Tag Archives: Cam Newton

Review: Panthers 31, Seahawks 24

17 Jan
Jonathan Stewart

Photo Credit: NFL.com

There is no doubt the Seattle Seahawks showed a tremendous amount of heart on Sunday. Unfortunately at the end of the day the deficit was too big and time was too little. The 2015 campaign comes to a close as the Carolina Panthers defeat the Seahawks 31-24, eliminating Seattle and advancing to next week’s NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals. The NFC will be represented in the Super Bowl by a team other than the Seahawks for the first time since 2012. For this preview I will break the game down into two huge chunks, the frustrating disaster that was the first half, and the incredible comeback which fueled the second half. Here are my final thoughts of the 2015 season.

The First Half: The Seahawks spotted the Panthers 31 points going into the halftime break. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and both the Seattle offense and defense were to blame. On the very first play of the game Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart broke through into the Legion of Boom and galloped all the way down to the Seattle 16-yard line, a gain of 59 yards. This set up a Stewart touchdown run 3 plays later giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead only two and a half minutes into the game. On the Seahawks first possession of the game Carolina stole away any momentum the Seahawks were trying to muster and held a tight grasp on it for the rest of the half. On second down Russell Wilson felt immediate pressure and forced a pass to the middle of the field in the direction of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had yet to turn around and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted the pass and ran it in for a touchdown. 14-0 Panthers less than three and a half minutes into the game. After a Seahawks punt the Panthers drove down the field and scored again on a Stewart 1-yard touchdown run. 21-0 Panthers. On the first play of Seattle’s next possession Wilson felt rushed again and threw a low pass which was intercepted by Cortland Finnegan. A Carolina field goal made it 24-0 Panthers with 12:37 left in the second quarter. The nightmare continued on Carolina’s next possession. After a Seahawks punt the Panthers drove 54 yards in 9 plays culminating with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen. The Seahawks went into the halftime break down 31-0, their largest deficit in a game since 2010.

I noticed a few things in the first half that drove me crazy, some which we could control and others we really could not. For starters as the score went up I felt like our defense started to play panicked and tried to force their play. What I mean by this is instead of good fundamental tackling we would try to force takeaways by forcing the ball out which at times helped Carolina gain extra yards. Third down defense was also a problem, as Carolina converted 71 percent of their third down chances in the first half. On offense I found quarterback pressures and hurries to be particularly frustrating. One of the best facets of Russell Wilson’s game is his escapability and he did not do a good job of creating plays in the first half. He felt too comfortable in the pocket and trusted his offensive line almost to a fault. I also believe Wilson and the Seahawks offense discounted the speed of the Panthers defense. They absolutely swarmed him and ate him up in the first half, leading to two turnovers and a sack. The field also did not do the Seahawks any favors either. Players were slipping, sliding, and falling down throughout pregame warmups which led to harsh criticism which was discussed on the FOX broadcast in the early part of the game. Marshawn Lynch looked particularly uncomfortable playing on that sloppy surface, especially since the majority of his success running the ball depends on him being able to be shifty and cut sharply on the turf.

The Second Half: My hope was that if the Seahawks could somehow score 21 points in the third quarter to cut the Panthers lead to 10, we could put ourselves in position to potentially make the greatest comeback in NFL playoffs history a reality. For a time it looked like it might be doable. The Seahawks adjusted wonderfully coming out of the halftime break and came out firing. On the first offensive possession of the second half the Seahawks were set up thanks to a 50-yard kick return by Tyler Lockett. A personal foul by Carolina on the kickoff gave the Seahawks an additional 15 yards. On the fourth play of the drive Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown. After forcing the Panthers to punt the Seahawks took their next drive all the way down the field resulting in a touchdown pass to Lockett. Halfway through the third quarter the Seahawks were only 7 points away from my goal. It was 31-14 Carolina. At the pace we were going I thought an epic comeback was a real possibility at this point but after our next drive resulted in a punt it started to feel like it was going to be extremely difficult. The Seahawks got the ball back with 9:34 left in the game and we drove down the field to score a touchdown in 3 minutes and 28 seconds. With just over 6 minutes left in the game, two timeouts, needing two scores, and the Panthers getting the ball again the blueprint was set in terms of what we needed to do; force a Carolina punt, score, recover an onside kick, and score again. Step one was completed after Carolina held the ball for another 3 minutes. The Seahawks got the ball back with 2:49 left and kicked a field goal cutting the deficit to 7 with the clock reading 1:12. Just like last year’s NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks season continuing depended on recovering an onside kick. Steven Hauschka’s onside attempt was a good one but the ball was caught and held on to by Thomas Davis, sealing the victory for the Carolina Panthers.

It was a gritty, heartwarming effort. The Seahawks were dead to rights and the resolve this team showed shows exactly why we are able to be competitive in any game we play. No deficit is too big for this team and we came one score shy of tying or perhaps even winning the game. Hindsight is 20/20, but if the Seahawks would have been able to kick a field goal in the first half (either Hausckha’s miss at the end of the first half or deciding to kick a field goal instead of going for it on 4th and 5 late in the first half) and if Wilson would not have thrown one of his two interceptions there is a real possibility we are talking about a Seahawks victory instead. At the end of the day, turnovers may have been the primary culprit, which is what I was wary of in my game preview.

Thoughts on Carolina: This is a defense-driven football team and they are extremely good. With today’s performance I now am questioning whether or not the Seahawks have the best defense in the league. If not, that title definitely belongs to the Panthers. They will host the Cardinals next week and if they play exactly like how they did today, it will be the Carolina Panthers representing the NFC in Super Bowl 50. I look forward to playing the Panthers next season, arguably the best opponent we will play at CenturyLink Field in 2016.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will pick 25th, 26th, or 27th in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The pick better be used on the best offensive lineman available… The 2016 schedule will be released in April but here are our opponents next season. Home games at CenturyLink Field: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins. On the road: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New York Jets… 37 days until the start of the NFL Scouting Combine and 102 days until the NFL Draft.

Thank you guys once again for logging on and reading this season. It always means a lot to me that you read and care about what I write. On to 2016. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks/Panthers Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

16 Jan
panthers divisional preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (6) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Carolina Panthers

Site: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Kickoff: 10:05am

We meet again. For the second consecutive season the Seahawks will take on the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Divisional playoffs. This time around however the tables have been turned. The Panthers enter this game after a 15-1 regular season, an NFC South division title, and earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. With their win last week the Seahawks advanced to the NFC Divisional round for the fourth straight season but instead of hosting like they did last season they have to travel across the country to take on the Panthers this January. The Seahawks won games against the Panthers in Charlotte in three consecutive seasons from 2012-2014. In their 2015 meeting in Seattle earlier this season however the Panthers bested the Seahawks 27-23. This will be an extremely difficult matchup for the Seahawks but I believe we match up well with what the Panthers will put onto the field. Here is what I will be watching for.

