The Super Bowl champions exposed the Green Bay Packers as a pretender masquerading as a contender to the NFL throne in Thursday's opening-night 36-16 victory for the Seattle Seahawks.
Whatever remote chance the Packers had was extinguished when right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a game-ending knee injury in the second quarter. With top swing tackle Don Barclay already lost for the season, the team was forced to turn to Derek Sherrod.
The former first-round draft pick was summarily exposed, getting burned for a fourth-down sack and a strip-sack safety on two consecutive plays over two possessions. Those two "turnovers" were backbreakers, aborting the Packers' comeback hopes.
If pass protection looms as a long-term red flag, it's not alone.
There was reason to believe Dom Capers' defense would finally show a backbone after adding Julius Peppers, investing a first-round draft pick on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and returning a handful of key players from 2013 injuries.
After watching Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin have their way with the soft Green Bay defense all night, Packers fans had to wonder why the organization opted to stand by Capers' scheme for another season.
Here's what else you need to know from the 2014 NFL Kickoff:
- Lynch appears to have fresher legs this year, tearing through the Green Bay defense on lethal cutbacks. Of course, he was helped by Percy Harvin drawing attention in motion as well as huge holes pried open by improved guards James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy. Perhaps Seattle's lone weak spot last season, the offensive line, could be an asset in 2014. This is a scary thought for the rest of the NFC powerhouses.
- If he stays healthy, Harvin is going to lead all NFL wide receivers in touches this season. He racked up 160 all-purpose yards on seven receptions, four rushes and three kickoff returns. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell utilized Harvin creatively as a backfield sidecar, finding success on jet sweeps and bubble screens. The threat of Harvin is going to drive defensive coordinators bonkers while opening wide lanes for Lynch.
- One difference on Seattle's defense from the playoff run to opening night: Cardinals castoff O'Brien Schofield is a mainstay whereas Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith only sees the field on the rare occasion when the Seahawks don't run their nickel package.
- Credit the Seahawks' brain trust for dipping into the college football laboratory. In addition to the jet sweeps run by Harvin, the first touchdown came on a read-option play-fake pop pass -- rarely seen in the NFL but commonplace in the college game -- that left Ricardo Lockette wide open for a long gain. Clinton-Dix was burned on the same play Auburn used to beat him in the Iron Bowl.
- The Earl Thomas punt-returner experiment got off to an inauspicious start. Thomas showed his inexperience with poor judgment on his first return and fumbled on his second return when he failed to signal for a fair catch. It still seems like a bad idea to leave the team's most valuable defensive player at risk of injury.
- The Seahawks have now won 18 of their last 19 games at home, outscoring opponents 558-253 for an average margin of victory of 16.1 points.
- The Packers' offense essentially emulated the woes of the Broncos' Super Bowl offense -- minus the backbreaking early-game turnovers. Aaron Rodgers' attack managed just 3.5 yards per play entering the fourth quarter. The best plays of the night were a 44-yard pass interference call and a recovered fumble off a punt. Until Bulaga's exit, Rodgers had plenty of time to throw only to find that his receivers couldn't get open against a Seahawks secondary that simply doesn't allow easy completions.
- Coach Mike McCarthy labeled Bulaga's injury a knee sprain that does not initially appear to be major. Of equal concern is a second-half concussion sustained by Eddie Lacy, who missed a game last season with a concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from noted head hunterBrandon Meriweather. Lacy's numbers look pathetic, but he was barreling through defenders on his own with no help from his blockers.
- The Packers wanted no part of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who was on Jarrett Boykin all night. Rodgers didn't attempt a pass to the right side of the field until Randall Cobb's 3-yard touchdown with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. Sherman was not in coverage on the play.