6 Matchups to Watch as Seahawks Head to Green Bay for Divisional Bout
The Seahawks will travel to Green Bay having lost their last eight contests at historic Lambeau Field, with some heart-wrenching experiences along the way.
However, it’s a new year and an ember of hope is always alive when Russell Wilson is quarterbacking for Seattle.
The Seahawks overcame injuries and a tough road environment to eliminate the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field last weekend and now face their toughest test of the season playing January football in Green Bay during the NFC Divisional Round.
The Packers sat idle in their warm homes last weekend at 13-3 and having earned a coveted bye. As always, they are led by two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and now have the luxury of having an elite dual-threat running back in Aaron Jones.
But Green Bay knows that Seattle will be a tough out, even at Lambeau. With another win away from CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks will tie the 2005 Steelers for the second-most road wins in a single season with nine.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur said on Wednesday, “They’re [the Seahawks] a tough team. They’ve been extremely tough on the road.”
As the big playoff game nears, what are the key matchups the Seahawks will need to win to come out of Green Bay with their first win at Lambeau in 20 years?
--Seahawks pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Rasheem Green, Ezekiel Ansah, and Shaquem Griffin vs. Packers tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga: As always, the pass rush will be under the microscope for the Seahawks, as they struggled in the regular season to pressure the opposing quarterback consistently with 28 sacks all year, ranking 29th in the NFL. However, they had a season-high seven sacks in the Wild Card round win over the Eagles. The Packers boast one of the best tackle tandems in football, led by All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Bakhtiari, who is charged with protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. On the other end, Bulaga is no slouch himself, having played 115 games for the Packers at right tackle over 10 seasons.
Clowney needs to build off of his strong game in Philly facing much stiffer competition. He will need all the reinforcements Seattle can provide off the edges with Green, Griffin, and Branden Jackson to get Rodgers’ jersey dirty. Like Clowney, Green also has momentum as the Seahawks season sacks leader and notched another one in Philly. Ziggy Ansah needs to finally show up if healthy - he has zero sacks and zero tackles for loss in his last four games. The Seahawks only win this game if they can consistently harass Rodgers.
--Seahawks tackles (insert left tackle here) and Germain Ifedi vs. Packers edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith: The flip side is just as vital for Seattle’s success. The Packers' pass rush led by the Smith duo has been merciless, totaling 25.5 sacks between the two outstanding free agent signings. Za’Darius Smith garnered All-Pro votes and is a Pro Bowl alternate following a breakout 2019 campaign and will be a handful for whichever tackles start for Seattle.
The issue is the Seahawks do not know if the four-time Pro Bowler Brown will be healthy enough to play. If Brown can’t go, Fant also missed practice time this week and both players are game-time decisions. It might be up to Jamarco Jones to be opposite Ifedi and try to slow down this fierce duo of rushers. There also could be a scenario where Seattle is counting on Chad Wheeler, who was on the practice squad until this week, to play left tackle while Jones is needed at guard to fill in for Mike Iupati. Keeping Russell Wilson upright for as long as possible is crucial in this tough, road environment. If the Smith combo consistently puts Wilson on the ground, Seattle’s offense will crumble and be off-rhythm. The health of Brown and Fant are vital to this matchup.
--Seahawks cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard: Both Griffin and Flowers took big steps this year in Seattle. Flowers, in many ways, outplayed Griffin, as he has three interceptions compared to Griffin’s zero and quarterbacks have a rating of 72.5 when throwing towards Flowers while Griffin allowed a rating of 97.3. However, the Seahawks were 27th in the regular season in pass defense. They now face the most experienced and decorated quarterback remaining in the playoffs in Rodgers. He has his favorite weapon back in Adams, who missed four games earlier this year due to injury. The Rodgers-Adams connection will be a challenge all game long. Adams led the NFL in targets by receivers with less than 15 games played this year with 127 - that’s almost 11 targets per game.
