Game Preview: Packers at Seahawks, NFC Championship Game

What to watch when Green Bay travels to Seattle on Sunday for the right to play in the Super Bowl.

The Green Bay Packers (13-4) travel to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to take on the Seahawks (13-4) in the NFC Championship, televised on Fox at 2:05 p.m. CT.

 

The Big Picture: What's at Stake?

The Packers return to the site of their 36-16 season-opening loss to the Seahawks, a game that wasn't much of a contest.

Seattle, meanwhile, has reason to be confident as the defending Super Bowl champions and having already beat Green Bay once this year.

Sunday's winner heads to Arizona to play in Super Bowl XLIX. Actually, some of the losers will be headed to Arizona too, but they'll be playing in the Pro Bowl instead.

 

What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball

A) Aaron Rodgers Operating at Less Than 100 Percent: It would appear the status of the Packers quarterback will be much the same as it was last week when he beat the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. Rodgers won't be as agile and mobile as usual, but that doesn't mean he can't be dangerous from the pocket.

The bigger question might be, how will he attack the Seattle defense after avoiding Richard Sherman in the Week 1 match-up? Rodgers only threw one pass to the right side of the field beyond the line of scrimmage in the season opener. They'll have to be more balanced this time around.

It would sure seem like the only way the Packers beat the Seahawks is if they get an efficient performance from Rodgers. Facing the Seahawks defense and the secondary in particuarl won't be easy, but if Rodgers moves the chains, finds some red-zone success and avoids interceptions, the Packers stand a chance.

B) A Healthy and Effective Bryan Bulaga: Back during that Week 1 meeting at Seattle, Bulaga went down 20 snaps into the game, and the Packers were forced to rely on Derek Sherrod the rest of the way. The results weren't pretty as the backup right tackle allowed several pressures, two sacks and a safety.

Since Bulaga returned to the lineup in Week 3, the Packers have had the exact same offensive line for 15 consecutive games. The continuity has been evident, and they've been one of the best units in the entire NFL late in the season. In the interim, the Packers have also parted ways with Sherrod.

It'll be up to Bulaga and the rest of the offensive line to protect Rodgers against a fierce Seahawks pass rush, which is all the more important considering Rodgers' gimpy calf. Bulaga, in paricular, has struggled with speed rushers on artificial turf from time to time, so he'll be under intense scrutiny.

C) Success from All Receiving Options: The concern all season long in Green Bay has been finding outlets other than Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The prolific receiving duo will do damage sooner or later, and if a team wants to take away one of them entirely, it'll create opportunities for the rest of the receivers.

Davante Adams has been up and down, but he stepped up admirably in last week's playoff game when all the chips were on the table. Rodgers identified a mismatch and exploited it, completing seven passes to the rookie for over 100 yards and a touchdown.

If Adams can do what he did last week, the Packers will be in good shape to attack Seattle's vaunted Legion of Boom. And they'll be in even better shape if he's complemented by tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers, each of whom caught a touchdown pass last week.

 

What to Watch When the Seahawks Have the Ball

A) Clay Matthews' Role: Much has been made of Matthews' role evolving to include inside linebacker this season, a move that hadn't yet happened by the season opener, but one that has paid dividends for the Packers defense since that time.

There may not be a more important player to the Packers' fortunes on Sunday than Matthews, who will be tasked with containing a dangerous Russell Wilson, the NFL's 16th leading rusher with more than 800 yards gained this season.

Whether it's defending against the read-option on the line of scrimmage or spying Wilson from his new spot as an inside linebacker, Matthews will have to make quick decisions and react just as quickly.

B) Julius Peppers' Effectivness in Limited Snaps: In Weeks 1 through 15, Peppers played no fewer than 50 snaps per game and as many as 70. Perhaps not coincentally, he went through a five-game span without a sack, ending Week 15.

In the past three games, the Packers have wisely limited Peppers' snap count to no more than 32, 35 and 37. He's responded with three sacks and three forced fumbles in those three contests, including the critical forced fumble of Cowboys star running back DeMarco Murray last week.

The Packers could use a few big plays from Peppers on Sunday, not only with his pass rush, but also in containing Seahawks workhorse Marshawn Lynch. Peppers and the rest of the defense is going to have to wrap up and not miss as many tackles as their season-opening meeting.

C) Nick Perry, Datone Jones Maintaining Momentum: The Packers spent first round draft picks on the defensive side of the football back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, however, linebacker Nick Perry and defensive lineman Datone Jones have yet to live up to expectations.

At least they hadn't until this past Sunday in the win over the Cowboys. Perry had sacks on consecutive plays on quarterback Tony Romo while Jones came up with a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. All were big plays in a closely contested game.

