This Sunday, for the third time in three years, the Seattle Seahawks are coming to Lambeau Field by the freshwater bay. The Green Bay Packers won 27-17 two years ago and 38-10 last year.
But it’s the earlier confrontations inside that salty Seattle dome that are rooted in the bitter memories of Packer fans—one in 2012 (the Fail Mary game) and two in the 2014 season (a 20-point loss to open the season and the most epic collapse in championship game history to close it).
All five of those games occurred during a five-season stretch in which the Seahawks and Packers were two of the most dominant teams in football, with 10 playoff, nine divisional round, and five NFC championship game appearances between them—as well as those two miserable Super Bowls the Seahawks played in.
Green Bay has stayed elite because of its offense (except for the seven games Aaron Rodgers missed in ’13), while Seattle has stayed elite because of its defense (except for the seven games free safety Earl Thomas missed at the end of last year).
Both teams have spent liberally this offseason to keep their championship windows open—which in the case of the Packers involved body-snatching the notoriously frugal Ted Thompson and encouraging his imposter to spend $23 million in annual salary on seven players previously employed by enemy franchises. The Seahawks spent $24 million for five such players including over $4 million for Eddie Lacy’s shrinking midsection.
SCOUTING THE SEAHAWKS
Neither team has played a real game yet, so the only way to scout all these new players is to review the first half of the third preseason game, when the starting units played. In the Seahawks’ case, they had a 19-10 lead at home against the Kansas City Chiefs by the time Russell Wilson left the game early in the third quarter. Here are the names and jersey numbers of Seahawks to watch:
#29 Thomas’s broken tibia is now healed, and is he is joined by #31 Cam Chancellor to form the most fearsome safety duo in the league. The 6-3 Chancellor lurks in the box while the 5-10 Thomas plays centerfield like a missile with a homing device for the ball. Together with #25 Richard Sherman, who plays press man corner on the left side, these three have been the core of the best secondary in football for half a decade.
Patrolling between those stalwarts will be two of the best middle linebackers in the game, #50 K.J. Wright and #54 Bobby Wagner, who have been the heart of this defense since the run of success began.
The line, unfortunately, is about as strong, fast, and scary as the rest of the defense. With the trade last week for Sheldon Richardson and his $8 million salary from the Jets, the Seahawks now have four defensive ends that would start for most teams. #55 Frank Clark is quick off the edges and up the middle. Against the Chiefs he lined up left, right, and middle, hands up and down, and always ended up in Alex Smith’s lap. #56 Cliff Avril is getting old but still sets a strong edge. The star is 274-pound #72 Michael Bennett, who on some plays this Sunday will be lining up against his 275-pound brother Martellus. On the inside are two young and athletic 300 pounders, #90 Jarran Reed from last year’s second round and #92 Nazair Jones from this year’s third.
The offensive personnel are mostly mediocre, but have benefitted from a defense that gives them short fields and lots of chances, and the sharp tactical instincts of coordinator Darrell Bevell. Last year, when #3 Russell Wilson‘s multiple leg injuries prevented him from scurrying about, the offense imploded. Poor line play didn’t help, but the Seahawks’ big uglies have never been any good (they once let Packer reject Breno Giacomini start 30 games). It just finally started to matter last season when the best player on offense (Wilson) was hobbled and the captain of the defense (Thomas) was sidelined.
#88 Jimmy Graham and #89 Doug Baldwin are the two main pass catching targets, and last year’s Seattle starter #34 Thomas Rawls will be splitting carries with last year’s Green Bay starter Eddie Lacy. Our former thumper will be wearing the familiar #27 jersey, but it will have fewer stretch marks due to summer weight targets in his contract. Packer fans must hope that those love handles were like Samson’s hair.
HOW THE PACKERS MATCH UP
There were only two defensive positions not highlighted above: right corner and nickelback. History tells us this is where Aaron Rodgers will be focusing. In the blowout loss back in ’14, Rodgers famously avoided Sherman’s side for the entire game. In the overtime loss later that season, Sherman intercepted Rodgers in the end zone—on what Rodgers assumed was a free play but the refs missed Bennett’s jump offsides. Even in the two recent victories, Rodgers targeted the slots and the right side more than Sherman.
The Seahawks are indeed weak at right corner, nickel and dime back, but the trouble is that the safeties and the middle linebackers will move around in hard-to-predict ways, meaning that Rodgers will need all his wits about him in the pocket to know where the weaknesses are on any given play. If Bryan Bulaga‘s ankle is not healthy by Sunday, it’s hard to imagine Rodgers pulling that off with Clark, Avril, Bennett, and Richardson rotating in to pass rush against an unproven right tackle.
This could mean we see a lot of rookie Jamal Williams in the backfield, as he is the best chip blocker amongst the running backs. On the other hand, Ty Montgomery‘s talent as a pass catcher could put the most schematic pressure on the ends and backers, forcing them to backfoot some of their rushes.
If Rodgers has time to scan the field, he now has expensive new tight ends Martellus Bennett ($8 million) and Lance Kendricks ($2 million) to put pressure exactly where the Seahawks are weakest: in the slots. Expect Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to frequently line up there as well.
When the Seahawks defense destroyed the Packers in week 1 of 2014, it was against the super secret 4-3 formation that Dom Capers kept hidden indoors throughout August practices. Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell were not surprised. It was probably the most humiliating schematic failure in Mike McCarthy’s decade-long tenure.
This year the scheme is no secret, but the gameday tackling and coverage abilities of most of the players are. All of top our corners are either new (Kevin King and Davon House) or have newly repaired groins (Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins) and three of our 10 healthy upfront guys (Ahmad Brooks, Chris Odom, Quinton Dial) just signed with the team this week.
Russell Wilson is hard to catch, and Eddie Lacy is hard to bring down once you’ve caught him. Whether the Packers can do that is the biggest mystery entering this contest.
BEFORE THE SUPER BOWLS
Long before this latest run of excellent football in Seattle and Wisconsin, and even before the first football ever arrived in Green Bay in 1895, the Suquamish (meaning “people of the sheltered salt water”) lived along the estuaries of Puget Sound. One of their chiefs went by the name Si’ahl, which was eventually Anglicized into Seattle, the largest city in North America to be named after an individual Native American.
The largest city in Wisconsin to be named after an individual Native American is Oshkosh, after a Menominee (meaning “people of the wild rice”) chief who lived at the same time as Chief Seattle. The same river that empties by Green Bay into Lake Michigan first empties by Oshkosh into Lake Winnebago.
The year 1854 was significant for both Chief Oshkosh and Chief Seattle. In Wisconsin, Oshkosh renegotiated earlier treaties from 1836 and 1848 which would have banished the Menominee out of Wisconsin and into Minnesota. Under the new terms, the Menominee were still obligated to “sell” over four million acres in central Wisconsin, but could now stay on the Wolf River, tributary of the Fox and site of the Menominee reservation to this day. Chief Oshkosh would die on that reservation in 1858.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, Chief Seattle was also in the midst of being forced by treaty onto reservations, and he is reported to have given a haunting speech in January 1854 on Main Street in Seattle, outside the courthouse, in the presence of the newly appointed governor of Washington. This speech has since been stretched and fabricated into an Earth Day sermon, but the originally reported words on the power of place stand on their own:
“There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor…To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground…Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays…Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”
Indeed, the cleated footsteps this Sunday afternoon will pound well-trod soil. Left of the verdant Fox Valley, as its waters widen, the fertile ground will remember the sloppy mud Desmond Howard returned two punts through in 1997, and the frozen tundra Jerry Kramer lurched upon in 1967.