Griffin and Flowers will both have to keep tabs on Adams throughout the game as Rodgers will look to him in key situations such as on third down. They shouldn’t sleep on Lazard either, who has turned into Rodgers’ clear number two receiver with 17 targets and nine catches in his last two games. The cornerback duo of Griffin and Flowers will have to be vigilant about any opportunities for takeaways because they will be few and far between with Rodgers under center, as he threw a league-low four interceptions in 2019.
--Seahawks linebacker Cody Barton and safety Bradley McDougald vs. Packers running back Aaron Jones and tight end Jimmy Graham: Barton is getting better by the game, as he has been thrust into action with Mychal Kendrick’s season-ending ACL injury. The third-round pick out of Utah has played at least 75 percent of the defensive snaps in three of the last five games and had five tackles and a sack against the Eagles last Sunday. He will have the tall task of keeping tabs on all-everything running back Aaron Jones. Jones is tied with Christian McCaffrey for the NFL lead in touchdowns from scrimmage with 19. He will be everywhere. At times, he has been the Packers’ entire offense.
McDougald is coming off of his best game as a Seahawk in Philadelphia. His reward is to match up with former Seahawk and five-time Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham. Graham certainly had a down year statistically, but you better believe he wants to put on a show in the playoffs against his former team. Tight ends historically have given Seattle trouble and Graham is one of the best of this generation. He had his first season with less than 500 receiving yards since his rookie year of 2010, but that does not mean Seattle can afford to disregard him.
--Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett vs. Packers corners Jaire Alexander and Kevin King: Metcalf is fresh off of the greatest performance for any rookie receiver with an NFL record 160 receiving yards and Wilson is coming off of a 325-yard, 108.3-passer rating game in Philadelphia. Lockett has 10 catches for over 110 yards in his last two games and seems to be heating back up after battling mid-season injuries and illness. The passing game for Seattle will be tested with Alexander, a Pro Bowl alternate, as well as former Washington standout Kevin King, who had five interceptions this season. Metcalf and Lockett could very well turn into one of the best receiver duos in the NFL next year along with a perennial MVP candidate in Wilson at quarterback.
This will be a good test and experience for Metcalf as he grows, facing a larger corner in the 6-foot-3 King. Lockett and Alexander should have some good matchups that will need to be replayed on slow motion to see anything besides two blurs, one white and navy and one green and yellow. Yards can be had against this secondary as a whole with the Packers being 14th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and they were the second-worst defense allowing 40-plus yard pass plays behind only the Raiders this year. However, they also have allowed the fifth-fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL and had 17 interceptions. Wilson will need to keep disproving the narrative he struggles in cold weather and Metcalf will need to make another Herculean catch or two with Lockett speeding by defenders for Seattle to win this game.
--Seahawks running backs Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer vs. Packers interior defenders Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez: The Seahawks run game was nearly nonexistent in the wild card win against the Eagles, with Homer and Lynch combining for 19 yards on 17 carries. Those numbers will need to dramatically improve to beat a much better opponent in Green Bay. Running primarily a dime defense with six defensive backs, the Packers allowed 120.1 rushing yards per game, 23rd in the NFL. Clark is Green Bay’s big interior defensive lineman who has 62 tackles and nine tackles for loss along with six sacks. Behind him is Martinez, who totaled 155 tackles to lead the Packers this year. The only defender with more tackles in the NFL this year will play on the other side in Bobby Wagner.
If the Seahawks want to run the ball well, they will need to account for Clark and Martinez and the line will need to consistently win in the trenches. Lynch has been an injection of energy into the organization and the city of Seattle with two touchdown runs in his first two games. Homer jumped off the page in the loss against the 49ers with 15 touches and 92 yards while showing outstanding burst. He was bottled up against the Eagles, the third-best rush defense in the NFL. The Packers are not near as stout and this is a matchup where the Seahawks can establish an advantage if the line is able to do its job.