The Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning championship video is debuting in a kickoff celebration downtown. After Soundgarden and Pharrell get done rockin’ a concert in the parking lot, the team will be unfurling inside its stadium the first NFL championship banner Seattle has ever seen.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will be among the roaring crowd at jammed CenturyLink Field. All of the nation’s eyes will be upon them.
“This,” All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said, “is on the big stage.”
But coach Pete Carroll wants to remind all that he’s been molding and messaging and aligning his players toward Thursday’s opening night/primetime league extravaganza against the Green Bay Packers since he arrived in Seattle 4½ years ago. This first, showcase game as defending Super Bowl champions in franchise history is why he went through the 500 transactions in his first two years as executive vice president and coach. Why he overturned one-third of 2012’s playoff team to create last season’s NFL champs.
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“We’ve been preparing for this all along. It didn’t just start in this offseason or in February,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve been preparing to be in this position so that we can handle it really well. Through training camp, everything has looked on point. The offseason ... the issues that come up, the celebrations and all of that.
“If I can tell from anything, it’s how the guys have prepared. How they’ve prepared to get here, and how they then worked like crazy through the offseason. We haven’t changed anything. We haven’t adjusted anything.”
“Preparation” has been the Seahawks’ buzzword under Carroll for years, but no more so than now, after seven months of everyone asking if they can do what no team since the 2003-04 New England Patriots has been able to: win consecutive Super Bowls.
Thursday is the chance to show that preparation trumps hype.
“The hype is the media, ESPN, TVs, and stuff we shouldn’t be looking at,” Thomas said. “I think the thing that really separates us is we always stay true to who we are. We’re going to recapture what we did last year and add a few more things to it.
“But the way we practice and the way we prepare gives us the right to have confidence out there on Sundays — or whenever we play.”
It’s tough to see right now through the smoke of the pregame concerts, the buzz of the league’s Kickoff 2014 street party that began Wednesday at Seattle’s Pioneer Square and all the expectations built over the long winter, spring and summer since the Seahawks’ last game. But there is actually some football they will need to accomplish to win for the third time in five openers under Carroll.
The key to this game for the Seahawks’ offense is protecting quarterback Russell Wilson. That has been an issue for three seasons now; it remained so during an otherwise brilliant exhibition season for the starting offense.
Thursday, the Seahawks have 39 sacks to deal with off their right edge. That’s how many times Green Bay’s versatile, attacking linebacker Clay Matthews and new Packers rush end Julius Peppers have dumped quarterbacks combined over the last two seasons. Both of them will be taking aim at Seahawks rookie right tackle Justin Britt.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is renowned for his multiple blitzes and his disguising of schemes and players within formations. It’s likely every Packers defender short of Ray Nitschke will be rushing at Britt.
“Protection is one that we want to make sure that we focus on,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “Communication is key, making sure everybody is on the same page. That’s really where it starts. ... It is paramount.”
Britt, the second-round pick from Missouri, knows this, of course. So do offensive line coach Tom Cable and Carroll. Their faith in Britt being able to handle these challenges is why they spent their second-highest draft choice in May on him.
“He’ll get tested,” Carroll said. “He’s worked a ton against (Seahawks rush end) Cliff Avril in training camp in preparation for the speed, and hopefully he’ll be ready to counter that.”
Word out of Wisconsin is the Packers may employ as few as two down linemen and as many as five or even six linebackers in their base defenses against the Seahawks, to be faster than they’ve been in years. Green Bay has 11 linebackers and five defensive linemen on their roster, the most linebackers and fewest trench guys of any 3-4 defense in the league.
If the Pack does go with more linebackers, expect Bevell and Carroll to dial up more pounding runs inside by Marshawn Lynch, who has the most carries in the league since 2011.
Asked what he expects to see from Lynch, who missed the first week of training camp in a contract holdout but has looked fast since, Carroll said: “Let it rip.
“He’s ready to go,” the coach said, reiterating that Lynch is in the best shape and has the best speed since he arrived in a trade from Buffalo in Carroll’s first season of 2010.
For Seattle’s defense, the Packers have spent the summer setting a goal of running 75 plays per game this season. That would be 10 more per game than they ran in 2013. Running a no-huddle offense in Lambeau Field is one thing. Doing it inside the Seahawks’ own, signature “Soundgarden” with 68,000 people rockin’ CenturyLink Field on Thursday is going to be another.
“I’m anxious to see what their pace is,” Carroll said, sounding curious.
“We’ve practiced the whole camp expecting that, knowing that two of the first three (opponents, including Denver in two weeks), anyway, are no-huddle teams.”
Another reason running the no-huddle may be tough: Green Bay is starting rookie center Corey Linsley in the Seattle noise. Regular J.C. Tretter is out with a knee injury.
“If I’m a rookie and I’ve got Brandon Mebane my first game — he’s one of the best nose tackles in the league — it’s going to be big for him,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said.
“I’m gonna pray for him. It’s going to be a long night, man.”
Besides quarterback Aaron Rodgers being healthy again following a broken collarbone that cost him nine games last season, the Packers have a weapon on offense they didn’t have while being mostly one-dimensional, and thus predictable, in the these teams’ last meeting two years ago. Eddie Lacy is Green Bay’s 229-pound plow horse who rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. Rodgers also uses him to catch passes downfield.
So Irvin and his fellow pass rushers can’t just simply zero in on Rodgers this time.
“Hey, that’s a big man,” Irvin said of Lacy. “Have you seen his thighs? He might have thighs like (Seahawks’ 300-pound guard J.R.) Sweezy, or something.
“We have to put a body on him. He won’t go down with no arm tackle.
“I think we’ll be ready for Eddie Lacy come Thursday night.”
And Carroll said he thinks his team will be ready to play. He’s spent the last 4½ years counting on it.
“It’s an honor that league recognizes you to get the chance to play on opening night,” he said. “Hopefully, we will play accordingly.
“It’s a unique opportunity to start the season.”
One for which Carroll has been prepping these Seahawks for more than four years.
Carroll said WR Bryan Walters, re-signed Tuesday, will be active for the game. Asked if Thomas will field all of the punts Thursday, Carroll said coyly, “You will have to wait and see.” ... Carroll said CB Jeremy Lane (groin) should be fine to play nickel back. ... RB Christine Michael (hamstring), TE Cooper Helfet (knee), CB Tharold Simon (knee, will have minor surgery), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (hamstring) are out. ... Backup G/C Lemuel Jeanpierre went on season-ending injured reserve with a neck injury. Stephen Schilling is now the backup C. ... WR Phil Bates was signed back to the active roster. Bates, waived Monday when Seattle added Walters, cleared league waivers Tuesday. For now the Seahawks have a whopping eight wide receivers on their 53-man roster.