Seahawks hope to keep ailing Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable
Seahawks look to take advantage of Green Bay quarterback, who handled Dallas despite a partially torn left calf.
Times staff columnist
Aaron Rodgers limps to Seattle, tough and legendary, coming off one of the greatest performances in his certain Hall of Fame career.
Despite a partially torn left calf that has taken away his mobility, Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns Sunday to lead Green Bay to a comeback victory over Dallas. Rodgers already inspires immense respect. He is often hailed as the best player in the NFL. He should be awarded his second NFL MVP soon. But for all he has accomplished, the guts he showed against the Cowboys made him even greater.
It’s likely, though, that he must go to another level — if possible — to win the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. There’s a huge difference between the Cowboys defense and the Seahawks’ No. 1 unit. If you’re pondering the most intriguing story line in a wonderful matchup, start with this question.
Can the Seahawks’ on-again, off-again pass rush take advantage of Rodgers’ injury?
The Cowboys couldn’t. They sacked Rodgers just once and allowed him to stand in the pocket without incident. With Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril leading them, the Seahawks are capable of creating much more havoc. Can they against an improved Packers offensive line that performed brilliantly against Dallas?
The Seahawks could be a sack full of quarterback pressures from returning to the Super Bowl.
Of course, it’s slightly more complicated. First, the Seahawks must limit Eddie Lacy and the Packers’ run game. Lacy ran for 101 yards against Dallas, giving Green Bay options to keep Dallas off balance. When the Packers faced the Seahawks in the season opener and lost 36-16, Lacy managed just 34 yards on 12 carries, his worst output of the year.
If the Seahawks make the Packers one-dimensional, Green Bay will be asking too much of even Rodgers.
There’s a full-circle poetry to this matchup. Last September, the entire NFL year began with the Packers watching the Seahawks raise their championship banner and then serving as a prop in the Seahawks’ party that night. It was a game for the Seahawks to announce they’re not done being the NFL king. And the Packers looked timid in attacking the Seattle defense.
Rodgers didn’t throw a pass in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Rodgers averaged 5.7 yards per pass attempt. The Packers, who specialize in creating big plays, couldn’t generate many.
It was a classic example of what can happen when the Seahawks defense is allowed to dictate how the opponent can attack them. Because it’s difficult and dangerous to throw deep against the Legion of Boom, you’re left to have your quarterback release the ball quickly and hope that Seattle has a rare poor game tackling.
The Seahawks did a decent job of pressuring Rodgers in that season opener. They sacked him three times, with Avril getting one and Bennett two. Rodgers wasn’t exactly harassed, but he was hurried.
This time, there’s no question the Packers will try to establish the run better. They might even have to tone down their high-scoring aspirations and force the issue running the football, even if it means a lot of punts early.
The Seahawks are coming off their shakiest defensive performance in nearly two months, since a 24-20 loss at Kansas City in mid-November. Carolina gained 362 yards and held the ball for 34 of the game’s 60 minutes. The Panthers rushed for 132 yards, 50 more than the Seahawks are used to allowing.
The Panthers were in the game during the fourth quarter, driving and threatening to score a touchdown to close the deficit to 24-17. But Newton, who committed three turnovers (one fumble, two interceptions), threw a pick that Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor returned 90 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
Newton threw for 246 yards against the Seahawks, with 10 of his 23 completions against cornerback Tharold Simon, who had a rough night replacing the ill Byron Maxwell. But it should be noted that much of Newton’s passing production came late in the game, when the Seahawks were in control and not playing as aggressively as they could have.
Newton’s mobility, particularly the threat of it, played a huge rule in the Panthers’ game plan. Normally, Rodgers punishes defenses with his athleticism. He isn’t much of a rusher, but he normally has the ability to escape, and he may be the league’s best quarterback at throwing on the move.
Green Bay figures to play better this time. But the Packers must assist their superstar quarterback. Lacy must have a good game. The offensive line must play well.
On the other side, the Seahawks’ pass rush, which struggled for large portions of this season, must play to its potential.
The loquacious Bennett, the Seahawks’ eccentric and relentless defensive end, needs to have a lot to say during and after this game.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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