The Green Bay Packers are 3.5-point favorites in their upcoming playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday. The biggest challenge the Packers defense will face is the unenviable task of trying to contain and slow down Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson is coming off another strong season. His quarterback rating is 106.3 after he completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 4,110 yards and 31 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions. He averaged 8.0 yards per attempt, a full yard better than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
The big thing about Wilson is he can extend plays and seemingly make something out of nothing. The former Wisconsin Badger star has already been selected to six Pro Bowls and led the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014 including a win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Wilson presents a real challenge for Green Bay’s defense.
“You can see his ability to evade defenders and see guys downfield. He has some great weapons now in (DK) Metcalf and (Tyler) Lockett, those guys have some speed, too,” Packers defensive lineman Dean Lowry said after practice Monday. “Up front, we have to make sure we’re keeping the pocket again and then also on the back end just lock those guys down.”
Keeping Wilson in the pocket will also be a challenge. Although he’s only 5’11”, Wilson is a very elusive quarterback who can scramble for important yards and pick up vital first downs with his legs.
This season, Wilson gained 342 yards rushing on 75 carries for a 4.6-yard average per rush. He also scored three rushing touchdowns.
The Packers may have to use a linebacker, probably Blake Martinez, to shadow Wilson and make sure he doesn’t rip off many big gains with his legs, especially when the Packers are in a man-to-man defense.
Wilson knows the winter weather in Wisconsin having played his college ball in Madison. “I’m anticipating some snow,” Wilson told reporters. “Anticipating a great game. Obviously, they have Aaron [Rodgers]. They’ve got a lot of great players. They’ve got a great defensive line- a lot of things they do really well.”
Veteran defensive back Tramon Williams acknowledged that Wilson was a tough foe to face. “Russell always presents a challenge to the defense that a lot of quarterbacks in this league doesn’t present,” Williams explained. “He has the uncanny ability to extend plays and make big plays…We know we’re going to have our hands full with Russell.”
One key for the Packers will be to put pressure on the Seattle quarterback. Wilson was sacked 48 times this season including seven games with four or more sacks. The Seattle offensive line is not great at protecting their franchise quarterback.
Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will face a challenge against Wilson. If the Packers can get pressure with just three or four pass rushers, they can have a big advantage and hold Martinez or another player back to prevent Wilson from breaking off long scrambles for first downs.
If the Packers must blitz to put pressure on the quarterback, Wilson is adept at releasing the ball quickly and taking what the defense gives him. How well Preston and Za’Darius Smith can get pressure on Wilson will be a big factor in Sunday’s game. Getting push from Kenny Clark on the inside would also limit Wilson’s escape lanes.
Wilson has played the Packers six times in the regular season and once in the playoffs during his NFL career. He has a 3-3 regular season record and has struggled in several games against Green Bay. His completion percentage is lower (59.7 percent) and he has only 6.53-yards per attempt against the Packers while tossing nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Even in the 2014 NFC Championship Game which Seattle won with a late comeback that crushed the Packers, Wilson was just 14-of-29 for 209 yards. He threw one touchdown and four interceptions in that game.
The 2014 playoff game was in Seattle, but this year the meeting takes place on the Frozen Tundra better known as Lambeau Field.
“To go back to Wisconsin, that’s another home for me,” Wilson said. “To go back there is going to be great, it’s going to be cold, [and] it’s going to be snowy most likely. But it will be fun. We will prepare and get ready for that and study the film and get ready to roll.”
The Packers are hoping to make Wilson feel a lot less at home on Sunday night.
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