Is Stopping Marshawn the Lynch-Pin?

As we get closer to conference championship weekend in the NFL, there aren't a lot of media outlets giving the Packers a huge chance this weekend in Seattle. In fact, I think they're currently listed as a seven point underdog! Apparently everyone outside of Green Bay thinks the equation is:

NFC Championship Equation

But on the Green and Gold side of things, we know that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have what it takes to pull the apparent upset of the reigning Super Bowl champs. Jon touched on the passing attack yesterday, and today I'm going to look into how the Packers defense can limit the impact that running back Marshawn Lynch has for the Seattle offensive attack.

In Week 1, Lynch ran all over the Packers to the tune of 110 yards and two touchdowns. By season's end, Lynch racked up a stat line of 1,306 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns. He's what makes the Seattle offense tick, and is probably at the top of the "Most Feared" list heading into Sunday's game.

In the Seahawks' four losses on the season, Lynch was held to stat lines of 63 total yards and a receiving TD (@SD), 62 total yards (vs DAL), 71 total yards (@ STL), and 124 yards rushing (vs KC). So it's clear that limiting his output is a key factor in keeping Seattle in check.

Lynch is a bruiser. Not only can he sidestep a would-be tackler, he can lower his head and just run straight through you. All this physical running takes a toll on opposing defenses as the game goes on. Most of his longer rushes have occurred late in games when the other team is getting worn down. There's no easy way to tackle him without giving up additional yards or getting trucked in the process. Trust me, I've tried. (NOTE: I have not actually tried.)

In Week 1, the Seahawks also used Percy Harvin as a rusher to mix up their run game. As a result, the defense had to account for Harvin every time he went into motion. This then opened up running lanes for Lynch or drew defenders out of the box. Even though Harvin was traded to the Jets, the Packers will still have to account for the read option by quarterback Russell Wilson, who the Pack held in check in their first meeting (seven rushes for 29 yards).

They key to slowing down Lynch (because it will be near impossible to stop him completely) will be for Clay Matthews and the defense not to get worn down by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. Single coverage on the Seattle wide receivers will help with this, since safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde will then be free to help stop the run.

It will also be crucial that the defense stays smart and stays to their rush lanes. If defenders over pursue or fail to set the edge, Lynch and Wilson can easily exploit those errors and turn them into big gains. Do I need to remind you of what Colin Kaepernick has done in the past?

And finally, just one word. TACKLE! There have been an agonizing number of missed tackles by the Packers secondary which turned minimal gains into huge plays for the opposing teams. Off the top of my head I think of two examples. First, this embarrassing touchdown run by then-Buccaneer LeGarrette Blount.

Blount GIF

And I'm sure you all remember Tramon Williams' missed tackle in last week's game that turned into a long touchdown for Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams. I believe Clinton-Dix also had a missed tackle against Brandon Marshall of the Bears that turned into a long touchdown.

william whiff

Play clean, sound defense and limit the big plays, and the Packers can come out of Seattle with the win and a ticket to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.