By Chris Cluff
For over a decade now, games between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks have been full of reunion backstories.
It started in 1999, when Mike Holmgren left the Packers after a successful seven-year run for a chance to run the entire show in Seattle. It was a no-brainer to put his first game against his old team on “Monday Night Football” – that 27-7 win was the first of six meetings between Holmgren and his former star quarterback, Brett Favre, over nine seasons.
There were plenty of other connections over that time, as players, coaches and front-office execs shuttled back and forth between the franchises.
Matt Hasselbeck, who came to Seattle in a 2001 trade, was Holmgren’s quarterback for five of those games, including two playoff losses.
Mike Sherman, Holmgren’s former assistant, was the coach of the Packers from 2000 to 2005, going 3-0 against Holmgren.
In 2005, Seahawks vice president Ted Thompson left Seattle after five years to go back to Green Bay and run the Packers. He drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005, when the QB unexpectedly slid to the Packers at No. 24, and then Thompson hired Mike McCarthy to replace Sherman as coach in 2006. After a messy divorce from Favre in 2008, the Pack went on to win the Super Bowl behind Rodgers in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks hired John Schneider – a former personnel assistant under Holmgren and Thompson — away from Green Bay in 2010 to team with Pete Carroll.
Then Schneider and Carroll brought another former Packers backup QB to Seattle this year, and if rookie Russell Wilson had not impressed them so much and claimed the starting job over Matt Flynn, this would have been yet another duel between current and former Green Bay passers.
But – barring a cameo by Flynn — that’s not how Monday’s game will play out. The Hawks also have a couple of other key players they pulled out of Green Bay: punter Jon Ryan and right tackle Breno Giacomini.
The Pack is 6-2 against Seattle since Holmgren left, and McCarthy and Rodgers have won the two most recent games, 27-17 in 2008 and 48-10 in 2009.
But they have not had the pleasure of playing Carroll’s club yet. And it figures to be a major test for Rodgers and the offense, which will face a defense every bit as tough and physical as the San Francisco unit that shut down the Pack in the 49ers’ 30-22 win in the season opener in Green Bay.
Rodgers has been sacked eight times in two games and the offense has scored just three touchdowns (special teams have scored two). The Packers, who ran for just 45 yards against San Francisco, will find it hard to run against the league’s second-ranked rush defense (46 yards per game), and they probably will find it hard to score against the league’s No. 3 scoring defense (13.5 points per game).
Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense gave up 186 rushing yards to San Francisco, and they have to be concerned about a Seattle offense that ran for 182 in a 27-7 beatdown of Dallas last Sunday.
If the Seahawks get Marshawn Lynch going again, it will largely nullify Clay Matthews, Carroll’s former USC star who leads the NFL with six sacks.
This game could hinge largely on special teams, which have been good for both clubs. The Seahawks got two big returns from Leon Washington in the opening loss at Arizona, and they forced a fumble on the opening kickoff last week, leading to a quick field goal, and also blocked a punt for a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead.
Green Bay’s Randall Cobb returned a punt 75 yards for a TD against the 49ers, and the Pack converted a fake field goal into a 27-yard touchdown against Chicago.
Quarterbacks have been the connection for these teams for a decade now, but in this prime-time matchup between deeply intertwined franchises, it might be the third phase of the game that decides it.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.