These are the kinds of games we will be looking back on in November and December and be thanking God we were able to pull it out. The Seahawks escaped with a 12-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The win gives the Seahawks a 1-0 record and the Panthers start their season 0-1. There is a lot to talk about and a lot I pulled from this game. Here are my observations from this nail biter.
Running Game Needs To Improve: I will cut Marshawn Lynch a little bit of slack on this one because the Carolina Panthers front 7 is extremely talented in stuffing the run. Lynch ran for only 43 yards this week while the entire Seahawks team rushed for only 70 yards total. At times I felt that Robert Turbin had more success running the ball then Lynch did. I have a hard time diagnosing what the main problem was. As talented as the Panthers defense is, the Seahawks offensive line struggled at times to open holes and protection in both phases of the offense was shaky throughout the game. At home next week against another stout defense, the running game needs to improve or else we will struggle putting up points and extending drives once again.
Thoughts on Russell Wilson: Russell Wilson threw for 320 yards and one touchdown on Sunday but there was one head-scratching element and one frustrating element Wilson displayed during the game. The head-scratching element was that Wilson ran the ball only 5 times for 7 yards. None of these rushes were zone-read keepers. Even though the Seahawks running game was below average throughout the game, I thought Wilson would try to trick the Panthers defense by faking hand offs and keeping the ball, especially in the second half when it had been established that Seattle was having trouble on the ground. The frustrating element of Wilson’s game was that he seemed to be too comfortable in the pocket at times. Wilson was sacked twice and also fumbled the ball deep into Carolina territory. In these instances and others throughout the game, Wilson tried to stay in the pocket and waited for something to open up rather than scramble to create space to get his receivers open. When he did scramble, he didn’t seem comfortable committing to throwing to any of his receivers. The Panthers defense showed their presence by using their speed and quickness. Wilson needs to be more decisive next week because holding the ball for too long will result in lost yards and missed opportunities.
Dark Horses: Sidney Rice and Golden Tate were the starting wide receivers on Sunday but it was Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse who made the biggest impact in the passing game this week. Baldwin led the Seahawks receivers in receptions and yards, catching 7 passes for 91 yards. Kearse reeled in the only Seahawks touchdown of the game, a 43-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to give the Seahawks the lead for good. I think these two players will have a lasting impact this season; more of an impact than a lot of people thought. Without Percy Harvin, Baldwin and Kearse were given the opportunity to prove themselves as valuable assets in the passing game and both proved their value this week. Look for them to see expanded playing time in the coming weeks.
Schofield Holds down the Fort, But Road Defense Still a Weakness: Cliff Avril was inactive against Carolina, thrusting O’Brien Schofield into the starting lineup at defensive end this week. Schofield did not overly impress me but I think he did a solid job. Schofield recorded the Seahawks only sack of Cam Newton this week. I do not believe Schofield is meant to be a long-term solution at defensive end should Avril miss any more time, but he did his job adequately today and the Seahawks were able to pull out a win. As for the rest of the defense, we looked eerily similar to last year’s road defense. This is not a good thing. The Seahawks couldn’t put pressure on Newton when it mattered the most, on third down. Carolina converted 5 of their 11 third downs; a 45.5% conversion rate. Tackling also needs to improve, as Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert were able to gain yards after contact on most of their rushes. The defense needs to do a better job contacting the runner at the line of scrimmage or behind it to prevent the opportunity to gain extra yards. Luckily for the Seahawks, we have two straight home games before our next road game in Houston.
Awareness is Key: On both Carolina fumbles that were recovered by the Seahawks, I noticed incredible awareness by the Seattle defenders to know that the ball had been knocked out and that the play was still live. Both fumbles included at least three Seahawks to pounce on the loose ball and in both instances it was not even a question as to which team recovered the ball. I was very impressed by the instincts the Seahawks defense showed this week.
Penalty Watch: The Seahawks had 9 penalties for a total of 99 yards this week; 6 of them coming in the second half. Most of our penalties occurred at inopportune times, such as on third downs that instead of stopping Carolina drives, extended them. As sad as it is to say, the number of penalties is improving from where we were in the preseason but needs to get a lot better in a big hurry or else it will cost us these close games.
Thoughts on Carolina: I think that the Carolina Panthers have a defense that the coaching staff can rely on all season long. It is a unit that is capable of getting them to the playoffs. Having said this, the Panthers will go only as far as Cam Newton and the offense takes them. The Panthers running game was impressive this week but they do not have a solidified feature back given that Jonathan Stewart is out with an injury. Cam Newton was held to 125 passing yards this week and that will definitely not cut it over the course of the season. If Newton improves and shows stable, consistent improvement, the Panthers could be a dark horse pick for an NFC wild-card berth this season.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks haven’t won in week one on the road since 2006 when the Seahawks beat Detroit 9-6… The heat didn’t play as big of a factor later on in the game as I thought it would… We stayed healthy throughout the course of the game. I always love to see that… Where was Christine Michael???… The Seahawks wore grey pants with their blue jerseys this week… I am running on pure adrenaline as I’m writing this. Sunday Night Football is currently on and I’ve been up since 6am… I’ve always thought Bank of America Stadium is one of the most boring looking stadiums in the NFL. It’s just a bowl with three levels. No notable decorations either… The Seahawks have 4 more 10am kickoffs this season. Good thing we showed we can win on the road early on in the season… My fantasy team is going to struggle this season… I say it every season and I’ll say it again. Thank God for NFL Red Zone. I got to watch every NFC West team this week since the 49ers, Cardinals, and Rams all played in the 1:25pm slot after the Seahawks game… Speaking of the 49ers, I’m disappointed they pulled out a win over Green Bay but my attitude could be a lot worse if the Seahawks had lost… Next week is going to be HUGE. Nothing I say will convince you otherwise. With sole possession of first place in the NFC West potentially on the line, I am already getting excited thinking about next week’s game.
If you hate the San Francisco 49ers like I know you do, make sure you check back Tuesday for a very special post. With the 49ers coming to town next week for our home opener, I take you into my past as I explain where my hatred of the San Francisco 49ers comes from. I promise you, it will definitely be a must-read for any true Seahawks fan.
I will publish my preview of next week’s Sunday night home opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday. Thanks for reading everybody. Go Seahawks!