The Marshawn Lynch mystery drags on for at least one more week. The star running back has practiced all week and proclaimed to ESPN that he is “ready to go” but it will come down to a game-time decision if Lynch actually suits up and plays. If Lynch cannot go it will be Christine Michael who starts at running back once again. For the rest of the Seattle offense, much improvement needs to be shown in order to compete with the Panthers on the scoreboard. Quarterback Russell Wilson must improve on his accuracy because there is little doubt the fantastic play of the Minnesota defense last week rattled him. Limiting turnovers will also be a big key in the way this game plays out. Carolina leads the league in turnovers with 39, which are 10 more than any other team. They also lead the league in turnover differential with a mark of +20. The Seahawks offense will need to take the majority of their drives deep into Carolina territory in order to stay in this game.

Many people may not realize this but the Seahawks defense will play this game with a couple of big-name players who did not play against Carolina back in week 6. Back in October K.J Wright moved from outside to inside linebacker in place of Bobby Wagner who missed the game with an injury. This week Wagner will be back starting at middle linebacker and will be a tackling machine in the middle of the field. In 3 career games against the Panthers, Wagner has averaged 7.3 tackles per game and has also sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton once. In addition to Wagner, Jeremy Lane will start at cornerback. Cary Williams, who is no longer on the team, started at cornerback against the Panthers earlier this season. Lane’s primary job will be to cover Panthers wide receivers Philly Brown and Devin Funchess. Last week the Seahawks only forced one turnover. If the Seahawks defense can force at least two turnovers in the game we will be in decent shape.

The Carolina Panthers offense is one of the very best in the National Football League. Quarterback Cam Newton is considered to be a most valuable player candidate this season. All year long Newton has had fantastic on-field chemistry with tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen is Newton’s number one target and his numbers correlate to this notion. 26 percent of Newton’s passes were completed to Olsen this season. That percentage translates to 77 catches for 1,104 yards (both team highs) and 7 touchdowns. Olsen’s second best game of the season came against the Seahawks back in October. There is much more to the Carolina offense however and there are two other players whose presences cannot go unnoticed. My X-Factor Players to Watch for the Panthers are Pro Bowl running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. I put my X-Factor spotlight on these two guys not because of their production on the ground, but the role they can play in the Carolina passing game. Stewart and Tolbert have combined for 253 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns this season. After watching film I see the possibility of Newton targeting these backs on screen passes and wheel routes/rollout passes inside the redzone.

Each level of the Carolina defense features incredible talent. Four Panthers defenders have been named to the Pro Bowl. The middle of the field will be a risky place for Russell Wilson to throw into as the Panthers are led by veteran linebackers and tackling machines Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Cornerback Josh Norman has had a meteoric rise to being one of the best cornerbacks in the league. His 4 interceptions and team-leading 18 passes defensed defend this reputation. The matchup that may have the most say in the Panthers season continuing on to the NFC Championship Game will be defensive tackle Kawann Short against the Seahawks offensive line. Short recorded 11 sacks this season and is considered one of the best pass rushers in football. Short is averaging one sack in each of his last 5 games and he was also able to bring Russell Wilson down in the backfield twice earlier this year. In short (no pun intended), this Panthers defense is scary good and it will take a monster effort to take them down.

Random Thoughts: At the start of the playoffs I assumed since the Seahawks would have to play three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl, that we would be wearing white throughout January. Instead the Panthers have elected to wear white jerseys and white pants this week. This means the Seahawks will wear college navy jerseys. The Seahawks will pair these jerseys with wolf grey pants. The Seahawks won in this combination in Carolina in both 2012 and 2013… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX’s only broadcast of Divisional weekend… The referee this week is Tony Corrente… Nothing and I mean NOTHING would make me happier than to see all the Seahawks players “dab” on the sideline and take a group photo if we win. For those not familiar these are the hijinks the Panthers have participated in all season long at the end of their games and it would be a tremendous troll job if the Seahawks came away victorious and stuck up the proverbial middle finger in this way. If this happens look for Michael Bennett and perhaps Richard Sherman to lead the way… Brunch n’ ball for the final time this season. I’m glad this is the final 10am game of the season… Speaking of 10am starts, a random thought unrelated to this game. I am thrilled the Rams have relocated to Los Angeles. We know better than any other city what greed and corruption happens behind the scenes when it comes to franchise relocation (SuperSonics, duh) and from this perspective it is sad to see the Rams leave St. Louis. The reason I am thrilled however is because it benefits the Seahawks. Instead of traveling to the middle of the country each season we will now fly to Southern California. This eliminates one 10am kickoff each season and the Seahawks never have to play at the Edward Jones Dome again. The Seahawks went 7-7 in St. Louis dating back to 2002. Instead these road games against the Rams will be played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next three seasons which is a stadium not known for having an intimidating home field advantage. It is still a little weird to see “Los Angeles Rams” in print. It will take a little while to get used to.

Prediction: The Seahawks have lost 6 straight Divisional playoff games played on the road. Although I hope I am wrong I believe that streak continues on Sunday. The first half will be an entertaining defensive battle with Carolina taking a 13-10 lead into halftime. In the second half however the Panthers defense will shut the Seahawks offense down. Carolina will score a touchdown (with a missed extra point), and two field goals on their first three possessions of the second half. The Seahawks will have opportunities to claw back into the game but Russell Wilson will throw two interceptions and the Carolina defense will also force a fumble near the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks season will end and the Panthers will move on and host the Arizona Cardinals in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

Panthers 25, Seahawks 13

Panthers/Seahawks Preview

17 Oct
Photo Credit: Panthers.com

Photo Credit: Panthers.com

Matchup: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:05pm

For the second straight week the Seahawks will face off against an undefeated opponent, this time at the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. The defending NFC South champion Carolina Panthers come to town to take on the Seahawks in what will be their 4th straight season meeting in the regular season. The Panthers have gotten off to a 4-0 start and control first place in the NFC South. The Seahawks of course are 2-3 after losing a heartbreaker in Cincinnati last Sunday. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Panthers 7-2. Their last meeting came back in January when the Seahawks dismantled Carolina 31-17 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Before the season many 12’s would have rolled their eyes at this matchup and assumed a win was imminent. Instead this will be a very difficult game for the Seahawks to win and they are going to have to earn it. Here are some points of emphasis I will be looking at in this game.

