Friday, September 05, 2014

Packers serve as Seahawks chum in season-opening loss

This is not the way we wanted to start the season, Packer fans. We knew it was going to be a tough game. The Seattle Seahawks were 6-point favorites over the Green Bay Packers. Turns out, that was just mildly understated. The 'hawks routed the Pack by 20 points, 36-16.

The Packers kept the game close for a half, but then the wheels fell off entirely in the second half. The Packers were dominated on both sides of the ball by the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, who looked every bit the part of a defending champion at home. Former Wisconsin Badgers QB Russell Wilson looked as sharp as he did in the Super Bowl against Denver. RB Marshawn Lynch was in "beast mode" all night long. The 'hawks defense swarmed the Packers offense constantly, runners at the line and receivers downfield.

As head coach, Mike McCarthy, stated after the game, the Packers fundamentals just were not there. On defense, there were missed tackles, open areas for receivers over the middle, lack of any significant pass rush, runners getting around the edges and running right up the middle of the line for more than 200 yards, and untimely penalties (which begs the question: are there ever any timely penalties?).

Fans have not been happy with the defensive schemes proffered by defensive coordinator Dom Capers for several years. The defense was supposed to be revamped this season. If so, it looked pretty much the same as last season. Losing NT B.J. Raji is a bigger hit than perhaps many thought; the Pack was gashed repeatedly up the middle, especially in the second half. Newly-added veteran Julius Peppers seemed to be a non-factor most of the night. Linebacker Brad Jones was more a liability than an asset; he was out of position often, missed tackles, dropped an interception, and had costly penalties. Rookie DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix showed mixed results, although perhaps what will be remembered most were his missed tackles, particularly one which led directly to a touchdown.

On offense, RB Eddie Lacy was shut down prior to leaving with a concussion in the third quarter, QB Aaron Rodgers was held to less than 200 yards paasing, RT Bryan Bulaga suffered a knee injury (which preliminarily is being called a sprain) and was replaced by Derek Sherrod who got beat repeatedly off the edge. One bright spot, despite one very public tongue-lashing from his quarterback, was the play of rookie center, Corey Linsley. Getting his first start and first game-of-any-kind snaps with the first unit, and in the loudest stadium in the NFL, Linsley performed well and held his own. Yes, losing J.C. Tretter for several weeks hurts the depth of the line. But, as was the case with David Bakhtiari coming on to have a strong year as a rookie in relief of Bryan Bulaga last season, the Packers perhaps have found a real gem with Linsley.

RT Bryan Bulaga and TE Richard Rodgers were injured after colliding.
(Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Yes, the Seahawks were the better team. Are the better team. All roads to the Super Bowl might go through Seattle this season. But it's one game in a long season. The Packers now have 10 days to clean things up and prepare for their home opener at Lambeau Field against the New York Jets. That should be a game to get them back on track. If they lose that game, they have two tough division road games following, at Detroit and at Chicago. Our season prediction had the Pack going 2-2 in these first four games of the season. Right now, we'd be happy with that result given the performance last evening.

Long-term Prognosis?
One overlooked but possibly disconcerting fact is that the Packers now are 9-11-1 in their last 21 games. Granted, about a third of those were without Rodgers at quarterback and also without some of the Pack's other key players. But, does this indicate a longer-term issue? Were the Packers exposed as pretenders rather than contenders? Does the lack of depth on the offensive and defensive lines present issues for the season? Are the middle linebackers -- particularly Brad Jones -- as mediocre as what was on display last evening?

We'll have to wait until we get a bit further into the season to know for sure. But after this first game, there are more questions than answers as to what kind of team this 2014 squad is.