Bowl season begins with the unheralded and unranked, but features several tight pre-Christmas matchups.
24 Sep 2012
by Andy Benoit
Because our friends at ESPN are broadcasting this game, we won’t conduct a Russell Wilson love-fest here. That’s Jon Gruden’s thunder. Gruden, a 5-foot-10 ex-quarterback whose best skill was likely "moxie," probably sees a bit of himself in the Seahawks rookie. Of course, Gruden will be the first to tell you that he didn’t begin to have the arm of wheels that Wilson has. The over/under on number of combined full-screen Wilson graphics, side stories, and isolated shots during the Monday Night broadcast: 4,536.
Intriguing as Wilson may look, he isn’t the key to Seattle’s offense. Marshawn Lynch is, and that’s especially the case against Green Bay. Not only does running the ball effectively keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, it also enables the Seahawks to stay in base personnel. That keeps Charles Woodson in centerfield instead of the slot, and prevents the Packers from running the sub-package blitzes that make Dom Capers’s defense dangerous.
Last week against the Cowboys, Seattle used a lot of three-tight end sets in the second half, and they actually had success throwing from them. That may have had more to do with Dallas’s coverage breakdowns. Nevertheless, the tactic compelled Dallas to occasionally use their outside linebackers in coverage. Green Bay may not be goaded into wasting Clay Matthews that way, but for Seattle, it’s worth a shot. In the very least, perhaps one (or two ... or three) of those tight ends can help overmatched offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini handle the superstar edge-rusher.
Green Bay made a more concerted effort to balance their play-calling against the Bears in Week 2. Cedric Benson has always championed himself as a high-volume runner, sound-yet-methodical. He loves to run out of the classic I-formation, though he’s shown so far that he can be effective in shotgun zone runs.
It might not be worth feeding Benson the ball this week, though, as Seattle could have the best run-defending front four in football. Watching teams run to defensive end Red Bryant’s side is like watching two movers try to cram a couch through a door that needs it hinges removed. Next to Bryant, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is one of the most energetic, well-leveraged destructors in the NFL. And his partner, the gargantuan Alan Branch, has been a beast since leaving Arizona. Working ahead of athletic interior pass-rusher Jason Jones, Branch has been able to consistently maintain his surprising initial quickness throughout all four quarters.
With the run game likely bottled up, expect the Packers to spread the field. Their 3x1 set features Jordy Nelson, a possibly healthy Greg Jennings, and either Randall Cobb or James Jones (with the aging Donald Driver waiting in the wings), as well as the league’s most athletic pass-dropper, Jermichael Finley. This is an excellent tactic to use against a zone-based D like Seattle’s. The Seahawks have two large, often-suffocating cover corners in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Both are at their best near the sideline. An unbalanced formation with Nelson and Jennings aligned next to each other might force those corners to play the same side of the field, meaning one of them will have to deal with the discomfort of being in space. The Cowboys were able to take advantage of Browner with this last week.
Rodgers hasn’t been as sharp as usual these first two weeks, but that could change if Green Bay takes an aggressive, proactive approach through the air. If you see the Seahawks unbalancing their coverages or keeping both hard-hitting safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor back deep, you’ll know Green Bay’s in the driver’s seat.
3 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2012, 7:16pm by JoeHova