Week 16 Preview: Seattle at Green Bay

After two games resulting in losses and headaches, Seattle heads to Green Bay this weekend to take on a Packers team that has had its share of frustration recently as well.

Last week, Green Bay lost 37-36 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the last play of the game.  Ben Roethlisberger hit a diving Mike Wallace along the left side of the end zone to tie the game at 36-all.  Jeff Reed’s extra point with no time on the clock finished things.

The reason why the Packers, the team with the second overall defense in the National Football League, gave the game away was because of poor play against the pass.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 3 scores and 503 yards, the most passing yards in a single game by a Steeler in team history.  He connected to receivers on plays of 60, 54 and 20 yards, with the 60-yarder, to rookie speedster Mike Wallace, being the team’s first pass play and touchdown of the game.  All three long-yardage plays came against Packers nickel back Jarrett Bush.  Bush, a fourth-year player out of Utah State, had been playing dime back earlier this season but got promoted to nickel in late November once starting cornerback Al Harris joined two other defensive backs on Injured Reserve and the team’s original nickel, Tramon Williams, was called up to fill the void in the starting lineup left by Harris.

Jarrett Bush wasn’t the only chink in the team’s secondary.

With Bush moved to nickel, the team had to fill his old position on the depth chart.  Enter Josh Bell, a player signed by the Packers not even five weeks ago.

Bell, a second-year player out of Baylor, was the person responsible for covering Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace on the final offensive play of the game that resulted in the diving, game-tying touchdown with no time left.

To further put things in perspective, Bush and Bell combined have just eight starts in the N.F.L. over the past four seasons.  But, as the saying goes, all bad things come in threes.  Poor pass coverage also came from the Packers’ linebacking corps.

In charge of handling Steelers tight end Heath Miller, A.J. Hawk and the rest of the linebacking crew allowed Miller to haul in seven balls for 118 yards.

If Seattle (5-9) wants to leave Lambeau Field with a victory, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will need to exploit these matchups in the Packers’ (9-5) inexperienced and error-prone secondary like Pittsburgh did.

This could mean bigger roles in the aerial attack for rookie speedster Deon Butler and tight end John Carlson because Green Bay’s primary defenders will be asked to cover wide receivers TJ Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch.

Deon Butler, now the team’s third receiver, enters the Week 16 matchup against the Packers with two straight weeks of increased involvement in the offense.  During that span, Butler has been targeted 12 times, hauling in six of them for catches totaling 64 yards.

John Carlson has also had his name called more over the past two weeks, bringing in 10 balls and scoring twice.

In order for the passing game to take flight, Seattle will need to build off of last week’s improved, but not perfect, play from the team’s offensive line.  At Wednesday’s press conference, Seahawks head coach Jim Mora Jr. praised the line for their work, but coupled the remark with a call for even more growth and improvement.  The linemen allowed just one sack of Matt Hasselbeck, but they also let him get hit six times.

Defensively for the Seahawks, they’ll have their hands full with a Green Bay team touting numerous offensive weapons.

In the backfield there’s Ryan Grant.  Currently in his third year in Green Bay and just four years removed from his days in a Notre Dame uniform, Grant has flourished with the Packers.  The 6-foot-1, 222-pound running back has accounted for 3,264 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground over while wearing a white “G” on his yellow helmet.

Under center is Aaron Rodgers.  After waiting three years for Brett Favre to get out of town, Rodgers has shined.  Once named the team’s starter prior to last season, Rodgers has thrown for 8,000 yards and 56 touchdowns while being intercepted just 20 times.

Who does Rodgers like getting the ball to?  The quarterback has three primary targets, while having two secondary ones that he’s not afraid to call on to make a big play.

At wide receiver, there are Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones.  Jennings is the team’s deep scoring threat, while Driver provides the Packers with a sure-handed veteran presence that isn’t afraid to make the tough catch over the middle.  Complementary players Nelson and Jones are relatively greener behind the ears, but account for seven of Green Bay’s receiving touchdowns this season.

Tight end Jermichael Finley is the third major go-to guy, joining Jennings and Driver in the group.  In just his second season in the N.F.L., Finley has made his presence felt.  This season, the former Texas Longhorn has 48 catches for 562 yards and four touchdowns, with three of those scores coming in the past three weeks.  Most recently, Aaron Rodgers has called Finley’s name in the passing game when opposing teams least expect it, in three- and four-wide receiver sets.

Keeping all of these weapons in check will be a difficult task for Seattle.  The Seahawks’ defense ranks among the N.F.L.’s worst in points per game, passing yards per game and total yards per game; while also allowing opposing rushers to eat up over a 100 yards per game.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00pm Eastern.

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