Seattle deserves a lot of credit for their resilient comeback. However, it was the miscues and questionable decisions of the Packers defense that allowed the Seahawks to hang around.
The first came in the 3rd quarter. After a Clay Matthews sack, the Seahawks faced a 2nd-and-30. For some reason, the Packers played with a 3-man front and conceded 11 yards, making 3rd down more manageable. Then, on 3rd and 19, they rushed 3 and dropped 8 into coverage. Those 3 didn’t really attack Wilson as much as they tried to just keep him in front of them (This is called a mush rush). Wilson had 8 seconds to release the ball. 8 seconds! Naturally, he fired a 29-yard pass to a wide-open (despite 8 men in coverage) Doug Baldwin. Quarterbacks in today’s NFL are too good to give 8 seconds.
3rd and 19 is not a high-percentage down, but 19 yards isn’t exactly a Hail Mary either. Wilson was struggling to see the field against a normal rush and a normal defense at that point in the game. He was struggling to win within the normal framework of each play. The Packers were getting pressure and making his life miserable. So why on earth would they give him a breather and allow him to get back on track? We’ve seen defensive coordinators around the NFL do this time and time again, and it makes little sense. We’re not advocating an all-out blitz in this situation. But why not use something like an overload blitz that only rushes 4 defenders and doesn’t compromise coverage? Even a normal 4-man rush (where the defensive line actually rushes the quarterback) would have been a better alternative in this situation. This play set up the fake field goal touchdown pass that got Seattle on the board.
The next big miscue came on Russell Wilson’s 4th pick of the day. With still more than 5 minutes left to play, safety Morgan Burnett went down immediately after intercepting the pass. There was no one around him. In fact, he had room to run. He might have scored a touchdown. At very least, he would have gained 20-30 yards that could have helped pin Seattle deep before their eventual first touchdown drive. Julius Peppers was signaling that he should go down, and the Packers treated this play as if it was made in the final minute of the game and sealed the victory. As we now know, the game was far from over.
Another mistake came on Marshawn Lynch’s go-ahead touchdown. Here, A.J. Hawk was responsible for the B-gap, but instead jumped inside. Lynch did a good job of drawing him inside before running through the gap that Hawk was responsible for. However, Hawk should have been more disciplined.
Furthermore, Clay Matthews wasn’t on the field for Seattle’s final 3 drives of regulation. He was back on the field in overtime, so it was kind of puzzling that he wasn’t in for the final 3 drives. Surely, this had to be due to some sort of injury. Regardless, his absence put A.J. Hawk on the field. In addition to his mental mistake on the touchdown, Hawk can’t move. He is slow to change directions and can’t cover any ground. He had been phased out of the Packers defense as the regular season progressed. Yet here he was on the field at the most critical point of the Packers’ season.
The final miscue came on Doug Baldwin’s 35-yard catch in overtime on 3rd-and-6 from the Seahawks 31-yard line. Cornerback Casey Hayward, aligned over Doug Baldwin in the slot, played too far inside. He was taking away inside routes only and conceding the rest of the field for some reason.
Baldwin had more than enough room to maneuver, and Russell Wilson had plenty of room to throw the ball.
Ultimately, the Packers dominated the first 55 minutes of this game on defense. However, they made just enough miscues to cost them the win and the NFC conference title.