The 2017 NFL Season is here and the Packers open the year against the hated Seattle Seahawks. One doesn’t need to go back too far in time to understand why the Seahawks are a hated bunch, but that discussion is for another time and place. The season is new and the Packers and their fans are brimming with optimism with a postseason trip to Minneapolis there for the taking. The Packers are looking to start fast and make a statement early on this season, and what better way to do that then to beat one of your biggest rivals in Week One. Here’s how that can happen:
In just one year, the Packers running game has completely transformed. Last year at this time, we were talking about a fit Eddie Lacy in a contract year, James Starks back on a two-year deal to provide some veteran leadership and punch on third down, and UDFA Don Jackson behind them as a small-but-fiesty back-up. We weren’t long into the season before that all changed. Lacy went on IR after suffering an ankle injury Week 6. Starks had knee surgery that same week. Jackson, in his first game as a starter, suffered a hand injury. And so began the transformation of Ty Montgomery.
Having missed the entire off-season due to December 2016 ankle surgery, Ty wasn’t sure he would make the roster in 2016 — the wide-receiver group was deep and competitive and there were concerns about his ankle. He wasn’t seeing much action, both in the preseason and early in the regular season. Sometime in the weeks surrounding the misfortune of Lacy, Starks and Jackson, Ty walked past Coach McCarthy in the halls of Lambeau Field. It was then that Coach told Ty of their idea, to move him to RB. McCarthy (and the rest of the offensive coaching staff) thought that there were a lot of options for Montgomery if they could get him work out of the back field, and boy were they right. Montgomery finished the 2016 season with 457 rushing yards on 77 carries and 3 touchdowns and was an important piece to the Packers being able to Run The Table and make an improbable march to the NFC Championship Game.
The Packers will need similar production this year. The Packers backfield consists of Montgomery and three rookies. Yes, THREE ROOKIES, Jamaal WIlliams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. With Montgomery unproven over the course of a full season and three unknowns behind him, the Packers leave a bit to be desired at running back. The Seahawks had the 7th best rushing defense last season, so getting the run game going will not be easy.
In addition, the Packers will have an opportunity to take a look at Eddie Lacy. The Packers were almost equally as good against the run last season, finishing 8th overall, and stopping Lacy (and the rest of the Seahawks running back by committee) will be vital in keeping our defense off the field and our offense on the field. Did the Packers make a mistake letting Lacy walk during Free Agency? Was making Montgomery the featured back a reaction based on ability or circumstance? We will get a pretty good glimpse into the answers on Sunday. With Aaron Rodgers leading the way, the Packers will never be known as a run-first team. However, successfully running the ball is the most sure-fire way to keep our offense, and our best player, on the field.
In order for the running game to see any success however, the offensive line must lead the way. This is another unit on the Packers that has seen some changes. Last year, the Packers surprised many by releasing veteran lineman Josh Sitton, even though the move provided the cap space to sign Left Tackle David Bakhtiari to an extension. Then this off-season, the Packers let another veteran lineman, TJ Lang, walk in free agency. Both Sitton and Lang had been rock solid, both on the field and in the locker room for the Packers, but both were entering the later years of their careers. In true Ted Thompson form, he perhaps let them walk a season or two before a more obvious drop in productivity, but then last year, the offensive line didn’t show any obvious signs of decline. Lane Taylor stepped in for Sitton and provided 16 serviceable games and the now Cleveland Brown JC Tretter filled in formidably for an injured Corey Linsley to start the season at center.
This year, the Packers will rely heavily on Jahri Evans replacing Lang at right guard. While playing for New Orleans, Evans was selected to a pro-bowl and in 2010, became the highest paid interior lineman in the history of the NFL. However, he just celebrated his 34th birthday and does not seem likely to be a long term solution for the Packers at right guard. Second year tackle Jason Spriggs entered camp this year beefed up with 20 extra pounds and his sights set on an increased role on the line. However he has left much to be desired this pre-season, both in practices and filling in for an injured Bulaga. Don Barclay, who was able to fill any role needed of him on the offensive line as the 6th man, was recently placed on injured reserve and is done for the season. Overcoming these personnel changes and injuries will be extremely important to the success of the offense as a whole, especially against the mighty front seven of the Seattle Seahawks.
WEEK ONE WILD CARDS
After opening the regular season on the road for the past four seasons, the Packers finally find themselves with a week one home game. The Packers have notoriously started the regular season slow, prompting such statements as 2014’s “R-E-L-A-X” and even last season’s “Run The Table.” Aaron Rodgers made it clear in his post-game pressor after the loss in the NFC championship game last season that home field advantage in the playoffs this year is an essential piece for the Packers to get back to the promised land. A slow start does not make that easy or even feasible in this league. A win week one against one of their biggest NFC rivals would definitely be a step in the right direction.
There are no guarantees in week one. There’s no previous game film to study, no tendencies to game plan. It’s a new season and teams are different. Coaching staffs are different. Schemes and playbooks and personnel packages are different. In order to guarantee a victory, you must win with the basics – control time of possession, win the turnover battle, limit penalties and take advantage of home field. There are very few defensive categories where the Packers were better than the Seahawks last year. Takeaways was one of them. If the Packers can protect the ball and get the Seahawks to give them an extra possession or two, it could be the single key to victory.
With all of the change at running back and offensive line, there’s plenty to watch for on offense. Both position groups allow Aaron Rodgers to work his magic, through extending plays and play-action passing. As good as the Packers offense is with Rodgers at the helm, these two personnel groups help set up the dynamic passing and scoring offense that fans have grown accustomed to seeing. If both of these units gel, and Rodgers is able to find some success throwing the ball against a notoriously stout Seattle secondary, the offense will shine on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, if the familiar Dom Capers Bend Don’t Break defense is able to expose the weak Seattle offensive line and force a turnover or two, that should be just the thing that the Packers need to overcome the wild card nature of week one and start the season 1-0.
The Seattle Seahawks are good, but they have weaknesses. They too are figuring out their running back situation. In addition, their offensive line was terrible last year and they lost their best player for the year, in left guard George Fant, to an ACL tear early in the pre-season. Their defense is bringing back many players, including many in the notoriously hard-hitting Legion of Boom secondary, but the Packers are familiar with this foe and saw a lot of success last season when they played the Seahawks at Lambeau Field. I think the Packers pull away in the fourth quarter and win by double digits, answering the call of their fearless leader by starting the season strong and fast.
Packers – 27
Seahawks – 17