Chess Match Has A Few Key Pieces

There are three significant strengths to Seattle’s game the Packers must have answers for on Saturday. Here they are, and what the Packers plan to do about them: - More Audio | Video | Packers-Seahawks Game Center Notebook: McCarthy, Favre Haven’t Spoken About Future


Game-planning is all about finding ways to exploit weaknesses in the other team, and having answers to the things the opponent does best.

At playoff time, the former is harder to come by. Playoff teams have fewer weaknesses, therefore there's less to exploit. Which places all the more importance on the latter, and there are three significant strengths to Seattle's game the Packers are sure to be ready for on Saturday.

Here they are, and what the Packers plan to do about them:

Patrick Kerney

The disruptive defensive end led the NFC in sacks with 14 1/2 this season, earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, and garnered some votes for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

And then he went out last week in the Wild Card round and showed why, getting in Washington quarterback Todd Collins' face all day, registering four quarterback hits, and nearly getting a sack/fumble that may have been incorrectly ruled an incomplete pass.

"He's a guy you've got to account for every time," Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "You have to make sure, as we say, you have a hat for him every time. You've got a guy assigned to him and sometimes maybe you need two."

The primary guy will be veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who should fare better than Washington rookie tackle Stephon Heyer last week just based on experience alone. Remember, when regular Washington right tackle Todd Wade left the game at Lambeau Field in Week 6 with a groin injury and was replaced by Heyer, Aaron Kampman abused the rookie to the tune of nine tackles (eight solo) and two big fourth-quarter sacks.

Tauscher has held his own against Kampman in one-on-one training camp drills for years, and if any help is needed to limit Kerney's effectiveness, the Packers can keep a tight end or running back in to block as well. It's worth noting that Kerney had nine of his 14 1/2 sacks in three three-sack games (vs. Chicago, St. Louis and Arizona), and eight times in the regular season he was held without a sack, so teams have found ways to slow him down.

Most likely, the plan will be to mix things up on Kerney, so he's not going one-on-one all the time and he's not being chipped by other blockers on every snap either. Changing what he's attacking will make him have to adjust on the fly, but Tauscher will go into the game planning to take on the responsibility, and if he gets any help, it's just a bonus.

"I've learned you just go into a game expecting to block guys," Tauscher said. "You don't worry about help and all that stuff. You'd have to have little to no pride to go in and say, 'I need a ton of help.' If you go into a game thinking, 'I need a ton of help,' you're already behind the 8-ball.

"I pride myself on trying to be consistent, trying to be the same player every week, and that's what I'm going to be looking for."

Multiple-WR sets

The Packers have done well with their "Big Five" formation this season, but the Seahawks may be in position to spread things out a little bit too with the return of wide receiver Deion Branch from injury.

With Branch, Seattle boasts depth and explosiveness in its receiving corps that rivals Green Bay's. If Bobby Engram, D.J. Hackett, Nate Burleson and Branch are all on the field at the same time, they and veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will test the depth of the Packers' secondary.

But Green Bay feels confident in that depth, with backup cornerbacks Tramon Williams, Frank Walker and Jarrett Bush all getting extensive playing time this season, particularly late in the year when starters Charles Woodson and Al Harris were in and out of the lineup.

Even if Will Blackmon is unable to help on defense, the Packers are confident their nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six) packages, which require three and four cornerbacks, respectively, can match up against Seattle's multiple weapons.

"We feel very comfortable with every one of those guys," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Tramon has done an excellent job, Frank Walker has done a good job when he's in there. Jarrett Bush is healthy again (after a calf injury), so he finally looks like himself here last week and throughout the practice this week. We feel very good about our secondary."

Active linebackers

Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu is the Pro Bowler, leading tackler and the center of attention, but those flanking him are active as well. Julian Peterson (tops in this group with 9 1/2 sacks) often will swing around to the line of scrimmage and rush the passer from a defensive end position, while Leroy Hill could blitz or drop into coverage.

{sportsad300}Seattle is effective at disguising what its linebackers are going to do, and the Packers may counter that by employing their four- and five-receiver sets to spread the Seahawks out. Not only will that send at least one linebacker to the sideline, but a defense stretched all the way across the field is easier for a quarterback to read, especially pre-snap, allowing Brett Favre to make sure the offense has called a good play.

"It can sometimes clarify things," Philbin said of spreading things out, "as opposed to when you're in a tighter box and everybody's in there tighter (and) they probably have a little bit better opportunity to disguise some things.

"When you spread the field initially they probably have to declare a little bit quicker in terms of what their intentions might be."

With a clearer picture of what the defense is doing, Favre generally will know whether Seattle is coming with a straight four-man rush or a blitz. If it's the former, and the protection holds up, Favre will have time to deliver the ball downfield. If it's the latter, Favre knows he'll have to get rid of the ball right away. Either way, it's about recognizing what's coming and adjusting accordingly.

"We're confident in our quarterback's ability to beat defenses and get rid of the ball if there is pressure," Philbin said. "Obviously you can't account for everybody when you have a five-man protection scheme (and they blitz more), but we're confident that our quarterback and receivers are on the same page."

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