SEATTLE -- Two teams that could face each other in the NFC Championship Game in four months will face each other in the NFL season opener between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.
It will take a lot for this game to end as dramatically as the last meeting between these teams two years ago. In a Monday night game that featured replacement officials, the Seahawks won 14-12 after a controversial last-second Hail Mary throw from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate was ruled a touchdown catch.
"A lot of the refs thanked me for some of my comments after the game,” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It was a part in them getting back on the job that next week.”
A lot has changed since that night. The Seahawks are now the defending Super Bowl champions and the Packers have gone downhill since that fateful moment. They were 15-1 the season before that game but went 11-5 in 2012 and 8-7-1 last season.
Green Bay hopes to show an improved defense this year and return to elite status. Seattle hopes to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount tackle some of the key issues entering the important season-opening game.
Blount: Rob, the Packers defense ranked 25th in the NFL last season and wasn’t good against the run or the pass. Do you believe they've done the right things to significantly improve the defense this season?
Demovsky: In some ways, the Packers have totally changed their philosophy on defense. Up front, they went from having three 330-plus-pound veteran defensive linemen to instead having much smaller but quicker and younger players up front. They also added a second bona fide pass-rusher in Julius Peppers to complement Clay Matthews, and that's something Matthews has not had before in his pro career. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers also has a few scheme changes that he plans to unveil against the Seahawks that will look significantly different from his usual 3-4 base alignment. Whether they will end up being the right changes remains to be seen, but after the way they struggled on defense last year, they had to do something different.
Terry, you know how the NFL works. Everyone around the league studies the defending champs and tries to figure out how they did it. Do you think the league will figure out the Seahawks this year?
Blount: I think a lot of teams already are trying to copy what the Seahawks do on defense by using bigger, more physical cornerbacks and varying their defensive fronts to pressure the quarterback. But Richard Sherman was asked this question in training camp and his answer was, it doesn’t matter if they figure it out. First, you can’t duplicate it because it’s about the heart of the players, not schemes. And second, it’s a little like the great Packers teams under Vince Lombardi. It isn’t about tricking people and outsmarting them; it’s about having better execution. Like those great Green Bay teams in the 1960s, everyone knew what the team was going to do, but they did it so well no one could stop them. The Seahawks are the same way.
Rob, some people view this game as a matchup of the best defense in the NFL against the best quarterback in NFL. What will it take for Aaron Rogers and the Packers offense to be successful against the Seattle defense and the Legion of Boom?
Demovsky: As much as Rodgers makes this team go, they had better not put the game in his hands alone. Go back and look at the 2012 game between these two teams and see what happened when the Packers tried to throw, throw, throw. On their first 25 plays of that game, they ran only four times, and the Seahawks made mincemeat out of Rodgers, sacking him eight times in the first half. Now the Packers have Eddie Lacy and a running game. They just need to know when to use it to keep the Seahawks off balance.
Terry, speaking of quarterbacks, some people still view Wilson as a game-manager-type quarterback. Are Pete Carroll and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell putting more on Wilson’s shoulders this season?
Blount: It's all on Wilson's shoulders, and I don't think there is a bigger misnomer in the NFL than the thought that Wilson is a game manager. Was Bart Starr only a game manager for the Packers? That’s the quarterback who I think best compares to Wilson. He never will put up eye-popping numbers because the Seahawks are a run-first team, but Wilson is an outstanding passer and an exceptional decision-maker who converts his biggest plays in the most difficult moments. Wilson has been close to perfect in the preseason. On 12 drives when he was in the game, the Seahawks scored nine TDs and two field goals and didn't have a turnover. If that's a game manager, the Seahawks will take it.
Demovsky: Believe it or not, Tretter might be the bigger loss, even though he’s a guy few people outside of Wisconsin have ever heard of. Coach Mike McCarthy and his offensive staff spent all offseason grooming him to be their next starting center, and then he went down in the second-to-last preseason game. The Packers feel good about his replacement, Corey Linsley, but it’s a lot to ask of a rookie fifth-round pick who has not even taken one game snap with Rodgers yet. While Raji is the more recognizable, higher-profile player, the reality is he was going to be only a part-time player on defense.
Terry, how do the Seahawks plan to use Percy Harvin and what kind of an impact can he have, provided he stays healthy, of course?
Blount: In whatever way you can imagine it, the Seahawks will employ it to use Harvin and capitalize on his incredible talent. They will throw it to him deep, they’ll throw it to him over the middle, they'll put him in motion, they’ll run end-arounds and bubble screens and even hand off to him in the backfield. The point is to try to keep the defense guessing what he’s doing on every play and try to put Harvin in situations where he can beat defenders in the open field, one-on-one. And Harvin said he is the healthiest he has been since high school.