Time for our first installment this season of five questions and five answers with a writer who covers Seattle’s upcoming opponent. This week, our guest is Ryan Wood, who covers the Packers for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanWood.
Now here we go with our questions and his answers:
Q1: Seems like there is a rising school of thought that the Packers might be the Seahawks’ stiffest competition in repeating as NFC champs. Where has Green Bay improved most significantly from last season?
A: There’s a good reason Green Bay enters the season with high expectations. On paper, the Packers vastly improved their most glaring weakness from last fall, namely the safety position. For the first time in recordable history, Packers safeties finished a season without an interception in 2013. When you consider where the league is now, how often teams are passing the football, that shutout was equal parts dismal and stunningly hard to do. The Packers moved Micah Hyde from corner to safety this offseason and drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. Their position battle was much more competitive than a year ago. They’re confident both players will be a good complement for Morgan Burnett.
Q2: Any change to anything about Aaron Rodgers’ game so far this year?
A:. All the talk this preseason has been about the Packers’ no-huddle offense. Green Bay wants to play fast, with Aaron Rodgers (above in an AP photo) given the power to change plays at the line. It isn’t so much a change, but more of a return to what the Packers were doing before Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone last season. Rodgers is healthy now, and that’s good news for the Packers. They’ll try to pick up where they left off with the no-huddle.
Q3: Running back Eddie Lacy had a great rookie season. What are realistic numbers for Lacy to put up this season?
A: With Lacy, it all depends on how much work head coach Mike McCarthy decides to give him. The Packers feel like they have their deepest stable of running backs in a long, long time. That said, Lacy will be the workhorse. He’s already shown signs of being one of the league’s truly special running backs. I think 1,500 yards, and top 5 leaguewide in rushing, are attainable so long as Lacy stays healthy.
Q4: What has been the impact of the addition of Julius Peppers?
A:. Peppers’ success won’t hinge on individual numbers. The Packers brought him here to help open up the pass rush for Clay Matthews. They’re hoping Peppers can be the complement Matthews hasn’t had, demanding attention from opposing blockers. In the preseason, before games start to count, it’s hard to tell just how much Peppers’ presence helps. He’s a 34-year-old making a transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, and that’s never easy. But Peppers seemed to get more comfortable with each preseason game. At the very least, he’s the best chance they’ve had to find a complement for Matthews.
Q5: Finally, what do you think are the one or two biggest keys for the Packers Thursday?
A: The biggest key, by far, has to be how the Packers handles CenturyLink Field’s electric atmosphere while operating a no-huddle offense with a rookie center. After former starter Evan Dietrich-Smith departed for the Bucs, the Packers spent their entire offseason preparing second-year center JC Tretter. His transition was smooth, until he was injured in the third preseason game. That means rookie Corey Linsley will be directing traffic in the no-huddle. It’s a daunting task for anyone, much less a player who was drafted in the fifth round of May’s draft. Defensively, the Packers know it’s pick-your-poison with the Seahawks offense. If they had their preference, they’d stop Marshawn Lynch and make Russell Wilson beat them through the air. That’s no knock on Wilson, who’s still beloved in the state of Wisconsin. Ask any defense, and they’ll say stopping the run comes first.