Yes, this is a Green Bay Packers defense — whether it shows a 3-4 or 4-3 look — that is still in the works.
But on the night the NFL opened its season — and in the backyard of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks — the Packers’ “elephant” defense was no match for a speedy cheetah and a battering ram in Seattle’s lopsided 36-16 victory at CenturyLink Field.
That cheetah was wide receiver Percy Harvin, who once — as a member of the Minnesota Vikings — was a very familiar player to Green Bay given the two teams play in the NFC North. Harvin rushed for 41 yards, caught seven passes for 59 yards and had 60 kick-return yards for 160 all-purpose yards.
And, of course, the “ram” was heavy-duty running back Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
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“(The Seahawks) accomplished what they wanted to accomplish — run the football with Marshawn and getting the ball to Percy,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said.
Even after an offseason to figure out a game plan.
But first, it was last February when McCarthy announced he was implementing an “elephant” element to his defense, coordinated by Dom Capers.
A month later, the Packers signed 6-foot-8 Julius Peppers as their primary “elephant” candidate — a defensive player who can rush the passer and defend the run on the edge, either as a defensive end or outside linebacker.
It is also seen as a way for the Packers to get their “tweeners” — guys such as Clay Matthews and Mike Neal who aren’t quite bulky enough to be true defensive linemen but bigger than normal linebackers — to get on the field.
A change was needed, McCarthy said, after Green Bay ranked 25th in total defense last season. After final preseason cuts, the Packers retained an NFL-high 11 linebackers, and only five defensive linemen (and only four were active Thursday).
Green Bay employed that smaller, speedier lineup Thursday, only to see Harvin blister it on speed sweeps to the outside, and Lynch shred it on cutback runs up the middle.
“In my opinion, it was a misfit here, a misfit there,” Peppers said. “Against a stretch (play) running team like this, all it takes is for one guy to be out of position, and (you give up) an explosive play.
“I can’t really say which guy hurt us more. We didn’t do a very good job of containing the rushing game, outside or inside.”
The Packers had no problem sending their outside pressure up the field. Thing is once Matthews and company tried to turn it and make a run to the backfield, they were met by a wall of blocking.
Harvin caught two passes in the flat on the first Seattle drive. And he gained 13 yards on a fly sweep run on the Seahawks’ next drive.
Then it was Lynch, who once he got past the first level, ran free and did serious damage.
“Defensive line-wise, it was not like we got knocked off the ball,” Green Bay defensive end Datone Jones said. “They’ve got really smart coordinators. Every time they ran a stretch (play) in a gap, Marshawn bounced. He is a very patient running back — smart and physical.
“I mean, you’re in a gap one minute. And in the blink of an eye, you feel like you’ve forgot him and are ready to clean up the tackle, and (Lynch) goes off on a cutback (move).”
The way Harvin and Lynch are used in the Seattle offense is very similar to how Harvin and Adrian Peterson were utilized in Minnesota, McCarthy said.
“Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson are two different running backs,” Jones said, “but both are very patient. They look for the cutbacks.”