The Green Bay Packers are no strangers to playing on Monday Night Football. In fact, there's only one team that has played as many seasons in a row on on the nation's biggest stage than Green Bay.
When the Packers kick off with the Seattle Seahawks Monday night, it will mark the 20th straight season Green Bay has played a Monday night game. Only the Denver Broncos (21 straight years) have a longer current streak.
The 20-year run is a testament to the Packers national brand and their consistent success since the beginning of the Brett Favre era.
The game is more than a milestone, however, as the Packers will be kicking off a difficult stretch of four road games in five weeks.
Green Bay plays at Seattle this week, returns home for a contest with the winless New Orleans Saints in Week 4, and then goes back on the road for three straight (Indianapolis, Houston, St. Louis).
The last time the Packers faced a five-game stretch with four road games was 2010, when Green Bay went just 2-3 from Week 11 to 15. The 2012 version will test the Packers, who haven't played a road game this season.
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Taste the rainbow
Ted Thompson had a chance to trade for running back Marshawn Lynch in 2010, but the Packers GM passed when the price got too high for his liking. Seattle ended up pulling the trigger for Lynch, sending a fourth-round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012 (turned out being a fifth-rounder) to Buffalo in exchange.
The Lynch trade saga will come full circle almost two years later, as Thompson's defense will now have to deal with one of the NFL's most physical players. Few backs run with as much power behind their pads as Lynch, who currently leads the NFL in missed tackles created with 14. He'll add to that total Monday night if the Packers don't aim low and swarm to the football to get Lynch on the ground.
Lynch should be the defense's No. 1 target.
Remember, the Seahawks are starting a rookie at quarterback who has just two games of NFL experience. Stopping Lynch on early downs and forcing Russell Wilson into difficult third downs is the key for Green Bay's defense Monday night.
Find the timing
The Packers offense hasn't been the high-flying juggernaut it was in 2011, when Green Bay set a franchise record by averaging five touchdowns a game (35.0 points). A part of the early decline has been the defenses on the opposite sidelines, but it doesn't get any easier in that regard Monday night.
The Seahawks have a secondary that sent three players to the Pro Bowl in 2011, and Pro Football Focus ranks Seattle as the top pressure defense against the pass so far in 2012.
Seattle's starting cornerbacks—Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman—are the featured duo Monday night. The two play every week much like how Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr matched up with the Packers in Kansas City last season, using a physical disposition at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of opposing passing games. As you'll recall, Green Bay scored a season-low 14 points last December in falling to the Flowers/Carr and the Chiefs.
The Packers receivers need to do a better job at disengaging at the line Monday night, as the Seattle defense does give up big plays when the corners struggle and trail in coverage. If Seattle can consistently get its hands on the Green Bay receivers outside, the offense could sputter again.
Mistakes fuel Seattle
The Seahawks have used turnovers and big special teams plays to set up over 80 percent (7/9) of their point-scoring drives in 2012. It probably goes without saying that the Packers need to be careful with the football and strong on covering kicks and punts Monday night.
While Green Bay had just 14 total turnovers in 2011—good for second in the NFL—the Packers have already dealt with three this season (two vs. San Francisco, one vs. Chicago). And those mistakes came at home. A clean game from the offense is even more important in a loud, hostile stadium like Seattle's.
A zero in the turnover column probably means a 'W' for the Packers in the win-loss column.
Keeping Leon Washington (four punt returns for 58 yards, four kick returns for 153 and long of 83) under wraps will also ensure Seattle is working with long fields on most drives Monday night, another important factor against a young, inexperienced quarterback.
More of the Cobra?
The Packers call their offensive package with receiver Randall Cobb in the offensive backfield "Cobra," but there wouldn't even be such a formation without Cobb's unique skill set creating mismatches. Given that the Packers staff have had 11 days to scheme for this game, one could assume Green Bay would utilize the versatile Cobb in the package at some time Monday night.
Coach Mike McCarthy used the formation for long stretches against the 49ers, and also had early success with it against the Bears last Thursday. Cobb received two carries (one called back because of penalty) vs. Chicago after catching four passes as a running back a week earlier in Week 1 (breakdown of how Green Bay used Cobb against San Francisco can be found here).
The formation likely won't see more than a few snaps, but Cobb has proved his playmaking ability when Cobra gets him the ball in space. Just one or two more splash plays will make the package worth expanding on as the 2012 season progresses on. Expect part of that expansion Monday night.
Running out of confusion
There will be snaps Monday night where the Packers are facing a defense that features three down linemen, three safeties, four cornerbacks and just one linebacker (unsure if there is a fancy nickname for it, but the look shows up on film). It's an amoeba defense that creates pre-snap confusion, much like the Packers' Psycho package. Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has used it early in 2012 to create pressure with blitzers coming from all over the formation.
However, having just three down linemen and one linebacker on the field should create favorable opportunities to run the football for Green Bay. The Packers can't be afraid to check out of certain calls to pound Cedric Benson at a smaller defensive look.
And overall, the Packers need to be able to run the football against most of the Seahawks fronts. The 49ers were able to dictate the Packers offense in Week 1 because the run was completely taken away in the first half. A week later, the play-action game was a much bigger factor because Cedric Benson got over 20 carries against the Bears.
The Packers may not ever be a power running team under McCarthy, but this isn't the defense or atmosphere to become a one dimensional passing team. Green Bay probably won't win Monday night if Aaron Rodgers is dropping back to pass 52 times like he did against the 49ers. 40 or less (Rodgers had 40 drop backs against the Bears) is the number to watch.
Sunday's slate of games proved that picking games in the NFL is a fool's errand. But as this week has progressed, my confidence in the Packers winning on the road Monday night has increased. I think the Packers will make a concentrated effort on limiting Lynch on the ground and making Wilson win this game with his arm, which favors Green Bay in almost every way. On offense, Rodgers and the receivers feel due for one of those games that make you say "Wow." The unit has had a long time to break down what the Seahawks do well and not well in the passing game, and they've heard a lot of the same "struggling to open the season" questions you've all heard the past week. Likely having Greg Jennings (groin) back in the lineup helps, too. Winning in Seattle is never easy, but I think the Packers get it done Monday night.
Packers 27, Seahawks 20 (Season record: 0-2)
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