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John Clayton’s keys for Seahawks against Packers, familiar face Christine Michael

Christine Michael will be in the green and gold of the Packers against the Seahawks on Sunday. (AP)

Since Pete Carroll came to Seattle to coach the Seahawks, Green Bay-Seattle games have been memorable.

The “Fail Mary” win in Seattle ended the days of replacement officials. The NFC championship comeback by the Seahawks, along with Green Bay’s season-opening loss to Seattle in 2014, caused Packers coach Mike McCarthy to give the play-calling to Tom Clements for a good portion of the 2015 season.

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Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field may not draw the national attention because of the Packers’ 6-6 season, but this game is a fascinating one. The Seahawks still have a three-game lead over Arizona in the NFC West, so their only pressure at the moment is staying ahead of Detroit for the No. 2 playoff seed. The Lions should beat Chicago on Sunday to go to 9-4, but they have tough road trips ahead with the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.

As for the Packers, they are in a must-win situation.

Let’s look ahead to Sunday:

The return of Christine Michael. Former Seahawks running back Christine Michael will get a chance to play against the team that released him earlier this season. There probably isn’t going to be bad blood coming from Michael, but it will be interesting to see how the Packers use him. Michael helped the Seahawks get through a rough stretch of run blocking at the beginning of the season, but his numbers faded. The Packers seem to like what they see in him, even though he had only 21 yards on nine carries last week. McCarthy would love to get better balance with the running game. The Packers run-to-pass ratio of 35-to-65 is the second worst in football, second only to the Cleveland Browns, and they Packers average just 20.4 runs a game.

Life after Earl Thomas. Steven Terrell has taken over for the injured Earl Thomas at free safety, and he’s expected to be tested by Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Sure, Terrell was beaten for a touchdown pass once he went onto the field against the Panthers immediately after Thomas’ injury, but with his 4.3 speed, he has the range to do a decent job replacing Thomas. Carroll praised Terrell a couple weeks ago for being in the right position on three attempts directly at him. If you are wondering how many times a free safety is tested, look at Thomas’ numbers. This season, quarterbacks threw on him 25 times, completing only nine passes. Thomas had 10 passes defensed.
What you read from that is a quarterback may only test a free safety two-and-a-half times again. Rodgers may go at Terrell maybe four times, so Terrell has to be ready for those challenges.

Opportunity for the Seahawks’ run game. Early in the season, the Packers ranked first in the league stopping the run, but the reason wasn’t the defense. They played Minnesota without Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville without Chris Ivory and caught the Detroit Lions when they were at their worst running the ball. Stopping Thomas Rawls and Russell Wilson might be tough. For the season, the Packers are giving up 92.9 yards a game on the ground and 3.84 yards a carry. The defense can be run on. Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott gained 157 yards in Week 6. Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray went for 137 in Week 10. Rookie Rob Kelley of the Washington Redskins had 137 in Week 11.
The Packers had a four-week stretch in which they gave up 38.25 points per game, but they allowed just 13 points in each of the past two weeks against Philadelphia and Houston. Wilson’s running should cause a problem, though. The Packers haven’t done well against running quarterbacks.

How well will the Packers protect Rodgers? One of the keys to the game will be how well the Packers’ offensive line protects Rodgers. In the four times Rodgers has gone against a Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks team, he’s been sacked 14 times. The fact that Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett returned last week is bad news for Rodgers. Not only that, Frank Clark got better as a rusher during Bennett’s absence with a knee injury. The Seahawks still have Cliff Avril, too, who has been one of the best rushers in the league with his 10 sacks. Furthermore, Carroll is emphasizing getting sacks because the Seahawks are on a two-game stretch without a sack. Carroll’s defenses have done well against Rodgers. Though Rodgers has completed 66.9 percent of his passes against Carroll’s Seahawks, he averages just 209.8 yards a game and has had to settle for five total touchdowns. The most yardage Rodgers has put up against the Seahawks is 237 yards.

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.

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