The college careers of Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch intersected for one year at the University of California, and it didn't take long for the young freshman running back to make an impression on the Golden Bears' star signal caller.
Lynch, Cal's No. 2 back behind J.J. Arrington in 2004, broke off a 43-yard touchdown run late in the season opener against Air Force to punctuate a blowout win. Rodgers didn't specify the number of tackles Lynch broke along the way, but the play opened everyone's eyes to an emerging talent.
"You knew he was special," Rodgers said. "Just his ability to never go down. We'd often tell him in practice, 'Man, just go down. You're going to absorb these crazy shots.'
"But you've seen so many runs in his career where he has just refused to go down."
The Packers came into 2012 determined to improve their tackling, and the early results have been promising. Lynch will provide the stiffest test to date in that area on Monday night in Seattle.
His jaw-dropping 67-yard TD run in the 2010 NFC wild-card game, during which virtually every member of the New Orleans defense had a chance to tackle him, won't soon be forgotten in NFL playoff lore. To Packers fans, neither will Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount's 54-yard TD rumble through Green Bay's defense last November, a play that exemplified a team-wide tackling problem.
After rushing for a career-high 1,204 yards and 12 TDs last year, Lynch is off to a solid start this season. He has 207 rushing yards through two games with a 4.4 per-carry average, tied for the highest mark of his career.
"His yards after contact have got to be off the chart," defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said of Lynch. "It's hardly ever you see one player tackling him. We're going to have to put a lot of hats on the ball this week."
The Packers did that against Chicago's running back tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush last Thursday. The Bears duo combined for 85 yards on 21 carries, a much stouter effort than the Packers managed in the opener against San Francisco's Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, who combined for 153 yards on 25 rushes.
The drop in yards-per-carry from 6.1 to 4.0 was sorely needed, and it was reflected in the statistics on first down, the key down for stopping the run. The 49ers ran the ball 20 times on first down and gained at least 5 yards on 14 attempts (70 percent). The Bears ran on first down 11 times and gained 5 yards or more only five times (45 percent).
"Winning first down, that's a very important down," Pickett said. "If you win first down, that puts them in second-and-long and hopefully third-and-long. That's our focus. If we can win first down, we feel like we can win the battle."
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said essentially the same thing after the coaches performed a self-scout of the first two weeks, and he has mentioned repeatedly he feels Seattle's offensive success with rookie QB Russell Wilson is dependent on the Seahawks' offensive balance.
That balance is in Lynch's hands, and the Packers know it.
"You want to stack successes in this league," nose tackle B.J. Raji said of the defense's domination of the Bears. "We had a good performance last week, but it won't mean much if we come out and lay an egg this week. So, hopefully, we can keep it up, and I'm sure we will."
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