The Morning After: Pain, Pleasure Mix in Seahawks Dominant 40-7 Victory Over Panthers
Offense
Defense
Special Teams
4.8Game Rating
Reader Rating: (40 Votes)

A perfectly satisfying Seahawks performance turned into a Stanley Kubrick movie part way through the second quarter as fans were forced to watch their irrepressible safety suffer a grisly injury and talk publicly about retiring when given his diagnosis. Earl Thomas reportedly has a broken tibia, which some say can take anywhere from four to six months to heal. There was some mention of a fractured fibula, which would give Thomas a chance to come back this year, but medical experts seemed rather certain it was the more serious injury. That would make sense given the reaction from Thomas. There is no player who can replicate what Thomas does on the field, or the fire he brings to every single rep in practice and on gameday. He is a titan. One can only hope we have not seen the last of our little dynamo in a Seahawks uniform. This team must press on. Their goals remain attainable after scraping the Panthers off the bottom of their shoes. The game said as much about who Carolina is as it did about Seattle.

 

Awkward beginning

Anyone who has seen Cam Newton dress should not be surprised to learn that head coach Ron Rivera held him out of the first series of the game due to a dress code violation. A case could be made that Newton has violated our eyes so often with his outfits that a full season suspension feels commensurate with the offense. The surprise was that he was not penalized for wearing leopard-print leggings or clashing colors, but for failing to wear a tie. Insert grimacing emoji here.

The subtext perfectly matched the game. Newton, the league MVP, and de facto leader of the Panthers, is a petulant child. He smiles broadly and loves attention when things are going his way, but shrivels into a sulking hobgoblin who abhors the light when things turn tough. It is no wonder that when his team fell out of playoff contention last week that he decided the rules no longer applied to him. Forget that the offense was so minor. He knew the rules, and actively chose to disregard them. His message after the game was that he did not pack properly for the team’s two-week stay on the West Coast. He must have forgot his credit card as well. Word is, San Francisco has a few places to buy men’s fashion.

You may wonder why I am spending all this time talking about another player on another team. It is rare to come upon such a perfect juxtaposition. These Panthers were 15-1 last season with the league MVP as their quarterback. They lost a number of close games this year, and then mailed it in against the Seahawks last night. Times of crisis bring forth different reactions from different people. Most run from burning houses while a precious few run straight in to save who they can. Many join bullies in harassing the weak or the different while a courageous few stand up to the horde. Character is both invisible and one of the world’s greatest sights when revealed. What we saw Sunday night, both in the casual act of disregard from their quarterback before the game and in their performance during the game, was a Panthers team that has responded to adversity with unconditional surrender.

The Seahawks, time and again, have proven they are the precious few. This was just the latest testament to their collective character. It took all of one play for them to turn the page on an abysmal performance last week. Mike Morgan, in his return from injury, intercepted the first pass of the game from backup quarterback Derek Anderson. A player who was an undrafted free agent and a grinder on special teams for years, suffered an injury earlier this year after finally getting his chance to start in the NFL. It was only fitting that a person who had to rise from the bottom of the roster and battle back from every obstacle, would benefit from the immaturity of the #1 overall pick in the draft. This is who the Seahawks are. There is no team quite like them. Certainly not the Panthers.

 

Great sign for the offense

One week after a bumbling, embarrassing, loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seahawks offense reestablished their identity against a stout Panthers defense. Many will dismiss the Seahawks gaudy offensive numbers as coming against a Panthers team missing their best defensive player in Luke Kuechly. There is no doubt Kuechly would have made a difference. Consider, though, that the Panthers played without him last week in Oakland and held a Raiders team who boasts one of the league’s best offensive lines to just 58 yards on the ground and 1.8 yards per run. Kawann Short played. Star Lotulelei played. Kony Ealy and Thomas Davis played.

This was the top-ranked run defense in the NFL coming into this game. They were allowing just 3.3 yards per carry. Seattle dropped 240 yards of rushing on them and almost tripled that yards per carry number by averaging 8.3 yards per run. Tyler Lockett gave the team a rocket boost with his 75 yard run to open the second half, but Thomas Rawls averaged 7.1 yards per carry and Russell Wilson averaged 9.7 on his three runs. Even Troymaine Pope broke off an 18 yard run late in the game.

