The NFL season opener was similar to Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks thoroughly crushed their opponent by dominating all aspects of the game. Seattle’s defense looked better than ever, while Marshawn Lynch ran all over the Green Bay Packers defense. Now that it’s all over, Green Bay has a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Packers’ season opener.
Green Bay has serious issues at right tackle
Even after losing swing tackle Don Barclay in training camp, there was optimism about Green Bay’s offensive line. RT Bryan Bulaga was healthy and backup Derek Sherrod was serviceable as his backup.
Unfortunately, Bulaga left in the second quarter with a knee injury. While he walked off the field under his own power, he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. In his place, Sherrod was annihilated throughout the second half by Cliff Avril and whiffed as a run blocker.
McCarthy calls Bulaga injury a “knee sprain. As of right now, we do not fear a major injury. So, that’s kind of where it stands.” #Packers
— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) September 5, 2014
If Bulaga’s injury is severe, Green Bay must find another tackle. Sherrod is the only tackle currently on the 53-man roster, so the team will likely bring up OT Jeremy Vujnovich from the practice squad. Eric Winston and Eben Britton are free agents, but Green Bay likes to stick with their own guys and keep it in the system.
Inside linebacker remains a debacle
There have been plenty of problems with the team’s defense in recent years—poor tackling, a thin defensive line and a lack of discipline or awareness. But the biggest problem is at inside linebacker, a situation that gets worse by the week.
GM Ted Thompson has a history of smart decisions, but re-signing Brad Jones in March 2013 wasn’t one of them.
After a breakout season in 2012, Jones has looked sluggish moving around and reacting to plays. He struggled vs Seattle, especially in coverage. He was called for holding and illegal contact penalties that wiped out two third-down stops. While fellow linebacker A.J. Hawk looked lethargic, Jones is a gaping hole in this defense.
Green Bay has another option—Sam Barrington is waiting in the wings behind Jones, ready to step up in a moment’s notice. It will all come down to the coaching staff and whether or not they want to make a change.
The outside linebackers are a force to be reckoned with, and the secondary gets the job done
If you are looking for bright spots from this game, look no further than the play of the secondary and outside linebackers. While Green Bay allowed 36 points, it would have been more if not for these groups..
The duo of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers provided disruption from the outside. While neither finished the game with a sack, both did a very nice job getting into Wilson’s face and forcing him to step up in the pocket. Nick Perry also impressed later in the game when Peppers came out, making his presence felt and putting forth an effort to bring down Lynch.
The secondary was clearly the best group of the night—FS Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix missed a few key tackles, but he recorded a sack and almost had an interception. Meanwhile, CB Tramon Williams was aggressive the entire night, knocking multiple passes away from wide receivers. While Sam Shields was caught staring into the backfield on the Seahawks’ triple-option pass, he came up big for Green Bay in the second half.
This team certainly has problems, but they should create some problems for quarterbacks this season with their pass rush. Now they need to hope their defensive line and linebackers can meet them halfway versus the run.
Corey Linsley looks like an NFL-caliber center
Coming into this game, much of the discussion centered around the Packers’ rookie center. The situation would have been a test for a veteran, let alone a fifth-round pick making his first start. But in his debut in the loudest stadium on earth, Linsley handled himself very well.
Facing Brandon Mebane is no easy task, but Linsley impressed with some help from Josh Sitton. On Eddie Lacy’s big run in the first quarter, Linsley helped seal off the defender so Lacy could bounce outside and pick up extra yards. His biggest slip up on the night came early when he failed to snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers, forcing the Packers to call a time out.
Considering he didn’t spend time with the starters until the final week of the preseason after J.C. Tretter went down, Linsley performed about as well as anyone could ask for.
Special teams mishaps
Green Bay’s play on special teams has struggled under ST coach Shawn Slocum. He was retained after another poor 2013 season, but the Packers hired Ron Zook as an assistant to help matters. Unfortunately, it seems like the unit has actually regressed a bit.
It started right on the first play of the game when DuJuan Harris stepped back to retrieve a ball six yards into the end zone. Rather than take a knee, Harris rumbled right into the Seahawks’ defenders and was brought down after a 13-yard return. He did it again in the second quarter and was immediately replaced.
The biggest blunder of the night—defensive end Mike Daniels ran into Seattle punter Jon Ryan on fourth down. Instead of the Packers getting the ball, Seattle was awarded a first down inside Packers’ territory. Seattle moved into field goal range and Green Bay was forced to call a time out when they had too many men on the field.
After impressing in the preseason thanks to an increase in veterans playing special teams, everything turned to chaos on Thursday. Special teams is a big part of the game and when you make mistakes like Green Bay did, it will cost you in a big way.
Offense looks out of rhythm
If Rodgers and Mike McCarthy want this team to take the next step and prove they can take on the elite teams, a performance like this can’t happen again. While the Seahawks’ defense is arguably one of the best of all-time, there is no excuse for this performance.
Green Bay knew Richard Sherman was going to shut down whoever was on the left side, so they stuck Jarrett Boykin by him. Rodgers never even looked that way—whether it was McCarthy’s game plan or Rodgers’ decision making, it shouldn’t have happened. Sherman is the best cornerback in the game, but when you don’t acknowledge one side of the field, you limit your playcalling options.
McCarthy’s play calling was questionable—from subbing in James Starks after two powerful runs by Lacy, to not utilizing the screen game until the game was out of hand. You knew the Seahawks’ defensive line was going to attack, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter we saw significant blitz-beaters and screen plays. When they finally changed their game plan after three and a half quarters, the Packers marched down the field and put together a great scoring drive for the first time all night.
This team has the weapons to put up video game numbers, but McCarthy continues to have a problem making in-game adjustments. They won’t see a defense like this again all year, but the offense won’t produce if the coaching staff calls such a conservative game in the coming weeks.