Even though the Green Bay Packers deny it, there will be the revenge factor.
There will be all-everything quarterback Aaron Rodgers healthier than he was the last time he faced the Seattle Seahawks.
There will be a buzz inside iconic Lambeau Field for a Sunday night showcase in Green Bay’s home opener, on a warm, idyllic, late-summer night. There will be Packers alumni honored, some of the most accomplished veterans in NFL history.
Yet of all that the Seahawks (0-1) are facing in this formidable task in the second week of the regular season, their most pressing issue is to simply talk.
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Talk, that is, more effectively to one another.
“It’s like a marriage. If you don’t communicate, good things don’t happen,” defensive end Michael Bennett said. “(Last week in St. Louis) we were like a bad marriage. We didn’t communicate. Because we weren’t on the same page, we weren’t making the plays that people are used to seeing us making.”
Such as basic zone pass coverages across the field’s middle, behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Seattle will again be without three-time Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor, who is now more than 50 days into his holdout. Dion Bailey, the 2014 practice-squad rookie who fell down in coverage to allow St. Louis’ tying touchdown late in the game the Rams eventually won in overtime, will make his second career start for Chancellor against the Packers.
Communication is even more imperative against Rodgers. He can exploit disconnects better than Rams quarterback Nick Foles — heck, better than any quarterback in football.
“Everything that happened was basically on us. Whether it’d be communication, we just didn’t understand what the situation was,” said All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas, who has had to ditch many of his freelancing ways to take on more of Chancellor’s traffic-cop role with Bailey and teammates before snaps.
“It’s all fixable,” Thomas said. “And I guarantee we are going to fix it.”
They have to in order to compete against Rodgers and the Packers. At full strength and connectivity, the Seahawks held Rodgers — who threw for 4,381 yards last year, third-highest of his outstanding 11-year career — to 189 and 178 yards passing while beating Green Bay twice during the 2014 season and postseason. That was almost 100 yards below Rodgers’ average yards passing per game last season.
But a calf injury limited Rodgers to just six scrambles outside the pocket in that title game. One of the league’s most mobile and elusive quarterbacks often makes six escapes in one quarter.
Rodgers is without his top receiver; Jordy Nelson is out for the year with a knee injury. But rugged runner Eddie Lacy shares the Packers’ load. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound back had 73 yards rushing on two more carries than Rodgers had completions (19) last week in Green Bay’s 31-23 win at Chicago.
“I think Eddie Lacy … he’s slightly overweight,” Bennett said. “But he’s good at what he does.”
Joking aside — which is hard to get to with Bennett — the Seahawks’ new starters on defense need to talk to each other more effectively before Rodgers inevitably shows Seattle new plays. That includes Bailey, cornerback Cary Williams, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and even All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who with Nelson out is likely play more inside as a nickel back to shadow Green Bay’s skilled slot receiver Randall Cobb.
Communication is also what the Seahawks’ offense spent the past week working on most.
A large reason the offensive line got run over by the Rams last week was because its starters at three new positions failed to efficiently and accurately relay pre-snap blocking calls to each other.
St. Louis sacked quarterback Russell Wilson six times. The Rams forced Seattle out of its zone read-option offense and play-action passing. When the Seahawks needed a single yard from Marshawn Lynch on fourth down to extend the game in overtime, St. Louis flooded through the line to dump the league’s rushing leader over the past four seasons in the backfield.
“When we are all on the same page, we are pretty good,” right guard J.R. Sweezy said of the blockers whom veteran line coach Tom Cable said last month are the most athletic and potentially best he’s had. “It’s just a matter of doing that every play, from the first to the last.”
Seattle traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans in the offseason for Jimmy Graham so the league’s most productive tight end since 2011 could make his usual huge plays down the field to help revolutionize its passing game. But that revolution is on hold, at least until new center Drew Nowak, debuting right tackle Garry Gilliam and moved-to-left-guard Justin Britt solidify the line.
They must make and take the right calls more quickly and with more conviction before snaps. That would instantly make the line — and the offense — more decisive and assignment-sound.
