Any discussion of a matchup against Seattle should start with their defense. They are loaded with talent at all three levels of the defense, especially the secondary, featuring the best cornerback and free safety in the league. They are well coached, they tackle well and they play with a level of intensity that comes with the knowledge that a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy is within their collective grasp.
It’s fitting that they will play a team with one of the best offenses in the league to decide the NFC championship. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense may not be the flashiest, but the results are undeniable, especially since Mike McCarthy opened up the playbook midway through the season and started getting creative with formations, personnel and scheme. Before the last Super Bowl, a storyline was made of the fact that the best defense would be playing the best offense, and we all know how that turned out. However, Rodgers and the Packers are on a different level than the Peyton Manning- led Broncos. That isn’t to say that Green Bay will have an easy outing on offense at CenturyLink this Sunday, but if Coach McCarthy calls a smart game, and Rodgers plays like the Rodgers we saw in the second half vs. Dallas (and isn’t limited too much by his calf injury), the Packers will have a good shot at a trip to Arizona.
The Seattle defense, while very, very good, does have its weak spots, just like every other team in the league. The first of these, and the most important, is that their scheme is predictable. They consistently use a variation of a defense with only one safety in the deep middle of the field (usually Earl Thomas). The two variations are Cover-1 man, with man coverage underneath and the free safety deep playing zone, or Cover-3, with the safety playing the deep middle zone, the corners on each side defending the deep outside zones to their side, and four other defenders (the linebackers and the strong safety) playing coverage in short zones underneath. The fact that an offensive coordinator knows with reasonable certainty what most members of the defense are responsible for allows him to scheme routes and route combinations to get guys open down the field, or to set up favorable one on one matchups.
The second and third vulnerabilities are caused by their scheme and the way they play it. When they are in their base Cover-3 defense, their linebackers are responsible for covering the short-to-intermediate area of the field. Therefore, they make sure to backpedal, or sink, to a relatively deep area in order to be able to undercut deep crossing routes and to carry tight ends and slot receivers up the field. This means that they often allow a lot of easy catches and checkdowns to backs and tight ends around the line of scrimmage, but their defensive success is predicated on their ability to come up quickly and tackle the ball carrier before they can gain significant yards. The speed of their linebackers allows them to consistently do this. However, if they attempt this on Sunday, the man they will have to come up and tackle will be the freight train otherwise known as Eddie Lacy. If he can break a few tackles (which is likely), not only will it consistently put the offense in good position, but it will force the Seattle linebackers to cheat up closer in their zone coverages as the game goes on in order to tackle him before he can gain enough momentum. This can compromise the integrity of their zones, creating opportunities in the middle of the field for Cobb and the tight ends. The third vulnerability, occurring when they are playing their Cover-1 man defense, is ironically the exact opposite situation. When an offense leaves a tight end or a back in to help block, the linebacker or safety responsible for covering him often sits in the very short area of the field, in order to cover him if he runs a delayed route. However, they are too far away to rush the QB once they see their man is blocking, but too short to help defend any routes near the sidelines or in the intermediate middle of the field. This means that the boundary receivers will essentially have one on one matchups when McCarthy keeps extra men in to help block, and presumably, Nelson and Cobb will win their most of their matchups against Seattle’s non-Sherman DBs.
If the Green Bay offense can take advantage of these small, few flaws in Seattle’s defense, and the defense shows up like it did against Detroit and in clutch moments against Dallas, the Packers will have a fighting chance to win this game. In the NFL, playing against the reigning champions in their house, that’s all you can ask for.