Watching a lot of film on the Packers and Seahawks and talking to coaches and scouts, I found some key things to watch in their "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
Keys to the Game
Who is playing QB?
We all hope it's Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck, but what if it's not? That puts untested Packers rookie Ingle Martin (Aaron Rodgers is out for the year) versus the struggling Seneca Wallace. Favre and Hasselbeck can go after the opposing defenses with an aggressive passing game. If Martin and Wallace are at the helm, the game plan will likely change to a conservative run-oriented offense. These coaches will be tested this week in terms of their offensive approach.
Don't give up plays on defense!
Both of these defenses have weaknesses. Seattle gives up a lot of big plays versus the run because it has become a bad tackling team. The defenders don't wrap up, and don't recognize offensive plays and formations. Green Bay is vulnerable up the middle, especially versus the pass, where the safeties can be attacked. Both defenses must close up these areas because the opposing offenses will try to exploit them.
Do not turn the ball over.
With two offenses that may not be clicking on all cylinders, this could be a game of field position. Neither team is doing a good job of taking care of the football. Green Bay's offense has turned the ball over 18 times (11 fumbles, seven interceptions), while Seattle's offense has turned it over 21 times (14 interceptions, seven fumbles).
Green Bay Packers
• The Packers are quietly pleased with the progress of rookie OLB A.J. Hawk. After a fairly slow start, he is starting to make a lot of plays from his WLB position. He is most effective in run support and when he blitzes, and he is a good tackler. If there is a weakness in his game, it's his coverage skills. The Seahawks don't throw to their backs a lot, but if they could isolate Hawk in some man-to-man situations, there are plays to be made.
• With a (maybe) less than 100 percent Favre, look for the Packers to run the ball a lot between the tackles with Ahman Green. The offensive line is slowly getting a little better in the new zone blocking schemes and will work to cut Seattle's defensive tackle. The Packers know if they can get past the first wave of defenders, they have a chance for big run plays because of the shoddy tackling by the Seahawks.
• Speaking of bad tackling, the Packers are guilty of it, too. When they are in space, they tend to lunge at ball carriers and don't do a good job of breaking down and wrapping up. They put themselves in position to make plays but don't finish -- especially the safeties. If Shaun Alexander is on his game, arm tackles by the Packers' defense won't get the job done.
• Green Bay should be very concerned about its LBs in coverage situations. Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett had a terrible time against New England's TEs and RBs, while Hawk struggles in coverage simply because he's a rookie. These guys take bad angles to the ball and guess wrong too often. Without a great pass rush up front, they have to hold their coverage too long. Even though it's not really their style, Seattle should think about getting the backs and TEs more involved in the passing game, and look for man-to-man matchups against the Packers' LBs.
• Part of the problems for the Packers in pass defense is their tendency to bite on play fakes. They are very aggressive in the defensive back seven and if Hasselbeck can establish a run game early, he will have good opportunities to burn this secondary.
• Green Bay must commit to the run game against Seattle. The Packers only ran the ball 17 times last week and 12 of their first 15 plays were passes (before they were out of the game). You almost had the feeling the Packers' coaching staff thought that they could trick the Patriots by throwing a lot early and it didn't work. Settle down, run the football, and attack the weakness of Seattle's rush defense.
• The Seahawks are doing a nice job of moving around their best pass rusher, WLB Julian Peterson, who already has eight sacks. He is a tough matchup off the edge for OTs because of his athletic ability and speed. Seattle may move him over to face Green Bay's ROT, whether it's a banged up Mark Tauscher or his replacement, on a lot of snaps.
• It's fairly easy to understand why the Seahawks have been so inconsistent. Key injuries have taken out at least four starters for a considerable amount of time, but they are close to being healthy and the offense should be fine for the playoff run. However, the defense is another story. They are getting gashed by almost every team they play versus the run and are giving up a lot of big running plays. When you watch them on film, they don't show good gap discipline and don't seem to always see the blocks coming. When opposing backs get to the second level, their biggest weakness is exposed: bad tackling.
• Look for Seattle to use a blitz-heavy scheme versus a Green Bay OL that is up and down in its zone blocking package. The Seahawks could come off the edge with Peterson or up the middle with FS Ken Hamlin. The more they pressure Favre, the better chance they have of forcing turnovers.
• An important matchup to watch in this game is the two Seattle offensive tackles (LOT Walter Jones and either Sean Locklear or Tom Ashworth at ROT) against the Packers' pass rushing DEs (Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila). If Hasselbeck plays, as expected, the last thing the Seahawks want to do is struggle in pass protection and let him take unnecessary hits.
• Even though he played some last week, Alexander and his offensive line did not really seem to be in sync. Not only is this an OL that has suffered a lot of injuries, it is struggling to adjust to Alexander's style. For the last several weeks, the linemen have been blocking for Maurice Morris, who hits the hole quickly, while Alexander is more of a patient runner.
• This is a defense that can be worn down if it is on the field too long, and that's what happened last week against San Francisco. The 49ers averaged 9.6 yards per carry on first down. Seattle is not physical enough (especially on the edge) and can be dominated by big offensive tackles.
• Look for the Seahawks to roll their defensive coverages toward WR Donald Driver, who is the guy Favre really trusts. The Patriots used that tactic last week and it resulted in only two receptions by Driver.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.