Last week before the Seahawks defense collapsed late in the game the Seahawks offensive line did a decent job of protecting quarterback Russell Wilson. With no personnel changes coming along the line this week, I expect more improvement from this unit. It will be a challenge because once again the Seahawks will face one of the best defenses in the league. Last week the Seahawks offense found success especially in the long passing game. Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin in particular had very productive days. Against Carolina expect to see more of what worked against the Bengals, including deep shots, and intermediate passes in the middle of the field. Running back Marshawn Lynch is also expected to be back this week which should bolster Seattle’s offensive game plan. Keep in mind however that in his last 4 games against Carolina, Lynch has run for an average of only 62 yards per game. The Seahawks will be in good shape if they can score at least 24 points on Sunday.

This week on defense the Seahawks must play a clean game. My eye will be on Michael Bennett in particular. Last week Bennett was flagged for a personal foul penalty at the end of the first half and he also jumped offsides once, something that has unfortunately become his trademark. Eliminating penalties will go a long way in making sure we have a successful day on defense.

The evolution of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has steadily progressed in 2015. With limited resources around him at the skill positions, Newton has had to take the game into his own hands to make big plays happen. Newton should absolutely be the Seahawks defense’s number one priority. The Seahawks have yet to face a duel-threat quarterback this season but have done an excellent job in stopping Newton in prior matchups. This season Newton has only thrown for 200 or more yards one time, and he is averaging 49 yards per game on the ground. In his career against the Seahawks however Newton has averaged only 171 yards per game passing and 35 yards per game running. Shutting Newton down will mean the Seahawks will likely come out of this week with a win.

As I said above, the Carolina Panthers offense is missing key playmakers due to injury. Starting wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season with a torn ACL and receiver Stephen Hill is also unavailable. In the passing game it will be up to rookie Devin Funchess and veteran tight end Greg Olsen among others to get open for Newton to be effective through the air. It will be an extremely difficult task, but in my eyes the best way for the Panthers to be successful on offense is to pound the rock with running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is now the lone option in the backfield after the departure of DeAngelo Williams. Using the read-option with Stewart could take a lot of pressure off of Newton. Keep in mind however that Stewart has not scored a touchdown yet this season and is only averaging 55 yards per game on the ground. Misdirection must be a key component for the Carolina offense in order to trick the Seahawks defense for yards and possibly even points.

Of all the defenses the Seahawks have faced so far this season, no unit may be better as a whole when healthy than the Carolina Panthers defense. This week the Panthers will be close to full strength with the return of all-pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly from a month-long concussion. Outside linebackers Thomas Davis and rookie Shaq Thompson have combined for 37 tackles and a pair of sacks in their first 4 games and the secondary is anchored by Josh Norman at cornerback who has averaged in interception in each game thus far. Defensive end Jared Allen was traded to Carolina from the Chicago Bears two days after Allen suited up for the Bears in Seattle against the Seahawks in our home opener on September 27th. Although he has been ruled out with a back injury, Allen should have a fresh memory of what he went up against three weeks ago so his expertise and mentoring of the rest of Carolina’s defensive personnel could give them a leg up in game preparation. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Panthers is likely the primary beneficiary of Allen’s injury, defensive end Mario Addison. After recording two sacks in their season opener, Addison has made minimal impact rushing the passer. His season high for tackles is 4 back in week 3 and he did not show up on the stat line in their last game against Tampa Bay. With the help of Allen in the film room however, do not be surprised if Addison makes a big impact in this game.

Random Thoughts: All navy everything for the Seahawks this week. The Panthers will wear white tops and silver pants… Sam Rosen and John Lynch have the call for FOX with Pam Oliver reporting from the sidelines. Rosen takes over play-by-play duties from Kevin Burkhardt who is currently covering the Major League Baseball postseason for FOX. This is normally the #2 FOX broadcast crew… This is the first of two 1:05pm kickoffs at home this season. A public service announcement to those attending; please be aware that kickoff comes 20 minutes earlier than the Chicago game. Make sure you leave the bars and tailgates a little earlier so you’ll be in your seats with time to spare… Terry McAulay is the referee this week. McAulay previously called the NFC Divisional Playoff between these two teams back in January… This week I will be tailgating in the sky. I’m taking a friend who lives in the Stadium Place apartments in the CenturyLink Field North lot. We’ll be on the roof hovering over those making their way into the stadium. It should be fun. I was up there before the preseason game against Oakland but the roof was completely empty. Maybe things will be spiced up since this is a regular season game… What I like about the view from his building is that you can eavesdrop into the stadium hours before the gates even open, so you get kind of a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the gameday presentation rehearsals. After this game there will be a 28 day gap between home games. Normally that would be brutal but good thing I’m going on a couple of trips in between to dull the pain.

Prediction: The Panthers always play us tough and this week will be no different. Russell Wilson will throw a touchdown to Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch will run one in from 25 yards out. The Seahawks defense will be faced with a similar situation from last week and will redeem themselves. Needing a touchdown to take the lead, Cam Newton will be intercepted by Earl Thomas with less than two minutes left, clinching the Seattle victory. The Seahawks will get to 3-3, the same record they had after 6 games a season ago.

Seahawks 20, Panthers 16

Review: Seahawks 31, Panthers 17

11 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

In a game that was closer than it maybe should have been in the first half, the Seahawks came out in the second half and proved they had more fire power than their opposition. The Seahawks defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-17 on Saturday night, advancing to their second straight NFC Championship Game next Sunday right here in Seattle. For the Panthers, their season is now over. In a big time game many Seahawks players stepped up in a big way. Here are my thoughts on Saturday’s win.

Russell Wilson’s Best Game of the Year: Russell Wilson’s passer rating sums up the Seahawks offensive success in a nutshell. Wilson went 15/22 for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns Saturday night, on his way to a 149.2 passer rating; his best since posting a 127.3 passer rating week 5 against Washington. This win also marks the sixth time in the past 8 games that Wilson did not throw an interception. What may be even more impressive is that the Seahawks did not rely on Wilson’s feet to extend drives. His patience in the pocket and willingness to take shots down the field paid dividends in this game and the Carolina secondary had a difficult time stopping the Seahawks passing game, not necessarily because of the coverage they played but because Wilson was so pinpoint accurate hitting his receivers. With the Seahawks facing another young secondary next week I would expect Wilson and the Seahawks offense to formulate a similar game plan for the NFC Championship.

Kearse Makes Significant Impact: The distribution of Russell Wilson’s passes was about as even as you could get, but wide receiver Jermaine Kearse played the most significant role in the passing game. Kearse led all Seahawks receivers with 129 receiving yards and a touchdown on 3 catches, the biggest of which coming on his one-armed touchdown grab for 63 yards with 4:54 remaining in the second quarter. As great as Kearse’s performance was on Saturday, we must look ahead to the role he must play next week now that we know Paul Richardson is out for the season with a torn ACL. Although Kearse is a starter and it would be expected that Ricardo Lockette will see more playing time next week, I would fully expect him to be Russell Wilson’s primary target next week, especially on deep passes.

