|Commucation between QB Aaron Rodgers and center Jeff Saturday (No. 63) will be important in Seattle, where the crowd noise can be deafening. (US Presswire)|
Green Bay travels to Seattle for its first road game since Week 15 of last season. The Packers, coming off a victory over the Bears on what was a short week, had 10 days to prepare for the Seahawks.
Here are five things to watch in the Monday Night Football matchup at Seattle:
1. Crowd noise: Listen, don't look for this one. The decibel level at Seattle's CenturyLink Field can be ear-splitting. QB Aaron Rodgers has said it's one of the loudest and toughest stadiums to play in. The Packers do a lot of no-huddle offense, which could be impaired if Rodgers' line-of-scrimmage calls are drowned out by Seahawks fans.
“Those fans are really intelligent; they know when to cheer,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “They get so stinkin' loud; they do a really good job of giving the defense that advantage when we have to go on some silent counts or when we're trying to communicate with each other.”
The Packers pumped in some crowd noise in practice, something they hadn't done since the preseason to try and prepare for the boisterous environment. Coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers' communication with his offensive line will be crucial, especially with veteran C Jeff Saturday, who was signed in the offseason after 13 years with the Colts.
“You have to start with the offensive line and the quarterback, that's the biggest stress point in my opinion when you play in loud stadiums,” McCarthy said. “Aaron does a very good job with the cadence in a loud stadium and in our own stadium. So it's something we put a lot of time into as far as our cadence and not just training one quarterback and one center."
2. Jennings' role: And speaking of the Packers' top receiver, it will be interesting to see how and how much Jennings is used Monday night. He injured his groin on the final drive of the season opener, missed last week's game against the Bears and had an up and down week of practice. Despite a couple of setbacks in his rehabilitation, Jennings practiced Friday and Saturday. After the second session, McCarthy said, "I thought Greg looked good today. He made a big jump from earlier in the week.”
The Packers have numerous talented pass-catchers, but Jennings is singular for a few reasons. While other receivers have struggled with ball security, Jennings rarely drops passes; his hands and his route-running are dependable. Usually nimble and quick after the catch, the question will be whether Jennings has any rust or stamina issues. He's said developing the right timing with Rodgers has been “the issue” because he hasn't been on the field “on a consistent basis,” though Jennings expects that will return easily.
“[That timing] comes back like riding a bike,” he said. “I'm not concerned about that. It's just making sure that I'm ready to be out there and (whether I have the) endurance to stay out there.”
3. Schemeless in Seattle? So far, the so-called defensive blueprint for stopping the Packers is to play both your safeties back and deep and keep their potent offense in front of you. It worked for the Chiefs and Giants last year in the only two games the Packers lost, and it worked for the 49ers' cover 2 in Week 1. The arrangement prevents Green Bay from getting behind the defense and dialing up the big plays that made the Packers so dynamic last season.
Seattle usually plays one safety deep, but it may switch its scheme to the two-deep shell that has proved effective for other teams. The Seahawks have a defense that McCarthy repeatedly called “young and fast” and their secondary is gigantic. With physically imposing CBs Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 194) jamming receivers at the line, and hard-hitting Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232) with speedy Earl Thomas (5-10, 202) patrolling the field at safety, it will be a great matchup against the Packers' talented receiving corps.
Pro Football Focus ranks Seattle as the top pressure defense against the pass so far in 2012. With their size and cover ability, Green Bay's best option may be to dink and dunk underneath, using the elusive playmaking ability of WRs Randall Cobb and Jennings. Another thing to watch for here is WR Jordy Nelson, who has a devastatingly effective double move that resulted in many huge plays last season. The Seahawks' big CBs are susceptible to double moves.
4. More base? While the Packers have made a point of playing their base 3-4 defense more in 2012, they still use their nickel package more often. See if that changes against the Seahawks, who love to pound the ball with physical RB Marshawn Lynch on first and second downs to try to set up a manageable third-down situation for rookie QB Russell Wilson. Green Bay could be without one of its best run defenders, DE C.J. Wilson, who's questionable with a groin injury. His loss would hurt the base defense.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week he's wary of being overzealous because the Seahawks' running game can punish the Packers aggressiveness if they don't pick their spots. “You've got to be careful, because when you're playing a team that's [blocking] laterally, and you're [blitzing], there's going to be some big seams open in that run game,” Capers said. “And that's when you see Lynch come out of there for 20, 30 yards. If you have some softness in your gap, he'll hit it coming downhill.”
The Packers may indeed be cautious about sending a heavy pass rush on early downs, but passing downs could be a big opportunity to pressure Wilson, who has only a 53.9 QB rating when blitzed. Lynch has rushed for more than 100 yards in the Seahawks' last six home games.
5. Matthews' matchup: Despite having played just two games while the rest of the league has already played three, OLB Clay Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with six. He's been unstoppable so far. Against Seattle, he'll likely face off with LT Russell Okung, who's been banged up. Okung missed last week's game and is still a little bothered by a knee injury. If he's stiff or rusty or slow, Matthews will annihilate him.
If the Seahawks send help to Okung's side, that could open things up for LOLBs Nick Perry and Erik Walden. Perry has a sore wrist but is still expected to start. His power could be neutralized by Seahawks' RT Breno Giacomini, a former Packer who plays with a lot of strength but not much quickness. Walden, who has shown speed and a ravenousness to get to the QB, could have some success. Both Perry and Walden will be expected to set the edge and be aware of the mobile Wilson, who likes to roll to his right and throw outside the pocket.
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter: @CBSPackers.