This was a promising performance by the offensive line against an incredibly stout front four. Believe it or not, this group is far superior to the one the Seahawks faced in Tampa. What the Bucs lacked in talent, they made up for in desire. The Panthers got knocked around by the Seahawks line and by their running back. It was a show of force that will serve them well if they can bottle it and use it the rest of the way.

 

Wreck-It Rawls is back

Technically, this was Rawls’ fifth game of the season. It really looked like his first. This was the player we saw last year on the way to leading the league in yards per carry. He was explosive. He was tough. The thing that really sets Rawls apart, though, is his lateral movement. His ability to cut across wide chunks of turf in a single step is special. There was an “I am back” play last night where he was running off right guard and saw simultaneously that the hole was plugged by Carolina and that there was an opening 3-4 yards to his right. He planted his feet and then seemingly teleported to the open space. Forty-five yards later, he was standing in the end zone. It also happened to turn a 10-7 game into a far more comfortable 17-7 game.

Rawls has proven he is a difference maker. Last season was no fluke. What becomes paramount now is finding a way to stay healthy. He left the game for a while last night to check for a concussion. I love his energy and toughness, but my hope is the coaches help him understand that those attributes only matter if he is on the field to display them. The team needs him to strike the right balance. Striking is something he does quite well, so we can hope.

 

Kudos to Kearse

I have been hard on Jermaine Kearse. I do not enjoy being critical of players or coaches. There was not much positive to say about the way Kearse has played in recent weeks, and really, throughout this season. He has been a non-factor except for the moments where he was a negative one. Last week I mentioned he needed to step up or step aside. He chose the former this week. For the first time in five weeks, he caught more than half the passes thrown his way. He was sure-handed most of the night, and made a gorgeous catch late on an equally gorgeous pass from Trevone Boykin. His final line was nothing to hang on a wall: 5 receptions for 68 yards and 0 touchdowns. It was something to build on. He needs to put together of a few of these games in a row.

 

Baldwin continues his wizardry

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Doug Baldwin continues his workmanlike season. He finished with 7 receptions in 7 targets. He has caught 30 of the last 34 passes thrown his way. That is an astounding 88% catch rate. He is on pace for a 90+ catch year and over 1,100 yards receiving. Baldwin showed a little more wiggle last night with a few nifty runs after catching short passes. I still would like to see the team give him more red zone opportunities. The guy did lead the NFL in touchdowns last year.

 

Keep an eye on Nick Vannett

The rookie tight end appears to be getting his feet beneath him and is earning increased playing time, even if Luke Willson was healthy. Vannett made a number of impressive blocks in the running game last night and caught a couple of passes, including one that stuck out. He and fellow tight end Jimmy Graham streaked up the left side of the field in what appeared to flood a zone coverage the Panthers were playing. Wilson found Vannett for a 21-yard strike. I do not recall seeing that play this season, or at least run with two tight ends. If Vannett can build on this game and become another target teams need to worry about in the seams, it only makes the offense that much more dangerous.

One thing we saw a lot of in this game was the Seahawks going with a tackle eligible, meaning they brought in another offensive lineman (Rees Odhiambo). This is a heavy package that puts more emphasis on the role of tight ends in the passing game. It allows the Seahawks to pound the ball on the ground, and is a viable formation as long as the tight ends can threaten the defense vertically on play-action. Otherwise, you are simply removing receivers from the field and telegraphing run every time.

Vannett was a star in mini-camp and was decent during training camp. Even if all he does is continue to block the way he did last night, he will become a vital part of this team. Adding a few chunk plays certainly would not hurt.

 

Run defense was extraordinary

The Panthers only hope of competing in this game was if they could establish the running game. Their offensive line was riddled with injuries, making a heavy emphasis on passing a dangerous gambit. They came out trying to pound the ball and were stoned time and again. It was frustrating to see the lack of sacks for the second week in a row, but some of that can be attributed to the Panthers employing a quick passing game and the Seahawks deciding to play heavy against the run much of the night.

