The Seahawks' tough opening stretch of the 2015 season continues in Week 2 with a Sunday night game at historic Lambeau Field, and if the Seahawks are going to avoid an 0-2 start, they'll have to beat a Packers team that is 40-7-1 at home dating back to the 2009 season.
The Seahawks beat the Packers in Week 1 last season, then again in the NFC championship game, but to earn another victory over one of the league's top teams, Seattle will need to clean up a few issues from last week's loss while also dealing with one of the best players in the game.
Here are three matchups that could make a difference in Sunday's game:
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Seattle's pass defense.
The Seahawks' usually stingy pass defense gave up eight pass plays of 20 or more yards against St. Louis in the season opener, which is a quarter of the total they allowed in 16 games last season. And it's important to note that those plays were on the entire defense, not just the secondary. There were communication issues at times, players simply not executing at other times, and as first-year defensive coordinator Kris Richard said, some of his calls could have been better.
"It was not up to the standard, that's first and foremost, and obviously our communication needs to improve in order to make sure that we can just line up and execute, and ultimately that's kind of what it comes down to," Richard said. "It's going to be our ability just to get lined up and execute."
The good news for the Seahawks is that they are confident the issues are relatively easy to fix.
"Everything that happened was basically on us," safety Earl Thomas said. "Whether it be communication, we just didn't understand what situation it was, so it's all fixable stuff, and I guarantee we're going to fix it."
The not-so-good news, however, is that the Seahawks are trying to fix their pass defense against an Aaron Rodgers-led passing attack that is one of the most lethal in the NFL. Rodgers, a two-time MVP, including last season, has had his struggles against Seattle, but his last three meetings with the Seahawks have all been in the Pacific Northwest. At Lambeau Field, Rodgers has not been intercepted since the 2012 season and has had 418 pass attempts and 36 touchdowns at home since his last pick.
"Aaron Rodgers, he does a great job of everything he does," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "I think he doesn't get as much credit for his scrambling ability because he's not as fast as other people, but I think his mindset and his ability to see what's going on within the rush, his ability to make the pass. I think he's just a great player overall, the things that he does."
In addition to better communication and coverage, getting some pressure on Rodgers would help, and the Seahawks will be facing a backup right tackle after Bryan Bulaga injured his knee in Thursday's practice.
2. Green Bay's front seven vs. the Seahawks running game.
The Seahawks rushed for 207 yards against the Packers in Week 1 last season, then followed that with 194 rushing yards in the NFC championship game, and if they want another win over the Packers, having a strong ground game is a must. Not only will running the ball help Seattle's offense function and take pressure off of Russell Wilson and the passing game, it will also help keep Rodgers off the field.
When the Packers dominated the Seahawks for much of last season's NFC championship game, intercepting Wilson four times, they were doing well against Lynch and the ground game, allowing them to be more aggressive in coverage. It was late in the game when the Seahawks wore down Green Bay's defense that Lynch really got going, helping the Seahawks come back and eventually win in overtime. After the Packers bottled Lynch up for much of the first half, he had seven carries of 11 or more yards in the second half, including the 24-yard touchdown that put Seattle ahead late in regulation.
From a Green Bay perspective, the run defense is a real concern after the Packers allowed 189 rushing yards last week, and are without starting inside linebacker Sam Barrington, who went down with a foot injury last week. The Packers are, however, expecting to have safety Morgan Burnett back from an injury, which is significant considering he had 10 tackles, 2.0 sacks and an interception against Seattle in January.
3. The special teams battle.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy promised a "culture change" on special teams this offseason after making a coaching change, promoting Ron Zook to special teams coach. Last season the Packers allowed a 101-yard kickoff return, had seven kicks blocked, and as Seahawks fans recall, gave up a touchdown on a fake field goal and failed to recover a rather significant onside kick. It's too early in the season to know if things will be significantly improved for the Packers on special teams, but early indications are the Seahawks have made improvements in that area of the game, so the Packers will need to be on top of their game to avoid more costly big plays. Most notably, the Seahawks are better in the return game with the addition of Tyler Lockett, who had two return touchdowns in the preseason and a 57-yard punt return score in Sunday's opener.
And as improved as the Seahawks appear to be on special teams, they have a bit to clean up as well having given up a punt return touchdown of their own in the opener. With both of these teams being so talented across the board, it would not be at all surprising if the game were decided by which team makes a big play or two on special teams.