It’s been a long time since the Packers played the Seahawks. 19 weeks to be exact. Back then, Seattle still had Percy Harvin, and it looked like he would become a big part of their offense moving forward. For the Packers, rookie Davante Adams barely had a role. He has since developed into Green Bay’s bona fide #3 receiver, an upgrade for the Packers over Jarrett Boykin.
The marquee matchup in this game is between the NFL’s best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and the NFL’s best secondary. When they first played in Week 1, the Packers took a unique approach. They completely stayed away from Richard Sherman. The Packers basically gave Seattle Sherman’s third of the field and decided to attack elsewhere. They predominantly aligned the worst of their three starting receivers, Jarrett Boykin, to Sherman’s side. Sometimes, they’d use 3×1 sets with tight end Andrew Quarless as the single receiver aligned to Sherman’s side. The goal was to force the Seahawks to use their best corner on Green Bay’s worst receiver on the field.
Theoretically, this wasn’t a terrible approach. The Packers tried to get their best receivers, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, on Seattle’s weaker defenders. The problem was that Seattle was able to dedicate their coverage to one side of the field knowing that Sherman could lock down Boykin or Quarless. The picture below shows a perfect illustration of this. Here, the Packers went with a 3×1 set with Quarless to Sherman’s side. At the top off the screen, you can see that Seattle dedicated 5 defenders to Green Bay’s 3 receivers.
Earl Thomas had his back turned to Sherman, ready to hunt up any receivers who might come into the middle of the field. He was completely unconcerned with Sherman’s side. The result here was an incompletion.
The Packers likely will not try the same approach in the NFC Championship game. Richard Sherman can and has been beat this season. It would be foolish for the Packers not to allow Aaron Rodgers, arguably the most accurate downfield thrower in the game, to attack his side at least a few times.
Part of what makes Seattle’s secondary so good is the play of their safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. They are intuitive players who understand route concepts. They use their smarts and speed to quickly close passing windows. When they only have to worry about one side of the field, their jobs are much easier. The Packers will have to try something different.
The Seahawks have a fast pass rush (every aspect of their defense is built on speed). They will get to Rodgers if he has to hold onto the ball, and it will be difficult for him to elude pressure as well as he normally does because of his calf injury. This is why Rodgers needs the entire field at his disposal, not just two thirds of it.