They rarely went to their rush package. Instead, Tony McDaniel, Jarran Reed, and Ahtyba Rubin rotated most of the snaps on the interior. The rush patterns also seemed to put a heavy emphasis on staying in front of Newton. They appeared willing to give Newton some extra time to throw in exchange for limiting his running and scrambling. It worked. Newton had just 12 yards rushing on 3 carries.

 

 

Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, and K.J. Wright were terrific again. Morgan played a really nice game even after his early interception. He set the edge better than any of the players who had been subbing for him the last six weeks. The only blemish on the night came on the play immediately after Thomas was injured. Otherwise, this very well may have been a shutout.

 

Pressing on

We will learn more about what this injury to Thomas means to his career and to the team in the coming days and weeks. Steven Terrell is an experienced backup who knows the system well. Kelcie McCray becomes the next option behind Terrell if there are any further injuries. McCray does not have the speed that either Terrell or Thomas have, so the defense would have to change should he be forced into action. We may not see a true test of Terrell the rest of the regular season.

The Seahawks head into Green Bay next week to face Aaron Rodgers, but the forecast calls for snow. That would clearly impact the passing game and make it impossible to truly assess Terrell’s play. In limited time, we have seen Terrell cover ground well and stay on top of deep passes. There is no way this team is as good without Thomas on the field. One could argue we won’t truly know the impact of his loss until a possible Super Bowl matchup with Tom Brady or Derek Carr. The Falcons could pose some unique challenges to the secondary as well. For now, the team will do what it is built to do. They will meet adversity head on and knock it on its ass.

12 Responses

  1. Doug

    It is hard to really assess the performance last night. Did the Panters ‘mail in’ their effort last night? There is no doubt that after Lockett’s TD the Panters sagged–the game was effectively over at that point. If you are right though about Carolina’s response to adversity, did we really see the #1 D vs the run last night? Hard to believe we did. That can’t take away from the fact that the Seahawks took advantage of the opportunity, and without some of the mistakes on O could easily have had a 50 point night.

    Re Kearse… he was the target on Russ’ interception. My first reaction when I saw the ball leave his hand was Russ NOOOOO! On replay when I saw that it was Kearse on the route, I thought “that explains it”. I am sure there was miscommunication on that play, for which I blame Kearse. Kearse’s numbers last night look a lot better because of a garbage time catch from #2. I am not prepared to let him off the hook completely. It seems that Kearse’s main value to the O is his downfield blocking, which is great.

    Nice write-up Brian!

    • jonathan evison

      . . . yeah, they love kearse for his big build and his blocking–too bad it wasn’t enough to keep browner from steamrolling him in the SB, allowing butler to jump his route . . .

  2. Uncle Bob

    Brian, you hit the high points again, especially re: ET, now some random thoughts.

    Admit it guys, when Fant went out with his dinger you got a bit of a sick feeling, if only fleetingly. I don’t blame you. In spite of his inexperience, he’s doing a pretty fair job. More distressing is when you contemplate depth on O-line. With Gilliam inactive we’re left with Odhiambo and Hunt…………..that’s it! Still worked out though…..whew! Speaking of Fant, he must have a dynamite publicist. The last Monday night Hawk game, Gruden went on and on about what a story he was. Last night Collinsworth was almost as enthusiastic…………and they even dredged up some old b-ball pics of him. There’s something cooking here……

    Last week it was speculated by some that the O-line play was so much the worse for the absence of Britt. Not that Hunt was awful in his physical assignments, but in read calls he lacks the experience. If there was any doubt, yesterday should have dealt with that. Same guys, not a chopped liver defensive front (admittedly not elite either), and a very different performance. Largely I would support the notion that Britt’s leadership/experience/skill made the difference………..and probably some embarrassment factor in there as well.

    Bevell haters: did you see that? There is a call in the play rotation to throw to Graham in the red zone! That’s some frosting on the Jimmy miraculous recovery/return cake. Yummy…….gimme more.

