A playoff team a year ago, the Carolina Panthers have stumbled out of the gates finding themselves with a 3-3-1 record. Due to the weak competition in the NFC South, the Panthers still find themselves sitting atop the division. Here is everything you need to know about the Panthers heading into the matchup:
After sitting out Week 1, Cam Newton has experienced a slow start to his 2014 campaign. Thus far, he is yet to through for 300 yards in a game and his completion percentage is significantly lower than he has had in previous years. Over the last four games, Newton only has a 57.02% completion rate. Much like Russell Wilson, Newton can take over a game using his legs. During the 37-37 tie with the Bengals, Newton ran the ball 17 times and went on to gain 107 yards. Without the speed of Bobby Wagner up the middle, the Seahawks will look to Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin to contain Newton on the edges and try to keep him in the pocket. The Seahawks will try to make Newton beat them through the air and hope to generate a couple of turnovers in the secondary.
Both Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams have missed significant time this year. Williams looks like he will have to sit out at least one more game with a high ankle injury. Stewart returned to action last week against the Packers but did not find much success. With the team trailing the whole game, Stewart saw 13 carries and was only able to gain 50 yards. Although it may not seem like it, the Seahawks still have the #1 run defense in the NFL giving up only 3.2 YPC. I don’t see the committee of running backs in Carolina causing an issue for the Seahawks. Look for the Panthers to rush towards Bruce Irvin’s side on the line as he has made the switch this week to the defensive line in hope of gaining more pressure on the cornerback. Surely, Irvin will be playing primarily on passing downs, but will be important to see what Carolina does on 3rd down plays.
Part of the reason for the lack of success in the passing game can be attributed to the weak receiving core of the Carolina Panthers. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin has looked strong thus far in his short career. He has hauled in 34 passes for over 450 yards and 5 touchdowns. Many believe that if Benjamin wasn’t selected 4 spots ahead of the Seahawks pick in 2014, that the Hawks may have selected him instead of opting to trade down. Outside of Benjamin, the Panthers have used a mixture of receivers to try and succeed moving the ball down field. Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, tenured veterans have been good at possessing the ball on third down but have yet to light up the stat sheets. I would imagine we will see a lot of what we saw during the Cowboys game where Richard Sherman shadowed Dez Bryant. For the most part Sherman will play on his side of the field but when necessary, do not be surprised to see Sherman following Benjamin around the field. The most successful target for Newton this year has been tight end Greg Olsen. Through 6 games, Olsen has been the most productive tight end in the league behind Julius Thomas. You will see the Panthers attempt to use Greg Olsen by stretching him down the field and running multiple routes towards the sidelines. He has a unique blend of size and athleticism that needs to be accounted for in this week’s game plan.
The Carolina offensive line is decimated at this point in time. During the Green Bay game they were forced to use every single lineman on the roster to get through the game. Byron Bell and Trai Turner were forced out of the game and were replaced by two un-drafted rookies. Regardless, the Panthers have had an issue opening up holes in the running game as they average only 87 yards per game. The only 100 yard rusher that they have so far this year is Cam Newton. It would not be surprising to see the defensive line have a coming out party this week as a lot of pressure has been put on them to perform after the Rams game.
Defensive Front Seven:
Even without the contributions of All-Pro Greg Hardy (Commissioner’s Exempt List), the Carolina Panthers have been able to get to the Quarterback this year. As a team they have 15 sacks which is more than double of what the Seahawks have. Luke Kuechly will be a guy to watch on Sunday as he seems to be all over the field. He ranks 3rd overall at run stop percentage in the league. It will be interesting to see how Kuechly performs against the run considering the Seahawks are without a fullback. That being said, the Panthers are giving up 137.6 YPG on the ground and the Seahawks will have to exploit that weakness in order to control the ball more. Keeping the Panthers defense on the field will be a priority this week.
The secondary of the Panthers is not nearly as strong as it was last year. With the departure of Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn, the Panthers have failed to play at the level they performed at last year. This season they have 3 interceptions but are giving up nearly 250 yards a game through the air. This secondary should not worry anybody and the way Russell Wilson has played, the Seahawks should be able to light up the scoreboard this week.
The Seahawks find themselves looking for a win to avoid falling under .500 for the first time since the first game of Russell Wilson’s career (Lost 20-16 in Arizona). The Seahawks will need to be aggressive on defense and force turnovers against what is a pretty weak offense. Dan Quinn will attempt to make the Panthers one dimensional by taking away the run and forcing Newton to step up in the pocket and throw. For a team who has given up point totals of 37, 38, 24, 37, and 38 over the last five weeks, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense should have no problem putting up points this week. With Percy Harvin out of the picture, the offense should open up a bit and they will start to move the ball downfield more to try and get the WR playmakers more involved. The pressure is certainly high for the team right now, but I expect them to come out and play a solid 60 minutes of football.