Jason Wilde breaks down three keys for the Green Bay Packers when they host the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff matchup Sunday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
1. 'HE’S GOT TO BE A-ROD’
Aaron Rodgers (above) has taken more slings and arrows from fans and national media this season for his un-Rodgers-like statistics than perhaps ever before. With a passer rating that was the third-lowest of his career as a starter and a completion percentage that was the second-lowest, rumors of the Packers two-time NFL MVP quarterback’s demise got plenty of attention, even if other factors may have been at work. Regardless, whatever the reasons, his numbers were down.
“I love winning and whatever it takes for us to win, that’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said at midweek. “I know how difficult a couple of those years were when we weren’t winning and how the last couple years were here. Winning is a cure-all, and if you truly care about the squad and embrace your role, then you feel like you’re part of something special. And I feel like that I have been this year. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Rodgers also said several weeks ago that with the Packers’ winning formula of running the ball effectively and playing good defense, he was no longer required to throw 40 touchdown passes each season. A 13-3 record certainly showed that, but in the playoffs — against another Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Russell Wilson — Rodgers’ best will be required, be it against the Seahawks or in the NFC Championship Game if the Packers advance. And now’s as good a time as any to play at his optimal level, while staying within the confines of the offense.
“The defense has played so well. When you look at their season, it’s been about the defense and what they’ve done,” said Rodgers’ former Super Bowl XLV teammate Charles Woodson in a phone conversation during the week. “So Aaron’s really kind of been able to take a back seat to that and he hasn’t had to carry the team and at times he has in the past.
“I think for him, I think it’s going to be important for him to go out there and truly dominate and be that player. He’s got to be A-Rod. He’s got to be that guy. Of course the defense has been playing well, but this is his show. It’s important for him to go out there and perform.”
2. DK is A-OK
Coming out of Ole Miss with a neck injury and a less-than-stellar scouting report on his route-running, DK Metcalf (above) fell all the way to the final pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Nearly eight months later, though, he’s emerged as a rising star at the position, is coming off a breakout 160-yard performance in the Seahawks’ NFC Wild Card win at Philadelphia and has Packers coach Matt LaFleur thinking back to his sit-down with Metcalf in Indianapolis last February and wishing he was in Green Bay’s wide receivers room.
“He’s so big and physical,” LaFleur said during his conference call with Seattle-area reporters at midweek. “I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do. He can run every route. He’s really fast. I was really impressed with him when I got a chance to sit down with him at the Combine. He’s gone out there and done it. Just for what he’s done as a rookie, I think it’s been pretty impressive. I think he’s going to be one of those true elite receivers, a true number one in the game. I think he’s got a really bright future.”
With an injury-riddled offensive line — one that includes starting left tackle Duane Brown (knee) and backup George Fant (groin) as game-time decisions — and a running game that was No. 4 in the NFL during the regular season but now is relying in part on a just-out-of-retirement Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks’ hopes likely rest on Wilson’s ability to get the ball downfield to Metcalf and veteran Tyler Lockett.
“Sure, and especially with a guy that probably throws the best deep ball in the league,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine replied when asked if Metcalf’s downfield playmaking ability was a concern. “You cannot make a mistake in coverage deep against the Seahawks because (Wilson) will see and they have the guys that can go get it. All those guys can run and even under duress he’ll throw it up knowing they can run under it. So we’ll have to make sure that coverage-wise when communication is required that we over communicate. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that lately.”
3. JAMAAL IS BAAAACK
While Aaron Jones may be the star of the Packers’ backfield with his first 1,000-yard season, 19 total touchdowns and 1,558 total yards from scrimmage, the value of an effective No. 2 option was on display during the Packers’ regular-season finale at Detroit, when Jamaal Williams (above) was inactive with a shoulder injury. Now healthy after a bye week to recuperate, Williams is raring to go in his first playoff game.
“I’m excited. You can’t see it in my face because I’m doing such a good job of concealing it,” Williams joked at midweek. “It’s just really about us being prepared, ready to go and staying focused. We had that week off to get mentally focused and get our bodies right. Now, it’s time to go.”
Consistent with LaFleur’s offensive approach to not have Rodgers carry the load alone, getting the running game revved up is surely part of the Packers’ game plan, especially against a Seattle defense that finished the regular season 22nd in the 32-team NFL against the run. The Packers can certainly control the clock and keep Wilson on the bench with an effective ground game, and while Jones will carry the load, LaFleur made it very clear that Williams will get plenty of work, too.
“I think it’s absolutely huge (to have Williams back),” LaFleur said. “He’s been such an important part to our offense all season long, not only running the football, but being in there in some of those passing situations. He’s a heck of a blocker, and we’re going to need him. And he’s going to get a lot of action this week.”
The Seahawks, meanwhile, will hope that Lynch, who less than a month ago was in the parking lot of Oakland Alameda County Coliseum pouring tequila shots before the Raiders’ final game, and Travis Homer can be productive in the run game. In his two games back, Lynch carried 12 times for 34 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season finale against San Francisco and six times for just 7 yards and a touchdown last week against the Eagles.
“I think the defenses did a decent job against him, but I think you saw just on the touchdown run what he’s capable of,” Pettine said of Beast Mode. “We don’t see him as a guy that’s not capable of doing what he’s done in the past. He’s certainly on our radar.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.