The Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers Thursday night in a matchup of two NFC teams looking for a win that would strengthen their playoff chances. Seattle (4-5), is coming off back-to-back close losses, while the Packers (4-4-1) are still searching for their first road win of the season.
If the Seahawks, who are 7-1 under Pete Carroll on Thursday Night Football, are going to continue their success in those games, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in the game:
1. Seattle's top-ranked rushing offense vs. Green Bay's run defense.
While the Seahawks didn't win in L.A. last week, they did score 31 points while rushing for a season-best 273 yards, numbers they know will win them a lot of games if they can continue that type of play. The Seahawks have rushed for 150 or more yards in six consecutive games, the longest such streak in franchise history, and now rank first in the league in rushing yards per game at 152.2. Even more impressive, it isn't just one back producing those yards. Following Rashaad Penny's breakout game against the Rams, the Seahawks now have had three different 100-yard rushers this season—Penny, Chris Carson and Mike Davis—not to mention a 92-yard rushing performance out of quarterback Russell Wilson against the Rams.
"It was clear that we were really running the football and able to do what we wanted to do in that regard," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Sunday's rushing performance. "It kind of gave us a feeling about the game and the way to play it and it was our best outing on the ground with Russell (Wilson)'s contribution. He picked up a bunch of yards, but it was a continuation of the things that we're trying to do… We know that we can go run the football when we need to and we're going to keep working with it."
The Packers, meanwhile, are allowing 120.9 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 22nd in the league, and have given up 130 or more rushing yards in three of their past four games.
"You see the impact of Brian Schottenheimer and Mike Solari on their offense," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on a conference call. "And it definitely starts in the run game, just the volume and variation is higher. Obviously, the production speaks for itself."
Another reason the Seahawks want to run the ball will be to slow down Green Bay's pass rush, which comes into this game tied for the NFL lead with 31 sacks.
"They do a really good job," Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "The third down stuff that they do, they're very multiple. They bring a ton of pressure. They come from all kinds of different spots. I was obviously with (Packers defensive coordinator Mike) Pettine in New York for a couple of years so I know him pretty well. He's got a lot of fun wrinkles that are extremely difficult to pick up so they do a really good job. That's probably the biggest thing that jumps off the film—the pressure numbers are off the charts, just what they bring and how much they bring percentage-wise. Just a really, really good defense. A good front, a lot of respect for (Mike) Daniels, (Kenny) Clark is playing really well, of course Clay (Matthews)—just a good defense. A really, really good defense, a young secondary, but talented. Very, very confident, so they're a very, very good group that plays at a high level quite a bit."
2. Green Bay's play-making Aarons (Rodgers & Jones) vs. the entire Seahawks defense.
The Seahawks have played the Packers often enough in recent years to have first-hand knowledge of just how good Aaron Rodgers can be, and the Packers quarterback is having another very good season, having thrown 17 touchdowns with just one interception.
"There is a lot to his game," Carroll said. "His instincts are extraordinary, and he uses those and they show up in so many different ways. His ability to move in and around the pocket and find more space and create more time is as good as you get. It's not that he moves just to run, he moves to find space and then the whole field becomes available to him. He has an extraordinary motion and release on the football with great arm strength that allows him to use the entire field, so when you add those two elements together that he does find the space, creates another opportunity and then has the ability to throw the ball whether he's moving left or right, across the field—it doesn't matter. He just has extraordinary ability, which also is part of the accuracy that is such a strong part of his game. He's also really smart and he's been in the system and he can utilize so many aspects of it during the course of the game. He's just as difficult as you can get. He looks as good as ever and it ain't easy. He's just, he's really good."
But as good as Rodgers is, he is no longer the only Aaron in Green Bay's offense that the Seahawks have to worry about on Thursday, not with Aaron Jones putting up huge numbers in the running game. Jones, a second-year running back out of UTEP, is coming off of a huge performance in last week's win over Miami, having rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Jones is averaging a robust 6.8 yards per carry this season while leading the Packers with 494 rushing yards.
"They're mixing the running game more than they have in the past," Carroll said. "Aaron Jones is doing a nice job carrying the football. He's averaging almost seven yards a carry so that's really a problem that we're concerned about. That balance makes it harder to take your plan to stopping Aaron Rodgers."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are looking to clean things up with their run defense, having allowed 309 rushing yards in their past two games after giving up just 113 in the two before that.
"We've just got to play better and not allow the big plays to happen," Carroll said. "It's just consistency. That's the common denominator—the consistency at the line of scrimmage."
3. The turnover battle.
The Seahawks are plus-eight in turnover differential this year, while the Packers are even in that department, so it's advantage Seahawks, right? Well, it's not quite that simple.
As good as the Seahawks have been for most of the season in that all-important statistical category, they are minus-two in their past two games, having not forced a turnover in those two games after recording 16 through the first seven games.
The Seahawks know getting back on track won't be easy against Rodgers, who has thrown just one interception this season, but the Packers have had their share of fumbles, having turned the ball over at least once in seven of their nine games. On the other side of that equation, the Packers takeaways have come in bunches, with them recording eight in their past six games, all eight of which came in their three victories during that stretch.
"We're trying to start a new streak, and the offense is too," Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald said. "We want to take the ball away, the offense wants to keep it, and what better opportunity than this? Primetime. Obviously, we've got some ball-hawks out here. We just need to get back to playing our game."