    Looks like Rawls finished his late training camp prep and has regained most, if not all, of his confidence. Like Brian said, now he just needs to not knock himself out again.

    The lone Panther TD seems to be laid at the feet of Terrell. It’s an easy conclusion to make because of where in the alignment the catch was made, but Wagner was on the receiver from the time he crossed the LOS….albeit falling behind as they approached the goal line. Mis-communication on the hand off by Terrell? Perhaps, but not altogether obvious. Turns out to not amount to much except for the possibility that this could have been a shut out game.

    Frank Clark looks like a man possessed………………with a desire to dominate that is. I can’t help but wonder if there was some extra motivation in his mind…………he just had that extra edge last night……….more than usual.

    Oh the joyful thought of what a shut out would have meant. Can you imagine the self professed Superman under his towel……major pouty face………….I mean, even worse than the one he already had He He………it would have been priceless. There are probably a dozen answers to the question of why the sports media works so hard to elevate this guy beyond what he really is……some of them not very nice. He’s not the worst QB in the league from a performance point of view (ignoring petulant behavior), but he’s not at the top as he is often touted (I mean, besides by himself). Jameis Winston is likely to be the far better choice in another year or two for those who pursue that grail. In the mean time defensive players across the league see how vulnerable Newton is to the slightest setback…………don’t doubt how that brings out the “killer” (in a non lethal way) instinct.

    The Hawks aren’t out of the woods yet, there’s still some important progress to be made to achieve dominance…………but last night was a glimpse of what could be.

    • Frank

      For someone of Newton’s physical dimension and strength, he seems reluctant to assert himself at times. On the 2nd interception, he doved at the legs of one of the blockers seemingly to avoid getting crunched.

      But I have seen a few games this year where he has been hit very hard and sometimes via helmet to helmut contact without any penalties assessed. So at this point of the year, he might just be trying to save his hide from more trauma.

    • Doug

      Re: Frank Clark, not surprised he came out hot. Remember he called out Cam in the SB for not diving after the fumble. He wasn’t about to let Cam get the better of him on Sunday, and is probably pi$$ed he didn’t get a sack.

      • Uncle Bob

        Thanks Doug, you caught my drift. The TV guys gave us a glimpse of one very active verbal exchange between the two (likely there were more given Clark led in snap count)………..probably wasn’t about sartorial options.

        Newton’s post SB pout fest had to have lit up defenses across the league, which might explain why so many were/are so aggressive toward shaking him up this season.

        As for Newton getting, or not getting, an unusual number of uncalled hits I suspect there’s an element of media bias/favoritism at work there too. Every fan base in the country could probably put together a montage of uncalled hits on their favorite quarterback if they were so motivated.

  3. SikhHawk

    Gr8 article Brian, thanks.
    Hurts muchly to lose Earl. My all time favourite Safety.
    We are still going to win SB51 as I see the remaining 6 of the Magnificent 7 (RS;KC;BW;KJW;CA;MB) catching fire. Additionally FClark & JReed & MMorgan & DShead are also really good. Steven Terrell also played very well in first start against Bucs. He gave up a touchdown on first play but, the defense didn’t allow any points. No-one possesses Earls skills, three-time All-Pro, but one thing he does have is speed: Terrell ran 4.35 at his pro day for Texas A&M, basically the same as Thomas & he’s been coached by the best DB Coach ever.
    Also have depth at all positions, not just safety. Thomas is a great, as is Chancellor, Bennett, Avril, Wagner, Sherman & K.J. Wright. Also strong on offense with Russell, Jimmy G, Baldwin, Tyler & finally healthy Rawls. Britt is now a top ten C (see PFF)
    Its gonna be fine, but greater concern is will Earl retire?
    One can only hope that a SB51 win will relight his fire. The fact that he would tweet that he’s thinking about retirement probably means that it’s a possibility and one that he’s contemplated throughout his career. Earl is over-passionate. When he missed the first game of his career, tweeted how hard it was to be away from his team. Has a strong loyalty for his “Legion of Boom” brotherhood.But rare to hear a 27-year-old even hint at retirement. We’ve seen players end their careers early because of concussion concerns, we’ve seen others unable to get back because of knee injuries, but Thomas wasted no time before saying he might not ever play again after the first significant injury of his career, . Maybe he really doesn’t want to take any further risks after becoming a father. Hope he was just caught up by the heat of the moment.