The Power of the Turkey Leg: In the fourth quarter I went down to the concourse and bought myself a “Bam Bam Kam turkey leg,” one of the new food items introduced for this year’s playoff run. I got the turkey leg, went back to my seat, started eating it, and within 5 minutes Kam Chancellor picked off a Cam Newton pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. The score gave the Seahawks a 31-10 lead and any hope Carolina had of coming back was gone. Chancellor played as good of a game as I have ever seen him play, and he made a positive impact in multiple areas. In addition to the interception and touchdown, Chancellor co-led all Seattle defenders in tackles with 11 and recorded a pass defensed. What may have been more impressive however was his flawless perfection timing Carolina’s snap count and jumping over the line of scrimmage to try to block back-to-back field goal attempts at the end of the first half, even though both were negated by penalties. I may have to invest in another turkey leg next week, as I feel it could be Chancellor’s good luck charm in these playoffs.

Turnover Battle: If it wasn’t for an overturned Earl Thomas interception, the Seahawks would have gone to the locker room at halftime up 3-0 in the turnover battle, and arguably could have had broken the game wide open instead of leading by just 4 points. By game’s end, the Seahawks had their third turnover, and ended the game +3 in turnover differential. The Seahawks turned these three turnovers into 14 of their 31 points.

Thoughts on Carolina: The biggest area I thought the Panthers would struggle in this week was handling the crowd noise. Overall, I was impressed with quarterback Cam Newton’s ability to handle the noise but his decision making in the passing game was questionable. Nevertheless I see potential for Newton to improve in the offseason and be much better next season. The Panthers need to get back to playing more consistent defense next season. With as sloppy as the NFC South was in 2014, I believe that 9 wins could win that division in 2015. At this point I believe that the Carolina Panthers should be the favorites next season to win their 3rd straight division title.

Random Thoughts: I love primetime football and I am really glad that the fog and mist made it seem darker right before kickoff… The streamers were once again a huge success but since Marshawn Lynch didn’t score a touchdown the Skittles I brought were used as a snack instead of a celebratory prop… Back to the Bam Bam Kam turkey leg for a quick second, it was $10 but there was probably only $7 worth of turkey on it. It was not like a Disneyland turkey leg which tastes more like corned beef. This turkey leg was clearly turkey but it was surprisingly flavorful. I would recommend it but to a big guy like me it is more of a snack instead of a meal… The rally towels looked amazing and more people waved them than at the NFC Championship Game last season. I hope they stick around for next week’s game… I hate that next week’s game starts at noon. That start time is unusual for all Seahawks fans since the earliest a game can start in Seattle in the regular season is 1:05pm. I have been to 2 Seahawks games in other cities that start at noon so I personally should be good to go. It will be interesting however to get to the bars around 8am, which will by far be the earliest time for me this season.

Next week’s matchup has been set. The Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field next Sunday. Check back Saturday for my preview of that game. Go Seahawks!

Panthers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

9 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (4) Carolina Panthers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:15pm

I love the city of Seattle in the month of January. Everyone has a pep in their step in preparation for the NFL Playoffs. After an eventful Wild-Card weekend we know which of the surviving teams gets the opportunity to play at CenturyLink Field in the NFC Divisional playoffs. That team is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers take on the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks Saturday night. The winner advances to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. The loser goes home. Last week the Panthers became the second team in modern NFL history to win their first playoff game after entering the postseason with a losing record. Including that win last week over the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers enter this game 8-8-1. The Seahawks are 12-4 and are looking to make it back to their second straight NFC title game. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with Carolina 6-2. Their last meeting came earlier this season when the Seahawks beat the Panthers 13-9 in Charlotte. The Seahawks went on to win 8 of their next 9 games. The Seahawks are also 3-0 all-time against Carolina at CenturyLink Field, including a 34-14 win over the Jake Delhomme/Steve Smith led Panthers in the 2005 NFC Championship Game. There are a lot of storylines to take note of this week. Here is what I will be looking for.

In last season’s divisional playoff game against New Orleans, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. His effectiveness in the running game allowed the Seahawks to control the tempo of the game and there was never any significant threat of the Saints taking the game over. The same must happen this week. Seattle’s ability to run the ball is crucial this week since they are facing a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher since October 30th (Week 9). If Lynch himself can run for at least 80 yards it will lead me to believe that we can control the clock and control the game. If the Panthers do a solid job stopping the Seahawks running game my number one guy to watch in the passing game is wide receiver Doug Baldwin. In three career games against Carolina he has 189 receiving yards and in his last two games against the Panthers, Baldwin led all Seahawks receivers in receiving yards. In addition to playing on the outside look for Baldwin to spend a lot of time in the slot this week, as quick throws and routes down the seam could be effective.

Just like how the running game is priority number one on offense, stopping the Panthers running game is priority number one on defense. This will be difficult, as Carolina will use feature back Jonathan Stewart and the threat of quarterback Cam Newton scrambling gives the Seahawks an additional element to focus on. The Seahawks have faced Carolina each of the last three seasons. In each of those games I thought there was a serious threat of Newton running wild if the going got tough for the Panthers offense. In each of those games Newton rushed for only 42, 38, and 24 yards respectively. In a playoff situation I think now is as good a time for the Panthers to let Newton run wild if the Seahawks play great defense. Newton’s build and strength will make it difficult to wrap him up and get him to the ground. If there is a player you must keep a close eye on when Carolina has the ball, it is Cam Newton.

Over the past few weeks the Carolina Panthers defense has been playing similarly to how they played all of last season, suffocating. If could be a difficult challenge for the Seahawks to get their offense going as the Panthers sport two tackling machines at the linebacker position in Thomas Davis and pro-bowler Luke Kuechly. Davis and Kuechly have combined for 253 total tackles so far this season, by far the best of any tandem in the NFL. The Panthers do come into this game a bit banged up however, as it was announced Wednesday that starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been placed on injured reserve with a fractured foot. Lotulelei will not play for the rest of the season. As important as Carolina’s front seven is for the Seahawks to be aware of, I will be keeping a close eye on the play of the Panthers secondary. One of Carolina’s starting cornerbacks was inactive when these two teams met back in October so I have decided to put my X-Factor player to watch spotlight on that player, cornerback Bené Benwikere. Benwikere, a 5th round rookie from San Jose State, is a physically small player who has shown he can play big in his limited playing time this season. Benwikere has recorded 24 tackles in 11 games and has also picked off one pass and forced one fumble. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse will both likely line up across from Benwikere throughout the game and since he did not play in the first meeting, I would not be surprised to see Russell Wilson throw in his direction multiple times in the first half.

