Is Starting Rodgers Against Seattle Smart?
By Mason Meulemans
It’s September, which means the NFL season is set to begin with the Green Bay Packers heading into Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. Unless you’re in a last second league, you’ve already drafted your team and are beginning the scouting process for who will be in your line-up for Week 1.
There are a few experts covering the NFL that are picking the Packers to have the number one offense in the league this season, including Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, who believes the Packers attempt at the no-huddle offense will cause major matchup problems on the outside for teams that do not have the secondary depth to keep up with the Packers stable of highly talented wide receivers.
The no-huddle offense the Packers will display this year is designed to allow Aaron Rodgers to have full control on the field. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported earlier this summer that Head Coach Mike McCarthy is looking to average 75 offensive plays per game, which would be an increase of nearly ten plays a game for the Packers from their 2013 season. With talent like Nelson and Cobb on the outside, as well as the return of Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers are designed to be a fantasy machine. However, going into their first game of the season against the “Legion of Boom” defense of the Seahawks, there are major concerns for this offense in their 2014 debut.
It’s no secret the “12th Man” for Seattle will play a huge factor in the game on Thursday. Entering his third season as the starting quarterback for Seattle, Russell Wilson has only lost one game at home where the fans are proud of their new tradition of being the loudest stadium in the NFL. According to the teams official website, opponents average over 2.3 false starts per game in Seattle, most notably in the infamous 2008 Wild Card Playoff game where the New York Giants had 10 false start penalties. For the Packers, this becomes a major concern as they lost their incumbent Center during the offseason to Free Agency, and gave the job to second year lineman J.C. Tretter, who twisted his knee in the third pre-season game. This means 5th round rookie Corey Linsley from Ohio State will get the debut in the NFL on opening night, against the defending Super Bowl Champions, in a stadium that falls a few decibels short of blowing out eardrums permanently. Although Linsley is the first true Center to be drafted by Ted Thompson, there are still major concerns for the late round pick on his ability to coordinate blocking schemes along with understanding the cadence of Rodgers, who loves to draw defenders offsides for “free-play” opportunities.
So with the potential of a struggling offensive line, Rodgers will have to focus on using his playmakers on the outside, which is another cause for concern for the Packers. This offseason, the Packers allowed Tight End Jermichael Finley to walk out the door after suffereing a severe spinal cord injury last season, and did not replace him with any top-tier talent. Instead, the Packers trust Andrew Quarless to fill in Finley’s role, and drafted Richard Rodgers in the third round of the draft to develop into the eventual every-down TE. With no reason to fear the Packers over the middle, the all-world secondary of the Seahawks will be allowed to focus their attention on the WRs, as they did with the Broncos during the Super Bowl last season.
Taking advantage of the physical defense, the Seahawks offensive scheme is another reason to be concerned about Rodger’s productivity on opening night. Using a ball control tempo and style, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will look to melt the game clock on every snap, in hopes of limiting the amount of action for the Packers high-octane offense. Although there are some concerns of the Seahawks on their offensive line, Lynch has shown an ability to put a team on his back and carry defenders with him down the field, always fighting for the extra yard or two. The Packers biggest concern on defense is their strength up the middle. A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are about as pedestrian as middle linebackers can be in the NFL, and a season-ending injury for noseguard B.J. Raji will only offenses to have more control at the point of attack. If the Seahawks have their way, they will give the Packers defense a heavy dose of running plays in hopes of melting the clock as much as possible. In 2013, the Seahawks average time of possession was 50.8% of their games without a deep vertical threat to back safeties away from the line of scrimmage. With a healthy Percy Harvin, the Seahawks may add some explosion to their play calling, allowing more running room for Beast Mode underneath.
Instead of taking a chance on Rodger’s facing this top-ranked defense in their home environment, perhaps sitting him for a backup on your roster or in free agency may be the safer bet; take a glance at the following players and see how they match up in their opening games.
This is year two in the Marc Trestman offensive system, and if you believe year two will be better than year one, this is a good opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. Although the game is in Chicago, the strong winter winds have not yet come, and the Bills are without their best cover-linebacker in Kiko Alonso. Instead, they start former Patriot Brandon Spikes, who is a monster in stopping the run, but can’t cover a high school biology book with a brown paper bag, something everyone should know how to do. The Bills also lost out on their stud safety Jarius Byrd leaving for New Orleans without finding a talented replacement. Bet on Cutler having a big opening day.
I list my concerns for the Packers defense above, which should make the former Badger quarterback a prime candidate for starting in the opening week. Besides my concerns up the middle, the Packers defense in recent years have struggled with containing mobile quarterbacks who can extend plays with their feet, something Wilson is considered one of the best in the league at doing. Whether its throwing or running, I see the Seahawks having little trouble putting up points in the mid-20’s, and possible breaking the 30 point mark. If Wilson uses his arm to get the ball to Harvin, or his feet to score inside the redzone, does it matter? Either way, he’s going to be productive with little negative play concerns.
Although the Browns have a talented secondary, it is the first start for them in their new scheme with Head Coach Mike Pettine. At home, the Steelers are always tough, and in year two of Todd Haley’s offense, Big Ben should be able to produce early this season like he did in the second half of last season when he really picked up on the play-calling, and understood progression in the play-calling. Perhaps Johnny Football was starting for the Browns, I would buy into the emotion of the game for the Browns and recommend you hold off on a Big Ben start, however with Brian Hoyer getting the nod, the Steelers should be able to control the emotion of the game at home, allowing Ben to produce like classic Big Ben.
For Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense, perhaps the biggest factor for their matchup against Seattle has nothing to do with either teams players, but instead the emphasis on penalties in the secondary on passing plays. For the Packers, if they find the Seahawks defensive backs are going to play physical with little intrusion from the referees, it could be another blowout for Seattle against a high-power offense like it was in the Super Bowl. If the referees do throw flags early and often, the Packers may have just enough on offense to outscore the Seahawks ball-control running style, and steal a win on opening night.