Following a Week 9 bye, the Seahawks head to Green Bay this weekend to face a 7-2 Packers squad that is unsure if it will have reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who missed last week's game on the COVID-19 list. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to Packers.com senior writer Mike Spofford with five questions about the NFC North-leading Packers.
Realizing there won't be clarity on Aaron Rodgers' status until the end of the week, how has that whole situation affected the team over the past couple of weeks both on and off the field?
Spofford: I think the team misses its leader both on and off the field, as expected, but the players are adept at locking in on their responsibilities and preparing the same way every week. That's been a hallmark of the LaFleur era. As for the controversy or firestorm or whatever you want to call it, they can stay pretty insulated from it, in part because the media isn't coming into the locker room every day anymore. The situation certainly can't be characterized as a distraction for the entire team based on the way the defense played in Kansas City.
Sticking with quarterbacks, if it's Rodgers, what kind of preparation can he do this week while away from the team? And if it's Jordan Love, what did he show last week, and how much better are he and the team expecting him to be having gotten that first start under his belt?
Spofford: Rodgers will be involved in the game-planning and other meetings via Zoom all week, with an eye toward getting medical clearance to rejoin the team on Saturday, when the offense will have its final walk-through. Love will take all the first-team practice reps again this week, Wednesday through Friday, and it's natural to expect improvement if he plays again, especially with this game at home vs. raucously loud Arrowhead Stadium. He showed how athletic he is, facing an onslaught of all-out blitzes by the Chiefs but taking only one sack. For all the offensive struggles in KC, he also showed he doesn't get rattled. He stood in there and took the hits, and he battled to the end. He got the offense into a good rhythm in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.
The Packers have been a good defensive team for a few years now, but look to be playing at an even higher level this year, including holding three of their last four opponents to 14 or fewer points. What has gone well for Green Bay on that side of the ball this season, particularly with some key pieces missing due to injury?
Spofford: That's been the most encouraging aspect, how the defense has weathered a spate of injuries and not only held up but continued to improve. The acquisition of inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell is the biggest difference from prior years. His presence and playmaking (TFLs, pressures, turnovers) have just changed how this defense looks in the middle of the field, and now second-year pro Krys Barnes is coming on strong as his partner at that position. Barnes just played his best game as a pro in KC. The other major factor is the steadiness of the safety tandem of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, who are in their third year together. The Packers have made week-to-week adjustments based on who's available at cornerback, but the communication and coverages have been executed smoothly in part thanks to effective safety play.
How big of a concern is Green Bay's play on special teams so far this season? It seems that was a big culprit in last weekend's loss and has been an issue throughout the year, yes?
Spofford: In certain games, it seems when things go wrong on special teams, they go really wrong. The Packers made a big upgrade at punter this season, but they're going through a lot of ups and downs with a rookie punt returner and with their kickoff coverage unit. Green Bay allowed a 68-yard kickoff return early in the year and as a result, opponents are inclined to challenge the Packers rather than take touchbacks. Most glaringly, the placekicking operation has had issues with snaps, holds and protection, or sometimes all of the above. Kicker Mason Crosby missed two field goals through all of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and he's missed six already this year, not all his fault.
What are a couple of matchups you're looking forward to seeing play out on Sunday?
Spofford: The Packers' RB tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon vs. Seattle's run defense, and how Green Bay's secondary defends DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Matt LaFleur really regretted not running the ball more last week, and when he's had such misgivings in the past, he usually recommits to the run the next week. With the pass coverage, Kevin King returned from injury and played well in KC, but rookie first-rounder Eric Stokes was out and his status is iffy. Rasul Douglas has been a valuable veteran addition at corner, and Chandon Sullivan has been steady in the slot. Usually, the Packers let their corners play a side and they rarely match up against specific guys, but last month in Cincinnati they had Stokes on Ja'Marr Chase most of the time. Metcalf and Lockett are such different guys as a 1-2 punch I'm genuinely curious to see what the Packers decide to do.
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Packers as the two teams get ready to face off during Week 10 at Lambeau Field.