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Saturday, September 22, 2012
MNF Preview: Seahawks' keys vs. Packers

By Mike Sando

Russell Wilson
The Seahawks expect Russell Wilson to make big plays on the move as his career progresses.

SEATTLE -- Sixty-five quarterbacks combined to throw 92 touchdowns and 51 interceptions from outside the pocket last season.

Two others, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers, achieved a higher level. Each finished 2011 with 10 TDs and zero INTs on these largely improvisational throws.

That approximates what Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll envisions from his quarterback, Russell Wilson. He hasn't seen much of it during the team's 1-1 start. Wilson has 25 yards passing on 5-of-7 completions outside the pocket.

"I think it's just a matter of time that he really makes things happen on the move, because we know that he can and he will," Carroll said. "I'm hoping that will show up a little bit more."

Monday night against Green Bay, perhaps?

That would be an optimistic timetable for a rookie quarterback making only his third regular-season start. Not that Wilson has much use for timetables. Four months was all he needed to convert veteran acquisition Matt Flynn from presumed starter to a special consultant for strategy against the Packers, Flynn's former team.

Along those lines, I've put together a look at three keys for Wilson and the Seahawks against Green Bay:

Handling added pressure

Wilson appeared tentative against Arizona's pressure packages in Week 1. His accuracy suffered. A couple times, he held the ball as if unwilling to trust his receivers.

Wilson completed only 6-of-18 passes for 47 yards against Arizona when the Cardinals rushed him with five or more defenders. He completed 12-of-16 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown the rest of the time.

The pressure was off during Seattle's 27-7 victory against Dallas in Week 2. The Cowboys attacked Wilson with five or more rushers only six times. Wilson completed 12-of-15 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown when they sent four or fewer.

The Packers presumably will pattern their plan more closely after Arizona's approach than Dallas'. Playing at home should help Wilson and the Seattle offensive line communicate protection calls more effectively than they did at Arizona, where the Cardinals fooled the Seahawks with inside blitz combinations.

But Wilson still must show he can make opponents pay for coming after him. Green Bay has sent five-plus rushers on 37.1 percent of its defensive plays this season. That is the 10th-highest rate in the NFL, and above the 29.3 percent average for the 31 other teams heading into Week 3.

The chart shows how San Francisco's Alex Smith and Chicago's Jay Cutler fared against Green Bay this season when the Packers sent more than four pass-rushers.

"We have wishes and expectations," Carroll said, "but right now, I just want to see him play really smart."

Russell Okung versus Clay Matthews

Seattle had games such as this one in mind when it made left tackle a priority in the 2010 draft.

Okung, selected sixth overall that year, will match up primarily against Packers outside linebacker Matthews. Okung has the talent to contain Matthews, but he hasn't been playing to Matthews' level lately.

Matthews has six sacks through two games, matching his 15-game total from last season. He has 35.5 sacks in 48 career games, and dominated his Week 2 matchup with Chicago Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb. That mismatch produced Cutler's notorious sideline outburst during the nationally televised game at Lambeau Field.

Seattle doesn't have to worry about its quarterback reacting that way. Wilson seems much more reserved and under control. But Okung is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him against Dallas, and blindside protection could be a concern Monday night.

Okung has missed 11 of 34 regular-season games to this point in his career. He was becoming a force late last season until suffering a torn pectoral muscle when Philadelphia's Trent Cole, acting out of frustration, yanked Okung to the ground. Okung struggled some against Arizona's Sam Acho in the opener before the knee injury knocked him from the game.

Rodgers versus Seattle safeties

Seattle sent three-fourths of its starting secondary to the Pro Bowl last season. The one player not invited, cornerback Richard Sherman, has arguably been the best of the four in 2012.

The question this season was how well the group would hold up against a long list of top quarterbacks. So far, so good.

Romo, who lit up the New York Giants in Week 1, left Seattle with his sixth-lowest Total QBR score (38.8) for a single game in his past 33 starts (minimum two attempts).

Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cutler remain on the 2012 schedule. And with NFC West quarterbacks Smith and Sam Bradford playing at a high level so far, four divisional games are looking tougher as well.

This game marks the first time Seattle has faced an MVP-caliber quarterback in prime time since ... when? The team faced Drew Brees on a Sunday night in 2007 and Brett Favre in a memorable Monday night snowstorm a year earlier.

Containing Rodgers seemed impossible for so much of last season. But as the chart shows, Rodgers' production on longer passes has plummeted over his past five games, counting playoffs. Green Bay has a 2-3 record in those games.

Seattle has the personnel to keep the trend going. Sherman (6-foot-3) and fellow corner Brandon Browner (6-4) play press coverage on the outside. Free safety Earl Thomas roams sideline to sideline, helping out where needed. Kam Chancellor, the NFL's biggest strong safety at 6-3 and 232 pounds, plays the role of enforcer.

Thomas is the one to watch.

"His range reminds me of a guy we had here a long time -- Nick Collins, who played at a Pro Bowl level his entire career," Rodgers said. "He was an integral part of our Super Bowl run, his ability to make up if anybody outside gets beat, or react to a ball deep down the field. Earl has that ability. ... He's a big-time player."