This last point cannot be overlooked. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has never played a game at CenturyLink Field. Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played in the 2005 NFC Championship Game in Seattle, came out this week stating there is no way to prepare for just how loud the 12th Man is. It had been reported earlier in the week that the Panthers were having serious difficulties handling artificial simulated crowd noise during practice; a serious red flag. Over the past few years we have seen what kind of problems “Clink rookies” have had communicating in the huddle once they get lined up. Colin Kaepernick immediately comes to mind as his 49ers failed terribly at handling the noise in his first game in Seattle in 2012. This week the 12’s need to give everything they have to make life a living hell for Newton. I believe Newton has no idea what he is in for and it will be a harsh reality once kickoff rolls around Saturday night. The Panthers used no huddle for 22 plays last week against Arizona and they will likely use a similar dose of no huddle this week. To the 12th Man, stay loud all game long, even between plays. Our voices could be the difference between advancing to the NFC Championship Game and not.

Random Thoughts: The Panthers will wear all-white with the Seahawks wearing all-blue this week… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch have the call for FOX this week. This is not a surprise given the potential ratings of the other NFC Divisional game (Dallas at Green Bay). It makes sense that FOX would send their number one crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to Lambeau for that game instead… The referee this week is Terry McAulay. McAulay officiated the Seahawks divisional round game last season and Super Bowl XLVIII… Saturday is going to be a very long day but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love primetime football. This is going to be a very special game… The giveaway this week is “We Are 12” rally towels. I love it. Towels should be the giveaway for all playoff games and I am glad to see the Seahawks are fixing their mistake from last season (they gave away 12th Man flags vs. the Saints)… Even though this is an evening kickoff it is the playoffs, and it should be expected that everyone be in their seats by the time pregame ceremonies start. I want to see a full stadium waving their towels as the Seahawks run out of the tunnel… I believe that there is an incredibly strong possibility that former Mariners pitcher and 2015 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Randy Johnson will raise the 12th Man flag this week. Don’t believe me? Check out this tweet… One of my favorite postseason traditions is when the Seahawks play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Let Me Hear You Scream” with a video encouraging fans to get loud as the television broadcast is coming back from a TV timeout. If they bring this back on Saturday night I am going to get super super pumped… This week marks the return of the Skittles in section 340. To everyone possibly sitting below me this is your warning to watch out. Streamers will also be making a re-appearance in these playoffs. Let’s make this playoff run a full on raging party in the stands… One win away from the NFC Championship and two victories away from Super Bowl XLIX. It’s on the tips of our fingers.

Prediction: The Panthers and Seahawks will keep this game close until the closing minutes of the first half. With the Seahawks holding a 7-3 lead, Richard Sherman will intercept a Cam Newton pass and Marshawn Lynch will score a touchdown with under one minute remaining in the half, giving the Seahawks a 14-3 halftime lead. The Seahawks will carry that momentum into the second half as they will take the opening kickoff and drive the length of the field, culminating in a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, giving the Seahawks a 21-3 lead. Beast Mode will add one more score in garbage time and the Seahawks will cruise to the NFC Championship to face the Green Bay Packers.

Seahawks 28, Panthers 10

Due to a belated birthday celebration for myself with all of my friends after the game I will not have my game review published until Sunday night most likely. By then we will know who we will face in the NFC Championship Game should we win on Saturday. Check back Sunday night for my take on Saturday’s game. Go Seahawks!

Commentary: Who Will it Be?

1 Jan
From L-R: Panthers QB Cam Newton, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, Lions WR Calvin Johnson

From L-R: Panthers QB Cam Newton, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, Lions WR Calvin Johnson

The Seahawks and the 12th Man will not know until late Sunday afternoon who we will play in our NFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday, January 10th. One of three teams will be traveling to Seattle for that playoff game. If the Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions this Sunday, the winner of Saturday’s game between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers will play the Seahawks. If Detroit beats Dallas, the Lions will play the Seahawks on January 10th. Here is a brief breakdown of all three potential opponents including who I personally would like to play, and who I think the Seahawks will probably face in their first playoff game.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers became the second team in modern NFL history to win their division and enter the playoffs with a losing record. Unlike the 2010 Seahawks who went into their Wild-Card playoff game double digit underdogs to the New Orleans Saints, the 7-8-1 Panthers are 5.5 point favorites over the Arizona Cardinals this week. The Panthers are the team I believe the Seahawks will face next Saturday night. Carolina has won 4 straight games and getting to play at home against a backup quarterback gives them an advantage. With a win, the Panthers will record their first playoff win since defeating the Chicago Bears in the 2005 NFC Divisional playoffs.

The Pros: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the only quarterback of the Seahawks potential opposing quarterbacks to have never played at CenturyLink Field. The fact that he would be playing in front of a playoff revved 12th Man makes the idea of the Seahawks advancing to the NFC Championship Game highly likely. The Seahawks are 3-0 against Carolina all-time at CenturyLink Field.

The Cons: I do not know how Bears fans felt when they hosted the 2010 Seahawks in the NFC Divisional playoffs but I would be a little worried that the 12’s would not treat this game like a true playoff game because of the Panthers record. The fact of the matter is that the Panthers were good enough to get into the playoffs. It shouldn’t matter what their regular season record says. At the end of the day, it’s still win or go home.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are making their first playoff appearance since 2009 but they are stumbling into the playoffs, having lost their last two regular season games with Ryan Lindley at quarterback. I think it is possible that if they can beat Carolina this week, Drew Stanton will be back as the starting quarterback by the time they would play Seattle. The Seahawks have beaten both Stanton and Lindley this season. Stanton played the game in Seattle and went 14/26 for 149 yards and one interception. The Cardinals defense is arguably the best of these three potential opponents and could give the Seahawks the closest game.

The Pros: Now that Jim Harbaugh has left the NFC West, the coach the Seahawks should now love to hate the most is Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. Arians has stated that he believes the Cardinals can with the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton, but that was when the Cardinals controlled the division by 3 games over the Seahawks. Things have fallen on hard times in Arizona since and it would be awesome to beat this team and the likely NFL coach of the year for a third time this season. This is likely the beginning of an intense rivalry with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cons: This may be the future of our division rivalries but it simply does not have as “hateful” of a feel that playing the San Francisco 49ers three times last year had. I think we would beat Arizona in this playoff game handedly, possibly making the later parts of the game kind of boring.

Detroit Lions: The Lions have not played in Seattle since 2009. They have a talented defense that is capable of stopping Marshawn Lynch. The Lions boast the most explosive offense of any of these three teams and would provide the best and most exciting challenge for the Seahawks defense and the Legion of Boom. I for one would love to see Richard Sherman go up against Calvin Johnson, and to see the return of former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. This is the matchup that I would most like to see.

