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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Seahawks


For a couple weeks now, everyone has been talking about how the Green Bay Packers are peaking at the right time of the season.

I agree with that. But let's not overlook the Seattle Seahawks, who could be peaking as well.

The Seahawks have won two straight heading into the playoffs, including a 24-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers on the road in what was a must-win situation.

The Packers have reason to be confident, but Seattle should be confident, too. And even though the Packers have to be considered the favorite Sunday with a home game at Lambeau Field, former Packers coach and current Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is an expert at playing the underdog card.

All week he will have reminded his players that they have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by stepping on to the Frozen Tundra.

The Packers won their regular-season meeting with Seattle, 35-13, in what was an offensive clinic.

Ahman Green had 118 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Brett Favre had a 122.9 passer rating and two touchdowns.

And from the Packers' second through sixth possessions, they scored touchdowns each time.

Some people might look at that and think Seattle doesn't have a chance this weekend. I look at it and know that it won't be that easy.

The Packers offense really had things clicking in that October game, and if not for an early fumble by Shaun Alexander, the Seahawks might have gotten off to an equally fast start.

Holmgren, the offensive guru, and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes -- who also was a Packers head coach -- do a great job of making adjustments, and will have new schemes in order for the Packers this week.

One of the things Rhodes likes to do is bring pressure to the quarterback's blind side with overpopulation blitzes -- bringing more rushers than the Packers have blockers.

One of the ways the Packers can combat this is by getting into some running formations.

All season long the Packers have liked to use their three-tight end set (which also includes one wide receiver and one running back), and that could be effective Sunday.

The Packers will also probably use a few two-tight end sets, with two backs and one receiver, doing whatever they can to make it a physical game.

Green, going up against the team that traded him, will have to fight for tough yards as the Seahawks stack the box against the run. But if he can elude Seattle's initial rushers going the other way, he could find some open field behind them to pick up some 40- or 50-yard gains.

The other thing that the Packers will do to combat the blitz is throw in a lot of shifts and motions. All the while they'll be looking for match-ups they can exploit.

Making it difficult will be linebacker Chad Brown, who was instrumental in the Seahawks' win at San Francisco and roams all over the field. Brown is effective rushing the passer and following the football.

If the linebackers are Seattle's strength, their cornerbacks can be exploited downfield.

First-round draft pick Marcus Trufant has excellent talent and a full season under his belt, but he's still someone the Packers want to test.

I think the Packers' biggest gains will come in play-action, which should be as effective as ever right now with the passing game clicking and the threat of Green's rushing still at the front of everyone's mind.

Every yard Green gains will open up the passing game even more. It'll also help the Packers control the clock which will be key with the temperature below freezing.

Teams have to be able to run the ball to be successful in the playoffs, and tight ends Bubba Franks, Wesley Walls and David Martin will be crucial to that effort. Not only do they have to provide solid blocking, they also need to occupy the Seattle linebackers with their downfield passing routes.

Considering the way the first Packers-Seahawks game went, I think the Packers can intimidate their opponent a little bit if they get on the scoreboard early. Seattle has struggled on the road and the Packers must re-establish Lambeau Field as a place of dominance in the playoffs, not just for this season but for future seasons.

A bruising running attack could certainly dampen the Seahawks' spirits, but so could a bomb in the passing game like the one to Javon Walker against San Francisco.

Regardless of what the offense does, the defense has to shut Seattle down.

The Seahawks run a version of the West Coast offense, just like the Packers. And, just like the Packers, Seattle needs a big game from their running back to keep the offense moving.

Alexander had 102 yards rushing in his first trip to Lambeau Field and he's a very capable back.

This time around the Packers need to do a better job of tackling and adjust. In the October game, Alexander had only 37 rushing yards in the second half.

As a receiver, Alexander had only three catches for 13 yards overall, but the Packers always need to be aware of screen passes.

At receiver, the Seahawks have Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson, who can be very dangerous.

Both of them like to run comeback routes, when they go down the field about 18 yards and turn back to catch the ball about 15 yards away.

They also like to run dig routes, which is a play-action route that goes behind the linebacker for about 20 yards.

Another favorite Seattle play is an X & Y hook, when the tight end finds a spot in the middle and settles down while the flanker runs a post route.

If the middle linebacker moves in to stop the run and doesn't get back to cover the receiver, a lot of times the safety will bite and that leaves the receiver streaking down the field with the cornerback racing to catch up.

One of the best ways to stop the Seattle passing game is to put pressure on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Hasselbeck can get hot in a hurry, but like most quarterbacks he can be forced into mistakes with a steady dose of pressure.

The Packers will blitz to Hasselbeck's weak side and try and keep him on the run.

Hasselbeck was dropped for two sacks the first time the Packers played the Seahawks, but the Packers were without Aaron Kampman due to injury and had yet to welcome Grady Jackson and Larry Smith to the team.

Chukie Nwokorie probably won't be able to play this weekend, but the defensive line still has more depth than it did early in the season.

Left tackle Walter Jones is one of the best in the league and will try and make it tough on them, but with the way Jethro Franklin has been moving players in and out, I'm confident the Packers can pressure the quarterback.

The thing the Packers do have to watch out for defensively is the speed of Seattle's offense. They break the huddle quickly and keep things up-tempo.

More than any team in the league, they'll go to quick counts that can surprise the defense if they're not expecting it.

In terms of special teams, I think the Packers have the overall edge because Josh Bidwell and Ryan Longwell have so much experience kicking in the winter elements.

That said, the Packers need to shore things up on their kickoff coverage. If there's a weakness on the team right now, that might be it.

Earlier in the season, the Packers were getting to the ball quickly and making tackles, but there have been breakdowns in recent weeks.

In the playoffs, one play here or there can make the difference. The Packers don't want that one play to be Seattle returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

What's interesting about this game is that the Packers are going into a do-or-die situation, and yet it feels like they've been here many times before.

The Packers have won some big games down the stretch and are playing solid football, but that doesn't make them invincible.

This is a game I think the Packers should win, but not because of any significant talent gap.

Seattle is a very capable team. The talent is about a toss up. The coaching on both sides is about a toss up.

Where the Packers have the edge is in the intangibles, like playoff experience, homefield advantage and momentum.

If the Packers want to make a playoff run, they have to harness those intangibles whenever possible.

Win or lose, this will probably be the Packers' last game at Lambeau Field this season. They've worked all year for this opportunity, and now they have to make the best of it.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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