GREEN BAY – Kam Chancellor and Jordy Nelson won’t be out there. Pass-catchers Jimmy Graham and James Jones will be, along with rookie returners Ty Montgomery and Tyler Lockett.
The personnel changes from January’s NFC title game to Sunday’s Packers-Seahawks matchup go beyond the above list, and any one of them could become a big factor.
Two other differences could have nearly or just as much impact, though – Aaron Rodgers has two healthy legs, and the site this time is Lambeau Field.
“The ability to run is an added weapon for our offense, and I’ve always looked at it like that and enjoyed the opportunity to extend plays when I can,” Rodgers said earlier this week.
Rodgers wasn’t afforded that opportunity late last season, of course. A calf injury in Week 16 that was re-aggravated in Week 17 curtailed Rodgers’ mobility in the postseason dramatically.
He scrambled just once against the Seahawks last January, and not until the Packers’ game-tying drive in the final minute of regulation, hobbling out of bounds after a 12-yard pickup.
A healthy Rodgers was back to his old ways last week, and the difference it made was impossible not to notice. In not getting sacked all game, he bolted from the pocket six times for 36 yards in all, and his scrambling produced the two longest gains of 12 and 15 yards on the 16-play, 9½-minute TD drive in the second half.
“Teams have to prepare for that,” said offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga, who was added to the Packers’ injury report on Thursday as limited (knee). “They have to stay disciplined in their rush lanes, knowing he can get out and move. He’s so good at just seeing seams in the pocket.
“He may not feel any pressure, but he knows he can step up into an alley and get out and make a throw or get out and run. He sees the whole field so well. As an offensive lineman, you appreciate that.”
Rodgers was perfectly healthy in Week 1 last year, though, when the Seahawks beat the Packers by 20 points, but that’s where the change in venue comes in.
Dating back to the “Fail Mary” game, the Packers have lost three in a row to the Seahawks, all in Seattle. Sunday will mark the first time the Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks will visit Green Bay.
There’s no question the noise at CenturyLink Field is a big part of Seattle’s home-field advantage. It forces opposing offenses to go to a silent count, and it limits the pre-snap communication to make adjustments or call audibles.
“That’s easily the hardest place to play,” offensive lineman Josh Sitton said. “There and New Orleans.”
Relative peace and quiet while on offense won’t win the game alone, however, even if the Packers haven’t lost a regular-season game that Rodgers has started and finished since the 2012 opener.
Five times last year, the Seahawks held their opponent to 17 points or less away from CenturyLink.
“I think it’s a lot different, not playing in Seattle with the crowd behind them, on the turf, but regardless of that, they’re still a good defense,” Bulaga said. “Just because they’re on the road doesn’t make them any less of a defense. They’ve still got a lot of good football players, they still play really fast, they fly to the ball.”
Statistically, the contrast is more stark with Green Bay’s offense. Last year, including playoffs, the Packers averaged 21.1 points per game on the road – reflected in their 16- and 22-point outputs in Seattle. They averaged 38.2 points per game at home.
Mike McCarthy attributed that big number, which produced a 9-0 home mark, primarily to starting fast, and five times last season the Packers had 13 or more points on the board by the end of the first quarter. That didn’t happen on the road until, ironically, the NFC title game.
“We realize we haven’t really played well against them the last couple years, but it’s a new year, and we’ve got them at home now,” offensive lineman T.J. Lang said. “We have to take advantage of playing in front of our crowd and playing on our grass.”
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