The Pros: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has played in Seattle before but that was when the Seahawks were not very good. He has only played in one playoff game and he lost. The playoff inexperience of the Lions could give the Seahawks a significant leg up in this matchup.

The Cons: None.

Raiders/Seahawks Preview

1 Nov
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

The Seahawks begin the month of November at home this week as they renew their old AFC West rivalry, hosting the Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks are 4-3 and are coming off a crucial win in Carolina last week. The Raiders have had a very lackluster season thus far and they are the only winless team left in the National Football League at 0-7. Last week the Raiders fell on the road to the Cleveland Browns 23-13. Oakland leads the all-time series with Seattle 29-24. In their last regular season meeting the Raiders demolished the Seahawks 33-3 in October 2010. That was head coach Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle and since losing to the Raiders in 2010 the Seahawks hold a .606 winning percentage. Meanwhile in the exact same span, the Raiders winning percentage is a mere .317. Here are some things I will be looking for out of the Seahawks this week, as well as a special report on the Oakland Raiders.

I have pleaded for the Seahawks to get quarterback Russell Wilson more involved in the running game the past couple of weeks but this week I do not think it will be necessary for Wilson to run for the Seahawks offense to be effective. Instead, this may finally be the week that we see Wilson spread the ball around and get rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood their most action of the season. Richardson and Norwood combined for 5 targets last week. Both Wilson and Coach Carroll have stated that they hope to get both of these receivers more involved this week, but I am interested to see if they use them to accentuate their specific abilities. Could Richardson be used on fly sweeps and bubble screens much like how Percy Harvin was used? I think it is definitely possible. Could we see Wilson try to stretch the field and let Norwood use his size as an advantage to catch deep balls? I think Wilson may look Norwood’s direction deep at least once this week. If these two receivers combine for 75 or more receiving yards I think the Seahawks are in for a very successful day through the air.

At the end of last week’s game the Seahawks dialed up the pressure on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and it worked like a charm in preserving the victory. This week the Seahawks defense needs to stick to that blueprint. At home in 2014 the Seahawks have averaged just over 1.5 sacks per game. This number must improve. After three home games last season the Seahawks averaged just above 2.5 sacks per game. Expect to see Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright blitz on early downs this week and keep an eye on Wright who will be back starting at outside linebacker. If Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr has time inside the pocket it will be interesting to see how his reads progress in the middle of the field. The Seahawks will start rookie Brock Coyle at middle linebacker this week, who has seen little playing time on defense this season. Coyle is a solid tackler who tries to get in on every play but he has a long way to go to challenge for Bobby Wagner’s permanent starting job. It is not unreasonable to think Carr will try to throw short passes in the middle of the field to test Coyle and if Carr can catch the Seahawks off-guard, those passes could turn into large chunks of yards for the Raiders.

There is one major thing the Seahawks absolutely cannot do this week; overlook the Raiders. The Raiders may be 0-7, they may be the worst team in the NFL on paper, but there may be potential for this being a trap game. Remember what happened when the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into CenturyLink Field last season? The 12th Man thought we would just roll right over them. Instead, the Buccaneers jumped out to a stunning 21-0 lead putting all Seahawks fans on edge. The Seahawks cannot play relaxed this week and the fans must be just as loud and intense this week as our other games this season. The Raiders have only lost two games so far this season by more than two scores, including two close games against AFC powers New England and San Diego. Oakland will absolutely get up for this week’s game, the question is will the Seahawks force them to sit right back down or will Oakland be able to put up a legitimate fight.

This week is a very special game for me. One of my best friends, Josh Gabel, is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. For the past several years I have taken him to every Raiders/Seahawks preseason game but we have never had the opportunity to see our teams play each other in the regular season. There may be no better person I know to give an in-depth analysis of the Oakland Raiders than Josh. Instead of me giving you a paragraph on the Raiders and giving you an “X-Factor player to watch” this week I have instead invited Josh to be a guest contributor in this week’s preview. Here is what Josh has to say about his Raiders, along with what he is looking for in this week’s game:

At 0-7, the Oakland Raiders head to Seattle in the midst of a 13 game losing streak and an all but assured 11th consecutive non-winning season. A trip to the Clink sure doesn’t seem to be the solution to the Raiders’ woes. After two years of salary cap hell, Oakland brought in proven winners and recognizable (albeit past-their prime) names – guys like defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew – but have yet to see a return on their investment. With 13 new starters on both sides of the ball, this group has failed to mesh, costing head coach Dennis Allen his job and leaving general manager Reggie McKenzie’s future beyond this season in doubt.

The O in Oakland has gone missing so far in 2014. The Raiders offense is putting up a meager 15.0 PPG, which is good for 31st in the league. Many of these struggles can be traced to an unwillingness to run the ball.  Oakland is averaging only 69.6 rushing yards per game, which should be attributed more play-calling than ineffectiveness. Despite Darren McFadden’s respectable 4.0 yards per carry, Oakland passes 67% of the time. On a team with no playmakers at the skill positions (save for the occasional Andre Holmes highlight), passing the ball at such a high rate is a recipe for losing. Rookies Derek Carr (leads all rookie QBs in passing yards, TDs, and QB Rating) & Gabe Jackson (7 starts on a top 5 pass blocking offensive line) along with the aforementioned Holmes are bright spots for the team’s future. The coaching staff may trust Carr with the keys to the offense, but Oakland will continue to stall without a commitment to the run. Things don’t get much better on the other side of the ball.

Oakland is near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category. They can’t stop the run (130.1 YPG) or get after the QB (7 sacks, tied for 29th). With all of the money McKenzie gave to Tuck, Woodley, and Antonio Smith, it is very disappointing to see such a lack of production. The lone bright spot on this defense is that number 5 overall pick Khalil Mack has lived up to his high draft so far, but not necessarily as expected. Coming out of the University of Buffalo, Mack was known being a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage. Though Mack has yet to register a sack, he has been credited with 22 QB pressures and is Pro Football Focus’ highest rated linebacker against the run, with 8.5 tackles for a loss. It will be interesting to see if Mack can down Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. With the offense struggling, the Raiders defense has to get off the field more; Oakland is tied for last in the league on 3rd down, giving up a 48% conversion rate. The Raiders have to find a way to pressure Russell Wilson without losing containment, a task that is much easier said than done.

