Coaches Mike McCarthy and Pete Carroll have the same decision to make during preseason: should I preserve or prepare my key players for the season opener?
It’s probably a forgone conclusion, based on past tendencies: McCarthy will play it safe while the Seahawks’ Carroll will have his top players get significant preseason playing time. Seattle, of course, risks having one or more of its stars miss the important week 1 battle due to injury.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Packers, regardless of how careful they try to be, will finish the preseason with their key players healthy. As you’ll recall from the 2015 preseason, Jordy Nelson suffered his ACL injury without any contact by an opposing player.
McCarthy began playing his stars sparingly in preseason games several years ago. Most of the rest of the league’s coaches are now using the same tactic. Carroll, however, continues to follow his own strategy of having his star players thoroughly battle-tested by the end of preseason.
Taking the two teams’ quarterbacks, for example, last preseason Aaron Rodgers stats were: six completions in nine attempts for one touchdown – and no sacks. Russell Wilson, meanwhile, completed 27 out of 40, for 327 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – but he was also sacked four times for a loss of 41 yards, and he ran three times. Rodgers played in just one of the team’s four preseason games last year.
Regarding the running backs, Eddie Lacy had 20 preseason carries for 114 yards and one touchdown for the Packers, trailing Brandon Burks, who had 31 carries for 120 yards. For Seattle, the projected first-string running back ran 26 times for 157 yards – that’s right, it was Christine Michael, who wound up joining the Packers 10 games into the season.
As for the receivers, the pattern, for the most, part continues. Davante Adams had five catches, Randall Cobb had three, and Jordy Nelson was held out of the preseason contests. In fact, the Green Bay player with the most catches was running back John Crockett, with 10. Justin Perillo, Jared Cook, and Jared Abbrederis followed. The Seahawks’ top receivers, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett, had five, three, and six catches respectively, with Lockett tying two others for the most preseason grabs on the team.
With each passing year, Big Mike seems to be getting more cautious with his most talented players. The stats on quarterback Rodgers prior to his nine pass attempts last preseason: 15 completions out of 24 throws, with three sacks, in 2015; 20 of 37, with one sack, in 2014; and 17 of 24, with one sack, in 2013.
To indicate how much Carroll believes in heavy contact leading up to the regular season, last September the NFL announced that the Seahawks would lose their 2017 fifth-round draft pick, a week of OTAs, the team was fined $400,000 and Carroll was personally fined $200,000. The violation was for a helmets-off practice that featured a collision between two players going for the ball. The stiff penalty followed a number of warnings to the team for similar violations of CBA safety-related provisions.
Will the Packers stick to their philosophy, or will they add to the playing time of their key players in order to be as well prepared as their week 1 opponent? We’ll find out over the next four weeks.