The mutual admiration and respect between Aaron Rodgers and the Seattle Seahawks defense says a lot about what to expect in the NFL opener Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise: The NFL’s best quarterback in Rodgers playing against the NFL’s best defense in Seattle is a pretty hard-to-miss storyline.
The Packers star is a worthy adversary, capable of testing opponents in multiple ways. Pay too close attention to Rodgers’ ability as a passer and you might forget a crucial aspect of his game: his mobility.
“He’s more athletic than what they give him credit for as far as running the ball,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “He’s super chill in the pocket. You know you got to wrap him up because even if you have his legs, he’ll still flip the ball out of his right or left hand.”
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Rodgers will be running a no-huddle offense on Thursday, which may open up more opportunities to scramble — though Avril and his teammates are well aware of his mobility.
“Something that I learned about him that I really didn’t know is that he can run better than I thought,” cornerback Jeremy Lane said. “He’s not just a in-the-pocket quarterback — he can actually make things happen with his feet.”
While the Packers’ fast-paced approach is of little concern to defensive end Michael Bennett and Lane — which makes sense, considering they dismantled a similar offense in the Denver Broncos during a 43-8 Super Bowl victory — there are other factors that should make them weary.
For example: Seattle’s defensive ends hinged on depth last season. Standouts Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, both offseason casualties to free agency, gave Bennett and Avril ample opportunity to rest on the sideline and enter the game fresh enough to hound any passer.
With Bennett and Avril now starting, it’s a question of whether backups Greg Scruggs, O’Brien Schofield and rookie Cassius Marsh can have a similar impact. If they fail to do so, Rodgers may be able to escape the pocket more easily and hurt the Seahawks with valuable yards on the ground.
But Rodgers will have the tall task of running the Packers’ offense in the NFL’s loudest outdoor stadium. He’ll also have a rookie center in Corey Linsley, who has never snapped to him in a game.
But the Seahawks’ versatility on defense is what Rodgers thinks will be the biggest challenge.
“They’re as good as they come on the back end with the safety-corner combination, and they’re very talented and long and rangey and athletic and physical in the linebacker group,” Rodgers said. “They can throw a lot of different personnel groupings, a lot of different guys lined up in different spots at you. And then they can rush four and lock you down outside and inside.
“This is as talented of a defense as you’re going to see in the league. We’re getting them in Week 1.”