Whether it’s “Play like Carcass for Marcus [Mariota]” or (my preference) “Down the Pooper for [Amari] Cooper”, Raiders fans are looking forward to May’s draft earlier than ever before. A win in Seattle would do wonders for Reggie McKenzie’s future as head of football decisions. Is it likely? No. But, rest assured, Sunday is going to feel like a good old fashioned AFC West showdown.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear navy jerseys and navy pants this week. Oakland will sport their classic white jersey/silver pants combo… Kevin Harlan will provide the play-by-play and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon will provide the color commentary for CBS this week… Ed Hochuli and his gigantic biceps will do the officiating this week… This will be the first “cold” home game of the season. I recommend sweatshirts and jeans… Two reminders for the 12’s this week. First remember this weekend is daylight savings time. Turn your clocks back one hour and get an extra hour of sleep. Second, remember this week is a 1:25pm kickoff. Give yourself a little extra time to get to the stadium but shame on you if you are not in your seats by kickoff… Given the circumstances of this special Raiders/Seahawks regular season matchup, we have a full slate ahead of us on Sunday. Tentative schedule includes McDonald’s breakfast, being at the bar around the time they open between 8 and 8:30, the game, then dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s going to be a great day… Walter Jones will become the 11th Seahawk to be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor. The ceremony will take place at halftime. What is interesting is that Jones will be the first player to have his number retired BEFORE having his name put in the Ring of Honor. This is the first Ring of Honor ceremony I will get to be a part of since I became a season ticket holder in 2006 (Cortez Kennedy Was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2006 but I was unable to attend the game). This season the Seahawks have had a pattern of having a 12th Man Flag raiser that is somehow associated to the opposing team or opposing city. With the Raiders in town I expect a former Seahawk from the 1980’s to raise the flag this week. I have no specific guess though… With a win the Seahawks will close out the first half of the season with a 5-3 record.

Prediction: Honestly, I see the Seahawks rolling in this game. Oakland may be able to keep it close in the first half but Seattle will eventually run away with this game. Marshawn Lynch will run for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Russell Wilson will add two passing touchdowns and the Seahawks defense will force 3 Raiders turnovers. The Seahawks will get to 5-3 and we will get ready to face the New York Giants next week.

Seahawks 33, Raiders 14

Review: Seahawks 13, Panthers 9

26 Oct
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

After two weeks of uncertainty including two losses and various reports of locker-room tension, the Seahawks took a huge step forward to silencing their critics. Although it was incredibly frustrating and hard to watch, the Seahawks came away with a huge 13-9 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The Seahawks improve to 4-3 on the season while the Panthers fall to 3-4-1. Even though we were victorious there is still much to improve on moving forward. Here are my positive and negative thoughts I took away from this week’s game.

YAC Makes Me Puke: Today the Seahawks had a serious problem tackling the ball carrier at the first point of contact. On several occasions throughout Sunday’s game the Panthers were able to break out of Seattle’s tackles and fight for extra yardage. Many of these plays set the Panthers up for manageable second down situations, leading to 17 total first downs. Carolina is equipped with several big, physical skill position players so it is not surprising that the Panthers do a good job in picking up yards after contact. What was frustrating however was that the Seattle defense did not have an answer for quarterback Cam Newton, running back Jonathan Stewart, and the rest of the Carolina offense as the game wore on. A common thing I saw in this game was that the Seahawks tried to wrap up Newton and Stewart above the waist, allowing them to shed tackles easier and for them to use their sneaky elusiveness to make plays and pick up extra yards. Fundamentals need to be tightened up in practice this week because these small plays have come back to bite the Seahawks historically.

Thoughts on Russell Wilson: With the exception of a couple specific throws, it seemed like Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was out of sync with his receivers throughout Sunday’s game. Being known as one of the more accurate passers in the NFL, Wilson struggled to hit his receivers, often underthrowing them. There were a couple of short slant routes that were thrown in between two receivers and it is possible that miscommunication among the wide receivers may have been at fault. The Carolina defense did an excellent job of playing tight coverage and it was difficult for Wilson to find open receivers all game long. All in all, Wilson finished 20/32 for 199 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. I will give Wilson some credit though as he did a fantastic job leading the Seahawks down the field for the game-winning score, including a beautiful touchdown pass to tight end Luke Willson. That reception was proof that Wilson’s throws were improving as the game wore on. Once again the Seahawks offense played their best football at the end of the game.

9 Points That Should Have Been: There were two plays that should have been made which would have put 9 extra points on the board for the Seahawks. First was the fake read-option pass which worked with Ricardo Lockette in our week 1 win over Green Bay. Wilson showed run from the read-option formation and then threw in the direction of a wide open Cooper Helfet. The pass was underthrown however, and Helfet was unable to stop his route, come back, and make the catch. Upon further review it looked as though Wilson could not get a proper grip on the football because he had to make the throw before he crossed the line of scrimmage. The pass came out of his hand funny and the ball was poorly underthrown. It would have been an easy touchdown but instead the Seahawks settled for a field goal which tied the game at 6-6. The second play came on first down from the Carolina 8-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Michael Bennett was able to penetrate the Panthers offensive line and he had Cam Newton dead in his tracks in the endzone which would have resulted in a safety and given Seattle an 8-6 lead. Instead, Newton was somehow able to shed Bennett’s sack and escape, leading to a throwaway. Although it did not result in a sack and two points, it was this play that set the Seahawks up for phenomenal defensive play on the Panthers next and last drive of the game.

Irvin Prevents Potential Last Minute Magic: Lately it seems like all Bruce Irvin is useful for is racking up roughing the passer penalties and lining up offsides… multiple times… in the same game. Today however, Irvin made two huge plays that preserved the Seahawks victory. The first was a sack of Cam Newton on the Panthers final drive of the game. A 2nd and 10 which turned into a 3rd and 18. Irvin thought that was so much fun that he went back for seconds on the very next play. In a moment where I have been begging Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to dial up extra pressure late in the game, Irvin was successful in sacking Newton again, which set up an improbable 4th and 25. In games against Peyton Manning and Tony Romo earlier this season, Seattle has played relaxed defense late which cost us crucial late-game points. The decision by Quinn to send the house in addition to the play by Irvin made sure that the Carolina Panthers would not drive down the field to make this finish interesting, much like Denver and Dallas had respectively.

Thoughts on Carolina: The Carolina Panthers defense played a very sound game this week. I think their defense can lead this team but the offense could cost them points and perhaps even wins. In a very weak division thus far, I believe the NFC South could come down to “which team does not screw up the most.” Right now the Panthers lead the division with a losing record. Their only competition for the division title will once again be the New Orleans Saints. Having said this, Cam Newton must improve under pressure. He played the final drive of this game, specifically the 4th and 25 play as if he knew the Panthers had already lost. If the quarterback play improves, the Panthers may be able to get into the playoffs as the NFC South champions.

