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January 17, 2015 at 4:33 PM

What to Watch in the NFC Championship game

Here are some thoughts on what to watch in the NFC Conference Championship game Sunday from beat writer Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta.

First, from Jenks:

1, Will the Seahawks be able to run the ball like they did the first time around? Marshawn Lynch ran for 110 yards on 20 carries, and the Seahawks averaged 5.6 yards per carry against the Packers in the season opener (Although, it’s worth pointing out that 41 of those yards came courtesy of since-traded Percy Harvin). Green Bay has since become much tougher against the run, a point Pete Carroll made multiple times during the week. Lynch has had some of his better games in the playoffs, and if he’s able to do so again, the Seahawks should be in a good shape.

2, Will the Seahawks own the second half, particularly the fourth quarter? The Seahawks have crushed opponents in the fourth quarter during their seven-game winning streak — they have outscored them 62-7 during that time, including  52-7 in their last three games. The pattern has played out so many times before this season: A close game at halftime slowly unravels in the second half until the snowball effect turns the game into a decisive win. The Seahawks ground down the Packers in the first game, outscoring them 19-6 in the second half.

3, Packers running back Eddie Lacy vs. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. OK, this is a guilty pleasure: Who doesn’t want to watch the 230-pound Lacy collide with the 232-pound Chancellor? Lacy isn’t one to shy away from contact, and neither is Chancellor. In the first game, Lacy ran straight into Chancellor, with both players standing up after the contact. But Lacy bounced off Chancellor and picked up some more yards. Some people thought Lacy got the best of Chancellor, to which Chancellor responded on Twitter that he disagreed. Chancellor also ended Lacy’s game with two hard hits that left Lacy with a concussion. Said Lacy of Chancellor this week, “Definitely one of the hardest hitters I’ve ever ran into.” The collisions between those two will be worth watching. ​

And now Condotta:

For my part of this, I’m going to review with this Tweet from the NFL on ESPN that I thought gave nice, tidy overview of how teams beat Seattle this year:

I’ll briefly review each point made above:

— Teams often try to run early against Seattle and then give up, which plays right into the hands of the Seahawks with lots of passes suddenly being lofted into the hands of the Legion of Boom.

Carolina had some early success last week running with 87 yards on 21 carries in the first half which had the added effect of shortening the half — recalled Seattle ran just five plays in the second quarter. But Carolina oddly got way from that in the third quarter  — after running on its first two plays it then called passes on the next and 10 of the next 11, by which time the Seahawks were ahead 24-10. Carolina finished with 30 rushing attempts for the game.

Staying committed to the run, though, has been the one way for teams to beat Seattle — recall Arizona running it 43 times in a win at CenturyLink last season. In fact, each of the teams to beat Seattle last year ran it 29 times or more.

It’s not simply running, obviously. A team has to have some success and not be so far behind that it no longer makes sense to run. So a key for Seattle will be to eliminate Green Bay’s ability to run and get the Packers out of their running game while the Packers will need to resist the temptation to get away from it if it’s not working early.

Green Bay ran it just 21 times for 80 yards in the first game with little choice but to abandon it after falling behind by double digits in the third quarter.

— The importance of turnovers is also obvious, but adding to that is that this is a matchup of two teams that set franchise records this season for fewest turnovers as Green Bay had 13 and Seattle 14. Nothing has to give there Sunday, but if something does that will obviously hugely favor the team that gets a few turnovers.

— As for sacks, the Seahawks got three on Aaron Rodgers in the first game. In fact, eecall that the game turned hugely on two sacks on two straight plays in the fourth quarter — one by Cliff Avril that stopped a Green Bay fourth down play with the score 20-10 and then a Michael Bennett sack that forced a fumble and turned into a safety on the next possession.

Green Bay’s offensive line is regarded as better now with center Corey Linsley now having a season under his belt and right tackle Bryan Bulaga healthy — he got hurt after 20 snaps of the first game against the Seahawks. But Seattle’s D-line is also playing as well now as it has all season. So another strength-on-strength key to the game.

— Red zone success also is an obvious determiner though it actually wasn’t that big of a deal in the first game — the Packers scored two touchdowns and a field goal on what were its only three possessions inside the Seattle 41.

Seattle scored 24 points on its four possessions inside the Green Bay 20 in the first game. The Seahawks will take that again.






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