    Hawks should be fine. When Thomas returns, the rest of the league be scared to death. Even without Earl, the league will be nervous of the Seahawks. The key players on this seasons team are actually Russell, Britt, Rawls, Prosise & Jimmy G. Hope they stay healthy.

  4. John L

    One thing about McCray, He fast, personally I’d love to see him in there at the free, this guy has shown he has some wheels,range, and he can pop you. It’s a reason why he beat out Terrell at FS during training camp.

  5. andytyl003

    It was a good game. The defense is holding its ends of the bargain as usual. Losing ET is a concern but we need to move on like in the past. Terrell is no ET but he is pretty good in his own right just doesn’t have enough snaps to prove it. Now, it is his time. BW and KJW are excellence as usual. We can make a case for BW to be the defensive player of the year and both will be Pro-Bowlers. Hopefully, they won’t be able to make it due to the “extended” season. A little concern about our DL. It has been the stalwart for the majority of the season but I am seeing it’s happening again down the stretch, burnout w/ our pass rushers. For the last month, we had registered 4 sacks, none in the last 2 games w/ very minimum number of pressures. Don’t know the exact number but registered qb hits also went down, 17 for the last 4 games, which is not a lot. Looks like MB is getting back to the shape. Hopefully, with the rest, due to the injury, he won’t burn out like past seasons w/ too many snaps. Same as CA. FC is playing hard and it seems he still has a lot of gas left in the tank. Marsh has been a disppointment. MB and CA will still be the key.

    Regarding the offense, looks like Rawls and TL are back and fully healthy, which will make a big difference for the home stretch. The OL is the OL. Our interior is doing an o.k. job when Britt is back at center. The tackles are horrid as usual, between Fant and Sowell, they allowed 10 pressures and at least 1 sack last night as I recalled. I am sick and tired of hearing the “Cinderella” story about Fant. The guy might be a good player in the future, but at this moment, he is just not very good. Potential gets coaches fired and your franchise qb killed at the same time. Enough is enough but I guess at this point, they don’t have much of an option. That being said, this offense will only go as RW. Don’t like the way he is taking on w/ too many chances by playing ‘hero ball” for the past couple of games. It always gets him into trouble in the past and moving forward. He should know better as a 5th-year qb w/ those unwise decisions. On the operational side, red zone is still an issue. DB can’t seem to make the right call at the right time. Agree w/ Brian about using Douggie more in the area. He is one of the best slot receivers and route runners, and we don’t use him more in this area, especially when you know they will double team JG most of the times. But coming from DB, what do we expect?
    We need to win the rest of the games to at least secure the second seed, Detroit is coming on strong. I don’t think we can win on the road like in the past w/ this horrid OL, and the way RW is playing right now. Hopefully, he snaps out of it and plays like an All-Pro that he is. If Nov and December are any indication, then I feel pretty good he will be his own self again, 15-4 and 16-3, in the two months. We are still 2-3 on the road this season. Needs to get better. Better show up in GB. No more doughnut like TB again.

  6. nsromaine

    I want to celebrate Tyler Lockett and his fly sweep to da house! He’s helping exorcise the memory of Percy Harvin by doing the one thing Percy never did when he brought the fly sweep to the Hawks and that it take it home.
    I don’t think they’ll over use this play, but we’ve seen how effective it can be to keep the defense guessing when Tyler comes in motion, at full speed and the ball is snapped. They can’t possibly NOT lean in the direction he’s headed and that split second can make everything easier in the running game.

    • Doug

      I look forward to seeing Lockett turn and run a wheel route at full speed at the snap w after play action to Rawls. You just know that’s gonna happen.

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