The Packers Won Bigger Than You Think… and So Did Atlanta
The Packers went into halftime against the Seahawks trailing 3-0, but that score in no way reflected the reality of what actually occurred. Green Bay had 117 first half yards against 99 for Seattle, and 74 of those 99 for Seattle came on the final drive against of the half. 117 yards isn’t overwhelming, but it is enough to lead to a field goal or two, and until they melted down in the final seconds the Packer defense was stellar. Instead, Seattle punter and former Packer Jon Ryan, and Packer punt returner Trevor Davis combined to continually bury Green Bay deep in their own territory and off the scoreboard.
Ryan was almost certainly the MVP for Seattle as his exceptional punting kept field position tilted in favor of the Seahawks, and when facing an outstanding Seattle defense, driving more than 80 yards for a score is an extremely tall order. Ryan averaged 45.8 yards per punt and boomed a 59 yarder that died at the Green Bay twelve. Justin Vogel was almost as good with a 43.8 average, but Ryan’s ability to keep the ball in the red zone and out of the end zone single-handedly kept Seattle in the game early.
Mike Daniels got the Packers back into the game late, and proved why he is the second most valuable player on the team. The defensive end terrorized an overmatched offensive line, sacked Russell Wilson 1.5 times, and forced a fumble at the Seattle six yard line that led directly to Green Bay’s first touchdown.
Seattle’s major weakness is the offensive line and all Packer pass rushers had no trouble cutting through it like butter, hitting Wilson regularly and holding former Packer Eddie Lacy to three yards on five carries.
Last season the Packer secondary was a glaring hole the Packer defense, and while the secondary benefitted from the fierce Packer pass rush on Sunday, it looked to be much improved as well. Morgan Burnett excelled in the hybrid “Nitro” linebacker position, and while Davon House did get beat on one occasion, the young corners generally played well. Damarious Randall in particular played a very good game, remaining disciplined and breaking hard on passes in his direction. It was an encouraging sign for the much-maligned unit.
The Party Trick Returns
On offense Aaron Rodgers led the way with a patient effort, dinking and dunking the Seahawks to death while waiting for them to make a mistake. Rodgers’ effort was tarnished by one truly baffling interception as he threw the ball directly to very large defensive tackle Nazair Jones, but after that early mistake he was extremely efficient, and his penalty-aided bomb to Nelson for the game’s second touchdown was a thing of beauty.
Near the end of the third quarter Rodgers hit Ty Montgomery for a modest two-yard gain, setting up third and two. Rodgers caught the Seahawks making a late substitution, and as he so often does, hustled everyone up to the line to snap the ball while Seattle had 12 men on the field. This not only generated a free play for Rodgers, it also left the Seattle defense in complete disarray. Because it was a short third down, a run was a possibility, and on the snap the Seattle linebackers instinctually break forward, except for Bobby Wagner. Wagner has a problem in that he has found himself singled up on Jordy Nelson out of the slot.
At the bottom of the formation, no one covered Martellus Bennett at all, which has taken the attention of strong safety Kam Chancellor. This puts free safety Earl Thomas in a difficult situation. Because the snap was a surprise, he begins out of position as he and Chancellor hustle to set themselves, and while he can see the mismatch on Nelson, Randall Cobb, at the top of the formation, has also beaten Richard Sherman badly.
It doesn’t happen much, but Thomas is caught in no-man’s land, and as soon as Rodgers sees the back of his jersey, he fires a strike to Nelson.
Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback in the conventional sense, but his mastery of the free play continues to pay huge dividends. It’s rare for any team to hit one over the top on Seattle, but the Packers do it with some routine, and with the way the Packer defense was playing, this bomb cemented the game.
Ty Montgomery was also impressive on offense, and showed that he can carry a full load at running back over the course of a game. His pass protection vastly improved from last season, and he was able to generate tough, unblocked yards routinely. In the second half Montgomery kicked things off with runs of 4, 8, 6, 6, 6 and 3 yards before clock-killing time, along with several huge receptions, consistently getting the Packers in manageable down-and-distance situations. Performing this well against Seattle’s defense is a tantalizing preview of what he can pull off against the average defenses of the league going forward.
This was a hard fought victory over a top team with one of the best defenses in the league. The Seahawks have the only defense that was likely to stop the Packers and outside of their punter, they really didn’t. The rest of the league may not have noticed as in many ways the game was superficially ugly, but they will soon enough.
The Super Bowl runners-up had a very difficult time with the Chicago Bears who probably should have won the game. Atlanta struggled to move the ball and gave up several big plays to rookie running back Tarik Cohen, but a huge 88-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper allowed Atlanta to leave unscathed. Normally a loss (or close win) against the Bears would raise serious questions about a team, but this is not your average Bear team as their defense is actually likely to be above average this season, and their offensive line and power running game allow them to slow things down and limit possessions.
The Atlanta offense is still one of the league’s best, and the Packer defense will have to replicate Sunday’s defensive effort to avoid a repeat of the NFC Championship Game. Fortunately, they stack up much better this year, and Julio Jones and company will find the Packer secondary more up to the task. More importantly, while Atlanta’s defense isn’t awful, it is orders of magnitude worse than Seattle’s and Aaron and company should be able to carve it up. The Falcons were just sliced and diced by a Montgomery-esque dual-threat running back, and Tarik Cohen did not have the benefit of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Martellus Bennett to spread things out for him.
Week one was a defensive struggle. I expect week two will be a good old fashioned shoot out. The 2017 Packers can win either style of game, which should scare the rest of the NFC.