If players like Perry and Jones can come up with big performances on Sunday, it bodes well for a Packers team that knows it'll be getting the most out of players like Rodgers, Nelson, Sitton and Peppers. Perry and Jones are wildcards.

 

What to Watch on Special Teams

Changes Among Return Specialists: In the Sept. 4 meeting between these two teams, Percy Harvin was still a member of the Seahawks. He had over 100-all purpose yards that day, including two plays of over 30 yards. One of them was a kick return that set up the Seahawks with good field position.

Harvin has since been traded to the New York Jets and gone is a talented and dangerous playmaker, even if he was a hothead. His replacement, Paul Richardson, is injured and will miss Sunday's game too. Meanwhile, the Packers have also made a change at kick returner, moving on from DuJuan Harris, who was statistically one of the league's worst.

Micah Hyde and Randall Cobb have taken over return specialist duties, but they'll have to be sure handed in less than ideal weather conditions in Seattle. Cobb, specifically, was saved from being a goat in last week's playoff game, when a fumble was alertly recovered by tight end Andrew Quarless.

 

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Comments (15)

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Pack2Rat's picture

January 17, 2015 at 01:04 pm

It is amazing what a non-factor Boykin has been this year yet each week dresses. Yes, still wanting to see some Janis on special teams and an occassional go route.

Is Lacy's knee worse than we think?

Bulaga has to play big.

Time for the 4-4 look with Hyde in the box and HHCD, Shields and Tramon in coverage.

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aj's picture

January 17, 2015 at 07:59 pm

Don't they already run that, but with Burnett instead of Hyde? Peppers is basically a stand up defensive end and Burnett is the 4th man in the box, where hyde is in your formation.

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TommyG's picture

January 17, 2015 at 10:37 pm

You're focusing on the wrong side of the ball, and even then in the wrong way. Our issue will be keeping our offense on the field. The key to that is third down conversions; the key to that is manageable third downs. Our defense is serviceable. Our offense has to play at top efficiency to win

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Allan Murphy's picture

January 17, 2015 at 05:02 pm

Like Mike Daniels said ( WE AIN'T WON SHIT ) let's go get it ! ! !

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Huskergbfan's picture

January 17, 2015 at 09:09 pm

Anyone know if the ginger beard is coming with for good luck?

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TommyG's picture

January 17, 2015 at 10:35 pm

Even if THE. Beard doesn't make the trip, there are a number of cinnamon bearded men, who are packers fans, in the Seattle are.

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Otto's picture

January 17, 2015 at 09:12 pm

I hope the $1100, 24 karat gold shoes Marshan Lynch is planning to wear pisses-off those defensive players.

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TommyG's picture

January 18, 2015 at 07:19 am

Weather has gone to crap up there today. The onshore flow was much stronger than anticipated which means that not only will it be warm(ish) at 50*f, but that it's also windy as heck. Right now gusts are over 30mph!

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LASVEGAS-TOM's picture

January 18, 2015 at 03:40 pm

DannyDS When we win this game, I'll meet you at Bally's Sports Book Feb 6th. I'll ,buy all the Drinks!! LVT.

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ben's picture

January 18, 2015 at 11:09 am

Look for Hasean Dix to once again wiff in the open field. When he's 1 on 1 with a ball carrier in space, not only does he not make the tackle, often times he doesn't get a hand on the guy.

He's better in man to man coverage than I thought he would be and he can blitz. But he has a real problem and is a huge liability as a tackler in the open field. He also is not good in coverage over the top.

Just a matter of time before he costs the packers another big play and their season.

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The TKstinator's picture

January 18, 2015 at 11:51 am

I disagree.

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aj's picture

January 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

He has missed some tackles this season, but have you not seen the numerous times he has tackled a guy for no yac? The one thing he has done well this year is stop the big play. I know you didn't like him in the draft, but he has shown us he can play. I'm not saying he's a perfect player by any means, but it's ok to admit you were wrong about a player.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 18, 2015 at 01:13 pm

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TommyG's picture

January 18, 2015 at 11:08 am

Wow! The line is up to 8 for Seattle. The bandwagon should learn that when you bet sports you bet the line. These idiots are gonna lose even if seattle wins.

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Mojo's picture

January 18, 2015 at 12:36 pm

There has been a lot of talk of Seattle superiority, but I'd beg to differ.

On offense I'd take every GB position group except RB. And even there - because of Lacy - not by much. I'd take ARod over Wilson if his calf holds up. The Packers o-line is one of the leagues best.

I'd favor Seattle on D of course. But as good as their secondary is, ours isn't that bad. Just need to cover the middle and tackle better. Our ILB group is better than when we meet them in September because of CM3 and less of Hawk. The D-line favors Seattle, because outside of Daniels they don't get much.

Talent wise the teams are much closer than people realize. If the o-line can protect Rodgers, I like the Packs chances. We're nobodies underdog.

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