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Seahawks Bracing For Latest Chess Match Against Familiar Rival in Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers can't be activated from the COVID-19 list until Saturday at the earliest, but all signs point towards him playing against Seattle on Sunday, pitting the future Hall of Famer against an opponent that knows him quite well.

RENTON, WA - Preparing for multiple quarterbacks during a week of game planning isn't common practice in the NFL. As the saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one, and most teams don't play multiple signal callers by choice.

But during the 2020 season, the Seahawks gained plenty of experience doing just that.

Back in January, Seattle geared up for a rubber match against the Los Angeles Rams in the wild card round without knowing who would be under center running coach Sean McVay's offense. Only two weeks earlier, starter Jared Goff suffered a broken thumb in a 20-9 loss to the Seahawks and eventually underwent surgery, and while he dressed for the playoff game, backup John Wolford received the start in his place.

Earlier in the regular season, the Eagles had a quarterback controversy brewing between incumbent starter Carson Wentz and then-rookie Jalen Hurts and questions loomed about who would start against the Seahawks. The following week, Giants starter Daniel Jones was questionable with an ankle injury and ultimately didn't dress with veteran journeyman Colt McCoy replacing him in the starting lineup.

Heading into the Giants game, when asked if planning for two quarterbacks altered preparation at all, coach Pete Carroll replied, "If it was a drastically different guy, if you had Peyton Manning and Steve Young you might think of it differently because he's a guy can run around all over the place and all that. No knock on Peyton... But it has to be a really drastically different athlete to really make us change what we're doing."

As Carroll's squad readies for their latest road trip to Lambeau Field to play the Packers this weekend, the possibility remains that superstar Aaron Rodgers won't be able to play after an extended stay on the COVID-19/reserve list. Under such unique circumstances during a pandemic, former first-round pick Jordan Love would receive his second consecutive start, creating another scenario where the team has to study up on two quarterbacks.

But even if Rodgers can't practice or report to the facility until Saturday at the earliest due to unvaccinated player protocols, the Seahawks expect the three-time MVP to be ready to roll and are planning accordingly.

“It is an interesting situation. They have to see how they come out this week too and we’ll see what happens," Carroll told reporters on Monday. "We’re going to prepare like we’re going to see their best guys. That’s the way we’ll go, and expect that we’ll see Aaron [Rodgers] back out there. If that’s not the case, we’ll have seen the game of [Jordan] Love. We’ll know more about what we need to do there. We’ve got to prepare for the best guys. The way it looks, protocols and format and all that, he should be back out there.”

While Lumen Field has served as Rodgers' kryptonite over the years, the future Hall of Fame signal caller and long-time nemesis has owned Seattle at Lambeau Field. In four prior contests at home, including a Divisional Round victory in January 2020, he has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 1,049 yards, eight touchdowns, and only one interception while averaging 8.39 yards per attempt and posting a 113.0 passer rating.

Many of the players from those teams moving on over the past few years, including linebacker K.J. Wright and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney among others, but several of the Seahawks core defenders have squared off against Rodgers frequently.  All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner will be playing him for the ninth time, while safety Quandre Diggs will also be seeing him for the sixth time after competing against him for years as a member of the Lions.

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Citing Rodgers impressive football IQ and awareness on top of his array of physical tools, Diggs knows he will have his work cut out for him dissecting film this week to prepare for the quarterback/safety chess match that awaits on Sunday.

“He’s seen everything, so there’s no confusing him," Diggs said of the challenges playing against Rodgers. "He’s always going to get those guys into the best plays and capitalize on what the defense is doing. He knows that because he’s seen it all. The way he gets the ball out is so effortless. It’s hard to get a read on the ball because he’s one of those guys that he’s hair trigger because of the way he gets his release out. It’s hard for a post safety to get a lot of jumps because of the way he can maneuver and throw the ball at different arm angles."

Although his numbers haven't been quite on par with his MVP production from a year ago when he led the NFL with 48 touchdown passes and threw just five interceptions, the 37-year old Rodgers has shown few signs of slowing down while orchestrating Matt LaFleur's offense. Through eight starts this year, he has completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown 17 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions.

Prior to testing positive for COVID-19 on November 3, Rodgers was playing some of his best football, throwing seven touchdowns without any picks in three straight wins over Chicago, Washington, and then-undefeated Arizona.

“He’s such an expert at playing the quarterback position," Carroll remarked. "He knows it so well, he’s so instinctive, and he’s really talented too. He’s still as talented as he’s ever been as far as getting the football out. He has a marvelous release time, it’s as good as you can possibly be. It’s worked to his advantage over the years whether he is in the pocket or whether he’s on the move, it’s always been an asset. His vision, seeing guys down the field and anticipating things to come open when the play does break down has been a famous part of his game." 

From Wagner's perspective, coupled with his still-elite throwing arm and pocket mobility, Rodgers' ability to win with his mind is what makes him truly stand above the rest of his peers at the most important position in the sport. Taking advantage of one of the best home field advantages in the league, he's rightfully earned his reputation as the master of drawing defenses offsides or catching opponents in the middle of a substitution, providing the Packers numerous free play opportunities over the years.

“He understands the down and distance for sure. You see with him, if they convert a third down or convert like a second down and that third down you try to get your pass rushers in. He’s really good at getting everybody lined up, and he always hikes the ball while somebody is running off the field," Wagner explained. "That’s something we’ve definitely got to be conscious of. With that, I think he just has a good understanding of the play clock and guys looking at the play clock. He doesn’t mind waiting until the last second to hike the ball, so sometimes the fingers get antsy, and they think that because he has two seconds left that he has to hike the ball. Sometimes he waits until the very last second, so I think he’s really smart and really creative when it comes to that.”

Considering Rodgers propensity for changing tempos and calling audibles at the line of scrimmage along with his other talents, the Seahawks are going all-in preparing for him to start under center. While Wagner wasn't necessarily taking a shot at Love in his assessment, he doesn't anticipate the young quarterback apprentice will excel at identifying coverages and changing plays pre-snap the way his MVP superior does.

If Love does wind up starting for a second straight week, the Seahawks will have watched his start against the Chiefs to do their due diligence. But with his skill set not being much different as the primary backup, Wagner is more than confident the work put in bracing for a difficult matchup versus Rodgers will work in their favor against the inexperienced quarterback.

“If he’s going to play, you prepare for him for sure. He’s a guy that has the whole playbook opened up, and a lot of times he can come to the line, and he can look at a defense and change the play based off of what he sees. With a younger quarterback, you’re not going to get that. What you see is what you get... I think Rodgers is just more complex. If the young Utah State quarterback is going to play, then we understand that the book might open up a little bit more, but it’s not going to be as open as the MVP vet.”