“I just know I have to communicate better with the guys up front,” said Nowak, a college defensive tackle four years ago who grew up 10 minutes from Lambeau Field and owns stock in the publically held Packers. “I know that’s going to be a battle early on because this is my first time playing. But it’s up to me to make sure everybody is on the same page. So that’s a big onus I put on me, to make sure I am on it, I’m demonstrative with the calls and I make sure that everyone knows what they are doing.
“In the end, if we mess up it’s on me, because I have to make sure everyone’s in the right place.”
Seattle has a crutch to simplify Nowak’s calls, get the offense in a quicker pace and keep defenses on the field with the same, tired personnel. The Seahawks effectively moved the ball without huddling at the end of the first half and the start of the fourth quarter at St. Louis. The no-huddle produced 10 of the offense’s 17 points last week.
In January’s NFC title game, Seattle went no-huddle to score two touchdowns in the last 4 minutes of regulation, rallying from down 19-7 into the lead late.
Expect to see the Seahawks in a hurry even more Sunday night to make it simpler for their line and to try to keep a Packers defense missing injured play caller and inside linebacker Sam Barrington in base sets play after play.
“I think the hurry-up can definitely help the offense in the sense of having a sense of pace,” said Wilson, who calls the Seahawks’ plays in the no-huddle offense. “And it kind of tires out the defensive linemen, tires out their defense just in general.
“I just like putting pressure on the defense. … Ultimately it gets us more plays, too. So it’s a good thing.”
Staring at the possibility of 0-2, the Seahawks could use a few more good things.
But first, far better communication.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-1)
at GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-0)
5:30 p.m. Sunday, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: The Packers lead the regular-season series, 8-7, and have won six of the nine regular-season games played in Wisconsin. Green Bay has won two of the three postseason games. Seattle’s first playoff win against the Packers was its overtime win in January’s miraculous NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field, when the Seahawks rallied from a 16-0 deficit with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Talk’s NOT cheap: The Seahawks’ defense miscommunicated its way to allowing Nick Foles 297 yards passing in his Rams debut last week. St. Louis ran wide open all over the field. Dion Bailey, filling in for his second career game at strong safety in place of holdout Kam Chancellor, needs direction as much as experience. The offensive line with starters in three new positions also lacked communication while getting ransacked by the Rams’ defensive line. Green Bay’s front is not as aggressive or talented as St. Louis’, but if the Seahawks aren’t in the right place at the right time, it will be a long night for them in Lambeau Field.
Run like you mean it: Russell Wilson wasn’t a run threat in is usual, read-option way last week. That made Marshawn Lynch’s and the entire offense’s task more difficult than normal. The Packers allowed Matt Forte and the Bears 189 yards rushing in their opener — and no one has ever said Matt Forte is as talented and dominant as Marshawn Lynch. Time for Seattle to run first and run often.
88 takes time: It’s great for the Seahawks to have Jimmy Graham. But the line’s pass protection was so poor last week that by the third quarter, the NFL’s best downfield tight-end threat the last four seasons was running 1-yard routes. To fully realize what Graham can be for this offense, Seattle’s remade line must give Wilson the time to wait for Graham to run longer routes.
Packers, 24-20. This is Seattle’s toughest test, on the road against Aaron Rodgers, a likely division winner and a fellow Super Bowl contender out for revenge in its home opener. Good thing this is September and not January.
He doesn’t need his mom to tell the Seahawks how important
his running will be to this one.
Best Seahawk on the field last week at St. Louis. With Packers
OT Bryan Bulaga out, Avril could have a monster night.
Grew up 10 minutes from Lambeau. Owns stock in Packers. Now
he needs to block them and communicate.
It always begins and ends in Green Bay with him. He’s healthier
than he was in January. Look out.
Making his third career start, in place of out-for-the-year Sam
Barrington. Seattle will target him with the run and the pass.
Replacing Bulaga (knee) and coming off his own ACL injury.
Avril, Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin are licking their chops.