The Green Bay Packers will have the opportunity to make a rare preseason statement Friday when the tough and talented Seattle Seahawks travel to Lambeau Field for the third and most important exhibition game of the 2013 schedule.
Starters for each club will likely play deep into the first half, and possibly for a series or two after half time.
Seattle should present a worthy test. An 11-5 football team last season, the Seahawks have started their preseason schedule by outscoring the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos by a combined score of 71-20.
The Packers beat the St. Louis Rams last Saturday by a final of 19-7 after being shutout by the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason opener.
During the rehearsal week last August, Green Bay led the Cincinnati Bengals 17-6 by the time the starters exited the contest. The Packers went on to win, 27-13.
Here's five things you could watch during Friday's nationally televised matchup with Seattle:
1. Defensive Measuring Stick
With Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers waiting in Week 1 of the regular season, the Packers probably couldn't ask for a better litmus test on defense than the Seahawks starting offense for two-plus quarters Friday. Russell Wilson is a mobile, talented quarterback who can execute the read option, while Marshawn Lynch provides a physical test at running back. Seattle rather easily scored 20 points on five drives against the Denver Broncos last week. Even if the Seahawks don't throw the house at Dom Capers, the duo of Wilson and Lynch should give the Packers a gauge for how far along the defense is at stopping the evolving offenses in the NFL. Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the rest of the 49ers powerful offense will be eagerly awaiting Week 1 if the Packers struggle against a similar offense Friday night.
2. Bakhtiari and Barclay's Most Important Test
Through two games, Packers rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari has passed just about every test put in front of him. Save for one third-down sack allowed in St. Louis, when the fourth-round pick let Robert Quinn get inside and to Aaron Rodgers, Bakhtiari has been solid in protecting the blindside. However, the Seahawks present another front four who can get after the quarterback. One only needs to watch the first half of Seattle's win over Green Bay last season for evidence of that fact. Friday night, Bakhtiari should get two-plus quarters of fast, attacking defense to help ready himself for the regular season. The same goes for Don Barclay, who now appears to be the front runner at right tackle. Both young tackles could win over more confidence from the coaching staff with a strong performance.
3. Roller Coaster Ride at Kicker
Just when you think Mason Crosby has earned himself another life as the Packers kicker with a strong week of practice and 3-for-3 performance in St. Louis, the seventh-year veteran reverts to his mentally fragile alter ego Wednesday to keep the kicking competition wide open. How long can the Packers continue to ride the kicking roller coaster? It wouldn't be a surprise in the slightest if the team's kicker in 2013 isn't currently on the roster. However, Crosby can keep the ride going if he makes a few kicks against Seattle Friday. It would seem Giorgio Tavecchio will have to be nearly flawless from here on out to have a serious chance of being the Week 1 kicker.
4. Still Trying to Find No. 2
The focus will rightfully be on the starting offense and their half of work Friday night, but the Packers still need to make headway in finding their backup quarterback. Through two preseason games, none of the three options have separated themselves in competition. It will likely come down to the fourth and final exhibition game, when Graham Harrell, Vince Young and B.J. Coleman will take the majority of offensive reps. However, the Packers wouldn't mind if one of the quarterbacks finally made a strong impression in a live-game setting Friday, especially considering how suffocating Seattle's backup defense has been this preseason. Time is starting to run out on this competition, and the Packers are really no closer to finding a suitable backup to Aaron Rodgers. Separation from someone needs to begin Friday night.
5. Mixed bag of Player watching
A few players worth keeping an eye on Friday:
- Eddie Lacy: The rookie running back was impressive in his preseason debut. Friday will be another test, especially in terms of pass protection. The Packers know what they have in Lacy in terms of running talent, but he still needs the reps against a good defense.
- Micah Hyde: The instincts and physicality jump off the screen when watching the rookie cornerback. He figures to get another long look against Seattle, and it will be interesting to see how his physicality translates against a smash-mouth offense. Hyde could make another strong impression.
- Jermichael Finley: It now seems like an annual tradition for Finley to be having a good camp, but this year has a different feel to it. All his talking is being done on the field, where he's dominated at times. The Seahawks will certainly be physical with him Friday. Another big night from the tight end could really springboard the kind of season everyone has expected from Finley for the last few years.
- Johnathan Franklin: Given what he's showed so far, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if Franklin didn't have much of a role as a rookie. He's not a natural returning punts or kicks, and his work running the football has been shaky at best. He has value as a receiver in space, but so does DuJuan Harris. Franklin needs a better showing Friday.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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