Ryan Pickett knew he wasn’t delivering any sort of brilliant football insight. The Green Bay Packers veteran defensive tackle was simply stating the obvious.
“If we want to win this game, we’ve got to stop the run,” Pickett said in breaking down the Packers’ challenge against the Seattle Seahawks Monday night at CenturyLink Field. “They’re built around him running the ball. They’re good up front, and they block for him to run the ball. We have to stop him. It’s no secret. We have to stop their run.”
And that means stopping Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, which is much easier said than done these days.
When the Seahawks first acquired him midway through the 2010 season – at a time when the Packers’ passionate fan base was pleading with general manager Ted Thompson to trade for him – Lynch didn’t exactly hit the ground running. While he had an unforgettable 67-yard touchdown run against the defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card playoff round that year, he failed to put together a 100-yard rushing game in his first 18 regular-season starts in Seattle.
But now, Lynch – after spending his first three NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him in the first round out of California in the 2007 NFL Draft – has found a home in the Pacific Northwest and in the Seahawks’ Tom Cable-coached zone blocking scheme.
When Lynch ran for 122 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in last week’s 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, it marked the seventh time in his last 11 regular-season games that Lynch had eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch enters Monday night’s game having rushed for 207 yards on 47 carries (4.4-yard average), and while ex-University of Wisconsin rookie quarterback Russell Wilson might be one of the early feel-good stories of the 2012 seasons, make no mistake that the Seahawks offense rotates around the 26-year-old sixth-year running back.
“He’s an incredible player,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who played one season with Lynch at Cal and was a big proponent of the Packers trying to acquire him in 2010 – before ex-Packers personnel assistant John Schneider pulled the trigger on the deal for the Seahawks.
"We were kind of hoping here when Marshawn was on the (trade) market that we were going to get him. Because he's a big-time back, and when you have a piece like that, you can build around him."
Rodgers called Lynch’s touchdown against the Saints “one of the top 10 or 15 plays that we’ve seen in the NFL in the last 25 years,” and the Packers could be in danger of allowing a similar play if they’re not prepared for the Seahawks’ zone-blocking scheme.
“You’ve got to be careful,” Capers cautioned on Saturday. “They get you moving laterally and they’ve got a big back that’s going to stretch, stretch and if he sees one of those gaps come open, he plants that foot and comes downhill on you. … And that’s when you see Lynch come out of there for 20, 30 yards.
“They’ve done a nice job with a rookie quarterback. When you have an outstanding run game it takes pressure off your quarterback, and you can play-action pass, or your play-action pass is a lot more effective. If you’re an upfield penetrating defense, you’re probably going to have trouble with this running game.”
While the Packers defense is improved, the unit has had its problems against the run. San Francisco’s Frank Gore gashed the Packers for 112 yards and a 23-yard touchdown on 16 carries (7.0-yard average) in the opener, and the Chicago Bears’ tandem of Matt Forte (seven carries, 31 yards, 4.4-yard average) and Michael Bush (14 carries, 54 yards, 3.9-yard average) may have done more damage last week if not for Forte’s injury and the Bears digging a 23-3 hole on the scoreboard.
“I liked (the run defense) a lot better last week (against the Bears) than I did the first week,” Capers said. “I think our run defense will be like I feel about our total defense – I think you’ll see it improve.
“Your run defense, it’s like putting on a glove. You’ve got to have every gap taken care of, guys have to have confidence in the guy playing next to them, the more you play together the more aggressive you can be. So I felt we took a positive step last week. The first week, we were playing against what I thought was one of the best run teams in the league – very similar to this team we’re playing. I think Gore’s an outstanding running back that can make yardage after the first hit and Lynch is certainly in that same category. With his size and his strength, you’re going to need a second and third guy there to hit and wrap him up.”