Remembering an old season openerSeattle traveled East eight years ago for their season opener against a team with a strong-armed young quarterback named Byron Leftwich and a pair of menacing defensive tackles. The Jacksonville Jaguars had been 5-11 in 2003 and 9-7 in 2004. They were a team with talent that had not yet realized it. Nobody knew they were a 12-4 team in 2005 when the Seahawks traveled all that way to play them at 10AM pacific on a muggy September day. Things went wrong for the Seahawks from the opening kick. Josh Scobey fumbled the return and the Jags recovered. I remember sitting there in my recliner thinking, "Of course the Seahawks fumble the season-opening kick." The Seahawks rallied to take a 14-13 halftime lead before being outscored 13-0 in the second half. It was not just a season opener in the southeast that reminds me of this match-up with the Panthers. The Carolina interior defensive line of Dwan Edwards, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short stir up bad memories of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson dismantling the interior of the Seahawks offensive line. That same offensive line that went on to have an All-Pro guard in Steve Hutchinson and a Pro Bowl center in Robbie Tobeck. The offense could not operate all day. Mike Holmgren famously said that it was that game that convinced him he needed to commit to running Shaun Alexander more often, as he underutilized a player that averaged 5.2 yards per carry that day. That change in philosophy helped turn Seattle into a Super Bowl contender despite a bitter opening loss. This year's Seahawks should not need any lessons, but season openers are among the most unpredictable games on the NFL calendar. There is no doubt Seattle is a better team than the Panthers, even if the Panthers have improved on defense, but the better team still has to play well in order to win.
Early test for the Seahawks guards
The Panthers line is aggressive and disruptive. J.R. Sweezy and Paul McQuistan will have their hands full from the jump. Max Unger is an All-Pro for a reason, and should help, but these guys need to hold up in pass protection for Seattle to get the desired outcome. Seattle has had plenty of experience against two of the best defensive lines in football with San Francisco and St. Louis. New players, though, have a tendency to surprise opponents the first time around. The best pass protection will be an effective running game. That won't be easy either.
Christine Michael sitting
All signs point to Michael being left off the active roster. He is not returning kicks, so there is little chance of utilizing him. I wonder if Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell are looking at this game and thinking the same thing I am about Michael. It sure would be nice to have him available to bounce a few runs outside against this stout line. There is nobody else that brings that ability on the team. Robert Turbin can pound, but Michael can terrorize defenses with cuts and speed that few can. Watching him stand around in street clothes is going to be tough.
Run defense is crucial
Cam Newton is still the same guy that doubts himself and sulks when things do not go his way. Seattle expertly made him win the game through the air last year, and he could not do it. Newton will make mistakes if forced to convert 3rd and long too much. Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons all had fantastic games on the line last season to hold the Panthers to 2.3 yards per carry among their running backs. They made the whole offense, running and passing, rely on Newton. Seattle has to repeat the feat. Even a mediocre running game will give Newton confidence and a breather.
Is Golden Tate going to reach another new level?
Tate has been largely kept under wraps during the pre-season. I have this growing suspicion that he is on the cusp of stardom. The level of maturity we hear in his interviews, the way he goes about his business, the supreme confidence he has, and his connection with Wilson all seem to indicate Tate can be more than what he was last year. And he was a terrific playmaker last year.
No, not that Wilson. Luke Willson. There is simply no way the Panthers are focusing their game plan on stopping Willson. Sidney Rice, Tate, Lynch, Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller all have to be higher on their list. That could leave Seattle with some easy pickings. Willson could absolutely be a major factor in deciding the outcome on Sunday.
Stephen Williams streak continues
Williams has caught a pass of at least 38-yards in every game so far as a Seahawk. More please. How upset will Panthers fans be if Willson and Williams are the ones to beat them? This Seahawks offense is a match-up nightmare.
Remember Bobby Wagner
That is not a question. It is a suggestion. Wagner continues to fall into the shadows of a team full of stars, but no player looked more ready to step forward during training camp than Wagner. I judge middle linebackers not by their tackle totals, but by how quickly the tackle is made after the ball is handed off. Wagner progressively made more and more tackles for loss last year, and he looked even more decisive and explosive during the pre-season. If he needed any extra motivation, the guy who took his defensive rookie of the year trophy will be on the opposite sideline.
Win the first half
Pete Carroll has a winning road record (7-4) as the coach of the Seahawks when his team is tied or ahead at halftime. They are 1-12 when trailing by even a single point at halftime on the road. The team was 7-1 last year, home or road, when leading after the first quarter. Carroll talks a lot about finishing, but starts appear to matter a lot.