coming into this season, the outside linebacker/edge position was perhaps the deepest on the Packers’ roster. But 12 games into the season, the group is severely depleted.

Clay Matthews is questionable with a separated left shoulder, but he should be able to play. It’s likely that he’ll spend most of his time at inside linebacker, though, as he was rendered wholly ineffective last week attempting to pass rush with one arm.

Nick Perry has been one of the Packers’ best defensive players this season, period. His “significant” hand injury will keep him out against the Seahawks and possibly for the rest of the season.

The Packers can probably cope with Matthews in the middle because he hasn’t been overly effective on the edge this year anyway, with just four sacks. His injury, as well as his play in the middle this season, means that Dom Capers will likely employ him as a spy against Russell Wilson.

Perry’s absence, however, could be devastating. In addition to his eight sacks this season, Pro Football Focus grades Perry as the third-best run defending edge defender in the NFL with a run defense grade of 86.7.

A large part of the reason Perry was drafted was to help the Packers deal with the read-option defense. The Seahawks will likely attempt a good amount of read-option in Perry’s absence.

It will be up to Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell to man the edges.

Peppers and Jones are best suited to replace Perry in the elephant role. Peppers in particular has been very effective lately with a sack in each of the past three games.

Elliott had the one of the best games of his career in Week 2 last season against the Seahawks with an interception on a screen pass and a forced fumble to seal the game. He hasn’t forced a single turnover nor had a single sack this year, though. Fackrell has been surprisingly effective as a pass rusher in limited snaps, but at a paltry 245 pounds he lacks the power to hold up in the run game on a consistent basis.

The Seahawks’ offensive line is one of the weakest parts of their team. It’s key that the Packers’ edge defenders take advantage of that weakness.

2. Man in the Middle

The Seahawks lost arguably the NFL’s best safety last week when Earl Thomas fractured his tibia against the Carolina Panthers.

The Seahawks’ cornerbacks match up well against the Packers’ receivers on the perimeter. Richard ShermanDeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane is a better group of corners than the Packers have faced in recent weeks against the Eagles and Texans.

But Thomas’ absence could open up opportunities for Aaron Rodgers and the passing game in the middle of the field. Kam Chancellor is a menace to receivers, but he doesn’t have the deep range that Thomas does.

Though Davante Adams has been a revelation, Randall Cobb’s performance has been disappointing this season. He’s cracked 100 yards just once, and he has 60 yards in the past two games combined.

In last year’s meeting against the Seahawks, though, Cobb caught 8 of 11 targets for 116 yards. That’s the type of production that’s been sorely missed this year.

In addition to Cobb, Ty Montgomery and Jared Cook could be featured targets over the middle.

It’s unlikely that Adams and Jordy Nelson will be able to dominate the Seahawks’ corners on the boundary the way that they have with the Eagles’ and Texans’ in the past two weeks. So the Packers should look to attack with Cobb, Montgomery, Cook and even Nelson from the slot positions. If Rodgers can get enough protection to hit a few deep passes, that will bring the Lambeau crowd to life.

3. Christine Michael Revenge Game?

Christine Michael, of course, was cut by the Seahawks just over three weeks ago and subsequently picked up by the Packers. Now, he gets a chance to face off against his old team.

Though he’s still new to the offense, Michael has proven to faster, more powerful, and most importantly, more decisive than James Starks. He’s a much better option than Starks, and Mike McCarthy finally seemed to realize that last week, when Michael had nine carries to Starks’ four.

Dec 4, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Christine Michael (32) rushes with the football during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Sunday’s forecast calls for plenty of snow during the game, which could make passing the ball a bit of a challenge. Though McCarthy won’t greatly alter the team’s game plan, a reliable running game can be important in inclement conditions.

Ty Montgomery has also been very productive as a ballcarrier, and he should see about as many touches as Michael does. The Seahawks have the 14th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL in terms of yardage, so nothing will come particularly easy.

But against talented cornerbacks and a fearsome pass rush, it will be critical for the offense to stay on schedule. In addition, the threat of a play-action pass could keep Seattle’s playmaking linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner guessing and open up passing options in the middle of the field.

The Packers don’t need to rush for 100 yards. But in inclement weather and against this aggressive defense, consistently gaining three to four yards would greatly help Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. Short yardage running, as well, will be crucial.

Next: How the Packers can beat the Seahawks


Packers 17, Seahawks 24

I really want to pick the Packers this week. They do seem to have turned a corner in their past two games. But ultimately, the Seahawks are a very good team, and the Packers just don’t seem capable of beating very good teams recently.

I think the defense will struggle against the run, especially with the absence of Perry. I’m concerned that the Packers don’t have the defensive backs to cover Jimmy Graham or Doug Baldwin. And I’m not convinced that the Packers’ receivers will do enough to get open against the Seahawks’ cornerbacks.

This is certainly a winnable game for the Packers, and a victory would make the playoffs seem very much in reach. If the Packers can play mistake-free football and hit on just a couple of big plays, they might finally climb back above .500. But I don’t see it happening this Sunday.