Tag Archives: Kenny Vaccaro

Packers/Seahawks Preview (NFL Kickoff 2014)

3 Sep
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:30pm

There are a lot of perks to winning the Super Bowl. You get expanded coverage on all the major sports television networks, you get to meet the President, and you get to host the football circus that is NFL Kickoff; the first regular season game of the year. That is what is on deck for the defending world champion Seattle Seahawks as they host the Green Bay Packers in NFL Kickoff 2014. The Packers lead the all-time series with the Seahawks 10-6 but the last matchup between these teams was by far the most memorable. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate “caught” a 24-yard Hail Mary pass from Russell Wilson and the Seahawks defeated the Packers 14-12. The controversial ending ended the referee holdout and the difference that one game made in the final 2012 standings had a potential impact in the playoffs as the Packers eventually lost to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in a game that could have instead been played at Lambeau Field had the Packers defeated the Seahawks. With the entire city of Seattle watching, emotions will be high as the 2013 Super Bowl championship team will be honored before the game. After that it is all business. Here is what I will be focusing on this week.

The Green Bay offense versus the Seahawks defense will be the primary intriguing matchup this week but I am very interested in how the Seahawks offense plays against a talented Packers defense that to me has question marks. I believe the Seahawks will give the Packers a heavy dose of running back Marshawn Lynch early in the game in order to establish the running game, the tempo of the game, and to chew some time off the clock while trying to come up with points. Lynch will have a big impact in this ballgame and he will no doubt get the grand majority of the total carries. The passing game intrigues me with this matchup against the Packers for two big reasons. First, this is the first time since the Super Bowl that we go into a game with Percy Harvin in the offensive game plan. Harvin will not be used as just a wide receiver but as an “offensive weapon.” Do not be surprised to see Harvin lined up all over the field including out wide, in the slot, and even in the backfield. Secondly, I want to see Russell Wilson challenge the Packers secondary, specifically rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix may not start but he will see playing time whether he starts or not. In games against New Orleans and San Francisco last season, Wilson aired the ball out to challenge rookie safeties Kenny Vaccaro of the Saints and Eric Reid of the 49ers. This week could be no different. If he likes the matchup, do not be surprised to see Wilson go to vertical threats Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse to challenge Clinton-Dix.

In their last meeting the Seahawks defense sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers 8 times in the first half. This week it will be just as crucial to pressure Rodgers and force him into sacks and mistakes. The Seahawks will use a pass rush rotation including Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin, and O’Brien Schofield. These four players will need to play a significant role but keep an eye specifically on Bennett. Although he will start at defensive end, I expect Bennett to be lined up as a pass rushing defensive tackle due to the uncertainty of the Green Bay offensive line. The Packers offensive line includes two players who have never played at CenturyLink Field. Left tackle David Bakhtiari has earned the starting job after being an injury fill-in in 2013. Green Bay will also start rookie Corey Linsley at center. Linsley will be my main focus among the Packers offensive line as he will have the difficult challenge of attempting to handle the 12th Man in his first career NFL game as well as handling a fierce interior pass rush. If the Packers cannot show they can protect Rodgers early it may be a long night for the Packers offense.

Despite the uncertainty on the line, the Green Bay Packers offense is one of the most talented and dangerous units in the league. The offense plays a very large part in why many experts believe the Packers can make a deep playoff run in 2014 and are serious contenders to win Super Bowl XLIX. By now you know the Packers are led by All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers and this year he sports a more balanced attack. In addition to his dangerous downfield weapons Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Rodgers also one of the best up-and-coming running backs in second-year man Eddie Lacy who can be used to run the ball as well as catch passes out of the backfield. All three should see their share of targets but the Packers still have a big mystery to solve on offense. With the departure of tight end Jermichael Finley the Packers seem to have a void at the position. According to the Packers official depth chart, the starting tight end is listed as rookie Richard Rodgers but my X-Factor player to watch this week is veteran tight end Andrew Quarless. Quarless led all Packers tight ends in receiving with 6 catches, 70 yards, and a touchdown during the preseason. I believe he will be a more relied on target than Rodgers, especially deep in Seattle territory. If Green Bay can move the ball into scoring range, look for the Packers to potentially use a two tight end package with Quarless and Rodgers as well as Nelson and Cobb on the outside.

