Clayton: Key matchups in Seahawks’ season opener vs Packers
What a perfect start to the season.
The Seahawks’ matchup against the Green Bay Packers should have a major impact on the NFC playoff race. It’s very possible that these two teams could end up being No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference by the end of the season, and the winner of this game could have the edge on home-field advantage.
For the Seahawks, a Packers win could mean Seattle plays the Packers in the freezing cold of Lambeau Field in January – and as has been brought up several times this week, the Seahawks haven’t won at Lambeau since 1999.
Here are some interesting matchups to watch in this game.
1. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin vs. Packers CB Damarious Randall
Baldwin has emerged to be one of the better receivers in the league. He’s coming off a 94-catch, 1,128 yard season. Packers coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have been trying to fix the secondary for the past couple of years, and despite the success of the team, the Packers struggled there last year. Green Bay was the second-worst in passing yards allowed and gave up 32 touchdown passes. Figuring Baldwin will be working out of the slot, he is expected to be covered by Randall. Randall had 42 passes completed on him out of 68 attempts and he gave up five touchdowns. Baldwin continues to refine his route running and improve as a receiver, so Sunday will be a challenge for Randall.
2. Seahawks LT Rees Odhiambo vs. Packers LB Nick Perry
This will be Odhiambo’s first regular-season start at left tackle. He did well in the Kansas City Chiefs preseason game, but now is the time to prove he can handle the job. Odhiambo brought up an interesting point this week. He said the Seahawks and other teams thought he projected better as an NFL guard because of his arm length: 33 ¼ inches (scouts lean toward 34-inch arm length or longer for tackle). But Odhiambo doesn’t think that should be an issue; he’s been a tackle throughout his football career. However, Perry is coming off an 11-sack season and could cause problems for Odhiambo. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers tries to confuse blocking schemes with blitzes and different looks, and one of the biggest challenges for the line in general is communication. Odhiambo is a smart player, but sometimes thinks a little bit too much. Having guard Luke Joeckel, a former left tackle, next to him should help minimize his mistakes.
3. Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin vs. Packers WR Jordy Nelson
Griffin could end up getting the chance to play outside left cornerback when the Packers go into three-receiver sets. If that’s the case, he will draw Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers’ favorite deep target. Griffin topped expectations with his play in the preseason and in practices, and his footwork and awareness have been excellent. But if Pete Carroll goes with the rookie, you know Rodgers will be looking to throw at him most of the game. Nelson, who usually gets nine targets a game, caught 97 passes last year for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns.
4. Seahawks RB Eddie Lacy vs. his old team
Pete Carroll hasn’t said much about the running back rotations. Thomas Rawls is listed as the starter, but he’s been battling a slight high-ankle sprain and Carroll isn’t tipping off whether or not Eddie Lacy will get the start. Still, Lacy has to be motivated going against the team that elected to let him walk in free agency. At 245 pounds, Lacy was signed to give the Seahawks a physical running game. Last year, the Packers only allowed running backs to gain 84.3 yards per game on the ground. But part of that is because teams don’t run on them that much. The Packers had the sixth-fewest attempts from opposing teams rushing the football, with 20.5 attempts per game by backs.
5. Packers LG Lane Taylor vs. Seahawks DT Sheldon Richardson
Taylor received a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension this week, but he will really have to earn his pay going up against the Seahawks’ newest acquisition. Watching Richardson rush from the three-technique will be one of the biggest focal points of the game. The Seahawks wanted more inside pass rush and a defensive tackle who can rush the quarterback. Richardson has those skills, and Taylor gave up two sacks last year at left guard. All eyes will be watching the four-man rush of Frank Clark, Richardson, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.