In the 9 NFL Kickoff games hosted by the defending Super Bowl champion, only the 2012 New York Giants have lost in front of their hometown fans. Hosting the first game of the NFL season provides an interesting emotional challenge. During pregame, the team is introduced in front of the entire country watching on television and shortly afterwards, the world championship banner is unveiled to a stirring emotional roar from the crowd. Almost immediately following these special festivities however, it is time to shift the mind to play a football game. Against a quality opponent such as the Green Bay Packers and with no prior experience playing in this game, I wonder if the Seahawks will be able to handle all of the pregame distractions adequately in order to win the football game. It would not surprise me to see the Seahawks get off to a slow start but then pick up the pace later in the game; I mean it is week 1 after all. If the Seahawks can show they can put the pregame emotions behind them and score quickly we will be in very good shape for the rest of the game.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear blue jerseys and blue pants this week with the Packers wearing white jerseys and yellow pants… Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have the call for NBC this week with Michele Tafoya patrolling the sidelines. In addition, the entire “Football Night in America” crew will be in Seattle this week for pregame and halftime coverage. That will be neat… This may have deserved its own little paragraph because I feel it is of great importance but here it goes. If you are attending the game PLEASE skip the Pharrell Williams/Soundgarden concert. The concert takes place at 4:30pm and immediately following the concert at 5:30pm CenturyLink Field goes live to the nation on NBC to start pregame festivities. I want to see everybody with a ticket in their seats by 5pm to be a part of a truly special series of ceremonies. That and we need everyone ready for the start of the game… If you are attending the game the Seahawks are strongly advising fans to enter the stadium through the southwest gate and touchdown city. All areas north of the stadium are going to be a nightmare due to concert traffic and people who do not have tickets to the game. It may be best just to stay and tailgate south of the stadium to avoid any congestion… Hawks Nest Bar at 12pm on gameday. Be there… I think it would be really cool if instead of unveiling a world championship banner in the rafters, the Seahawks raise a special championship “banner flag” instead of the normal 12th Man flag. That probably won’t happen though as there are now 3 covered banners already hanging in the rafters at CenturyLink… I wonder if the Seahawks will mix alumni day with the Kickoff festivities. Traditionally the Seahawks honor past players at the home opener… The question must be asked: who will raise the 12th Man flag this week? It is confirmed that former head coach Mike Holmgren will be in attendance this week and he is more than a viable option to raise the flag but his potential participation in the tradition has not been confirmed. Traditionally because the home opener is alumni day the Seahawks let a prominent member of the franchise’s past raise the flag. If I got to choose who gets to raise the flag, my vote would go to the two retired members of the 2013 world championship team, wide receiver Sidney Rice and fullback Michael Robinson. How cool would it be to see those guys wearing their Super Bowl rings raise the flag with the presence of the Vince Lombardi trophy? That would be very special.

Prediction: I am going to be bold. This game will NOT end in a Hail Mary touchdown. Yep, I went there. Instead I believe this will not be the offensive shootout people may think will happen. The Seahawks defense will do a decent job putting pressure on Aaron Rodgers but Rodgers will still manage to throw for a pair of touchdowns. Russell Wilson will throw a touchdown to Doug Baldwin and Marshawn Lynch will add a touchdown on the ground. The Seahawks will take advantage of Green Bay turnovers and turn them into additional points. The game will be close for the majority of the night, but a couple of late Seattle field goals will doom the Packers. The Seahawks will go to 1-0 and take a couple of days off before preparing for their week 2 game against the San Diego Chargers.

Seahawks 23, Packers 14

Check back late Thursday night/early Friday morning for me Packers/Seahawks review. To everyone attending have a great time. For everyone watching on television, enjoy the game! Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 23, Saints 15

12 Jan
Image

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

It was not pretty by any means necessary, but the grit of the Seahawks defense and the timely play by the Seahawks offense late in the game, along with a fired up 12th Man helped secure a 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Divisional Playoff on Saturday afternoon. With the victory the Seahawks will play either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game next Sunday. This game had its ups and its downs and although Saturday’s game lacked one major play that shaped how the rest of the game played out, much like the last time these two teams met, there was a feeling of pure confidence that was not challenged until late in the game (more on this a little later). Here is what I took out of Saturday’s playoff win.

Halftime Over-Confidence: The Seahawks entered halftime with a 16-0 lead and the general feeling in the stands seemed to be that we would run away with the game in the second half. This was not the case with me. Two different things popped into my head. First, a 16-0 lead is only a two score lead. If the Saints scored a touchdown and converted the 2-point conversion (which they did in the fourth quarter), the Seahawks would suddenly have just a one score lead. The second thing I thought of was the NFC Divisional Playoff game from last season when the Atlanta Falcons took a 20-0 lead over the Seahawks into halftime. The Seahawks were able to come all the way back to take the lead before losing in the final seconds. At halftime I was probably the only person in my general area that felt legitimately nervous about the possibility of the Saints jumping out to close the gap in the second half. Perhaps I was disappointed and nervous that the Seahawks only came away with 16 first half points, but in my opinion it felt like a lot of people thought the game was all but over at halftime.

Lynch Powers Offense: As I was standing in the Brougham Beer Hall inside CenturyLink Field’s southwest concourse corridor about two hours prior to kickoff, I glanced up to one of the many televisions to see the bold prediction on NFL Gameday Morning that Marshawn Lynch would run for over 150 yards on the Saints defense. He came 10 yards short. When the Seahawks passing game was halted in the second half, Marshawn Lynch rose to the occasion, running for 71 second half yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run with 2:40 left in the game. Lynch’s stat line was practically split right down the middle between the first half and the second half and Lynch’s most valuable contribution late in the game was chewing clock, ultimately leading to his fourth quarter touchdown.

Passing Game Stalls When Harvin Leaves: In his final 4 regular season games, Russell Wilson had an average passer rating of 80.0; his worst stretch of the season. Wilson recorded a passer rating of 67.6 on Saturday while only completing 9 passes for 103 yards. This was only the second time all season that Wilson had single-digit completions. The presence of Percy Harvin seemed to get the offense into a groove in the first half but when Harvin exited the game with 1:21 left in the first half with a concussion, the offense struggled to gain any kind of momentum in the passing game following halftime. In the second half Wilson only went 2/9 for 35 yards passing. Weather may have played a factor in Wilson’s poor performance but it seemed a little odd that an offensive unit that played an entire season without Percy Harvin could look so lost once he left the game. Next week the Seahawks will face one of the toughest defenses in the league. Regardless of whether it is San Francisco or Carolina that comes to town next week, the Seahawks need to figure out how to make Russell Wilson more comfortable in the pocket as once again his hesitancy making throws potentially cost the Seahawks big chunks of yardage on Saturday. Hopefully with a healthy Harvin next week, the Seahawks will open up the playbook even more than they did against New Orleans which could help take some of the pressure off of Wilson in the NFC Championship Game.

Defense Must Improve: The Seahawks allowed only 15 points on Saturday with 7 of them coming in garbage time. Early on in the game it looked like the Seahawks defense might be able to hold Drew Brees and the Saints offense to a lesser yardage total than they did back in December. Instead, the Seahawks allowed 409 yards of offense, the most in a game since they played Houston in week 4. Brees successfully picked apart Seattle’s defense and many intermediate passes were completed in the middle of the field. The Seahawks seemed inept at times putting pressure on Brees. Although New Orleans only converted 25% of their third down opportunities, Brees seemed to have a lot of time to throw on those passing downs. More pressure and better play in the middle of the field need to be improved upon in practice this week or else Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton may have similar passing opportunities next week.

Goat of the Season: What in the world was Saints wide receiver Marques Colston thinking when he stayed inbounds and then threw an illegal forward pass with under 10 seconds left, ending the game? Colston will surely be berated by Saints fans in the coming days for choosing to stay inbounds instead of stepping out of bounds, which would have given the Saints one more play from the Seahawks 40-yard line. After watching the replay of the final play, it is possible to wonder if Colston saw a wide open Travaris Cadet across the field and if he could somehow throw him the ball, Cadet could score. Nevertheless Colston failed to make the smart decision and get out of bounds and it cost the Saints one final chance to try to score and tie the game with a 2-point conversion.

Thoughts on New Orleans: The New Orleans Saints have a very talented offense and a solid defense when healthy. The absence of safety Kenny Vaccaro was certainly noticeable on Saturday. I believe the Saints will bounce back strong in 2014 and will once again be contenders for the NFC South and potentially Super Bowl XLIX next season.

Random Thoughts: The Saints mixed it up on Saturday by wearing gold pants with their white jerseys. That was a surprise to me since they usually wear their black pants for all late season games… In my game preview I mentioned that one of the four divisional playoff referees will earn the opportunity to referee Super Bowl XLVIII. I am starting to wonder that if the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl Terry McAulay may be ineligible for the Super Bowl. It would make sense for the NFL to call upon a ref that did not officiate any of the Super Bowl team’s playoff games. Just some food for thought… The streamers were a huge success on Saturday and you could probably see them from multiple sections over. I think I found my new touchdown/victory celebratory prop, at least for playoff games… Everybody was in their seats with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. That made me happy. Hopefully the same goes next week… The 12th Man flags looked pretty cool from the upper deck, especially since I can look down the entire side of the stadium to see a wave of blue. I’m still disappointed that rally towels were not the giveaway but I would not be surprised to see them make an appearance next week… I didn’t get to try the beast burger because if I had bought one it would have been waterlogged by the torrential downpour that ensued about an hour before the game. I had to settle for a bigfoot hot dog in the second quarter. It was nothing special… Here’s a funny story. After the Rams game two weeks ago I had gotten an NFC West champions hat and I decided to wear it to Saturday’s game. Due to the strong wind gusts and sideways pouring-down rain, we decided to walk along the inside of the stadium to our seats instead of the upper deck concourse. As we approached our section, a sudden wind gust whooshed my hat right off of my head and I watched helplessly as it blew over the façade of the upper deck into the lower bowl. That was the end of that. I then trekked down to the Seahawks pro shop to buy a new NFC West champions hat. I made sure the second hat stayed on my head. Talk about an embarrassing moment but a laughable one after the fact for sure… We are one win away from Super Bowl XLVIII. I can’t believe it. The anticipation of next Sunday’s game will cause a serious lack of sleep this week.

Check back next Saturday as I preview the 2013 NFC Championship Game between the Seahawks and either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers. GO SEAHAWKS!