Random Thoughts: For the first time in 2014 the Seahawks wore their wolf grey jerseys and wolf grey pants. The looked slick as always but in my opinion they don’t look as cool when it is sunny. Nevertheless the Seahawks are now 4-0 all-time when wearing wolf grey… The Panthers wore their black jerseys and silver pants as expected… I think referee Walt Coleman called a pretty average game. Not a big fan of that guy… Dan Fouts is not a very good color commentator for CBS. Still better than a FOX broadcast with Chris Myers though… My Bellevue neighborhood lost power late Saturday night so I trekked to Seattle to watch the game, as I had no TV access on the eastside. That is a first… The Seahawks split the road trip. Too bad we couldn’t take both games and honestly if I knew we were going to split these two games I wish we would have beaten St. Louis and lost to Carolina… Now that our back-to-back road games are in the books it is time for back-to-back home games. In fact the Seahawks play 3 out of their next 4 games at home. It is time to get some momentum going at CenturyLink Field and get back in the division race!

Check back next Saturday as I preview the Seahawks week 9 matchup with the Oakland Raiders. Thanks for reading as always. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks/Panthers Preview

25 Oct
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Site: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Kickoff: 10:00am

For the third straight season, the Seahawks travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers. After two straight losses the Seahawks currently sit at 3-3, 3rd in the NFC West. After winning the NFC South a season ago the Panthers currently sit atop the division once again this season. Following their loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, Carolina sports a 3-3-1 record. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Panthers 5-2. Their last meeting came on opening day last season when the Seahawks went into Bank of America Stadium and squeaked out a 12-7 victory to get their 2013 season started on the right foot. With this week’s game coming on the road and the Seahawks looking at a possible 3-4 record, I am calling this week’s game a must-win. Here is what I will be looking for out of both the Seahawks and Panthers this week.

In their three road games this season the Seahawks defense has allowed an average of 25 points per game. With the same core group on the defensive side of the ball over the past 3 seasons the Seahawks have allowed only 19 total points in our road games against the Panthers in 2012 and 2013. This week the Seahawks need to do what they have done in these prior two games; get off the field on third down and do not let Panthers quarterback Cam Newton pick up large chunks of yardage both on the ground and through the air. Last season against Seattle the Panthers were 45% effective on third down. The Rams were 44% effective on third down last week which is unacceptable. If the Seahawks can hold Carolina to under 40% effectiveness on third down we will be able to force changes in possession, giving the ball to our offense to try to score points.

The biggest concern for the Seahawks defense this week will be stopping Cam Newton’s legs as well as his arm. I include his arm because of the comfort opposing quarterbacks have had in the pocket in recent weeks.  The Seahawks have proven that they can shut Newton down on the ground; Newton has averaged 40 rushing yards per game in two games against Seattle. If the Panthers win this game I believe it will be on the arm of Cam Newton. With as shaky as the Seahawks have played in the middle of the field recently, look for Newton to test the Seahawks linebackers on short/intermediate range throws this week. Greg Olsen and Brandon Williams, Carolina’s two tight ends, could be in for big games if Newton has time to make throws. I am calling upon the Seahawks pass rush as well as linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith to step up. If the linebackers struggle it could once again be a long day for the Seahawks.

Last week the Seahawks fed the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch 18 times for 53 yards. It was not until the second half that the offensive coaching staff got quarterback Russell Wilson involved in the running game. The play in the running game will determine how well the Seahawks offense plays once again this week, but the pocket protection for Wilson must improve so Wilson does not have to run so much. Center Max Unger will likely be inactive once again this week so the Seahawks will start the same line combination they did in St. Louis last week. Until this makeshift line can prove that they can give Wilson a clean pocket consistently, in addition to avoid falling into an early deficit, Wilson may run more early on in the game. This week I believe rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson will have a larger impact after catching 4 passes last week. Richardson could be Wilson’s unsung go-to guy this week, possibly in roles that Percy Harvin held prior to his trade to New York. Also keep an eye on the blocking of fill-in fullback Robert Turbin. Turbin filled in last week at fullback on short notice after starter Derrick Coleman broke his foot during pregame warmups. In my opinion Turbin is built like a fullback and with a week’s worth of practice and preparation under his belt I think Turbin carries the potential to help open up big running lanes for Lynch.

Perhaps above all else, the Seahawks cannot let the off-the-field noise that has come in the days since the Percy Harvin trade get to them on the field. There have been numerous reports over the past week about tension between different players and the potential of a broken locker room. What makes all this talk worse is the fact that we have lost two straight games. To get back on the right track, we need to win this week. A win can help silence the critics and hopefully bring the positive dawn of the post-Harvin era.

Last season the Carolina Panthers defense carried them to a 12-4 record and an NFC South division championship. Even after losing key members of their defensive unit the Panthers still have the talent that is keeping them on top of the division even if their total defense rankings do not highlight it (22nd in passing, 26th in rushing). The Panthers provide a good combination of pass rush (15 total sacks) and secondary play (7 interceptions). Middle Linebacker Luke Kuechly continues to be a dominant tackler, patrolling the middle of the field and being in on almost every play. With the shaky play of the Seahawks offensive line I have decided to focus my attention on the Carolina defense to the pass rush. My X-Factor player to watch for the Panthers this week is defensive end Charles Johnson. Johnson is in his 8th season with the Panthers he has recorded double digit sacks in three different seasons including the past two. So far this season Johnson has recorded 3 sacks, one in each of their last 3 games. Johnson will likely line up across from Seahawks rookie right tackle Justin Britt, who has struggled keeping defenders from penetrating the line on passing downs.

Random Thoughts: No word yet on jersey combination for the Seahawks this week. With 5 road games left and 2 opportunities to wear wolf grey that gives the Seahawks a 40% chance of wearing wolf grey this week… The Panthers will wear black jerseys with silver pants… Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts have the call for CBS this week. That’s right, this week’s Seahawks game has been cross-flexed from FOX to CBS. This will be the first Seahawks road game broadcasted on CBS since 2001, and personally this will be the first time I watch a regular season Seahawks game on CBS since Christmas Eve 2005… Walt Coleman is the referee this week… Second straight 10am kickoff. I really have a love/hate relationship with 10am kickoffs. The only question this week is do I get up earlier to watch Falcons/Lions which kicks off from London at 6:30am… After this week we play 3 of our next 4 games at home. These road stretches where we don’t play at home for 3-plus weeks are miserable… I’m pulling for the Eagles this week. Please, please, please beat the Cardinals for us!

Prediction: The Seahawks running game will finally get going early this week. Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson will combine for 140 yards but unfortunately too many drives will stall or result in field goals. The defense will play a much tighter game overall. The Seahawks will win the turnover battle 2-1 and the Seahawks will pull out a very close victory.

Seahawks 19, Panthers 17

Check back late Sunday night for my review of this game. Enjoy the game everyone. Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 23, Saints 15

12 Jan
Image

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

It was not pretty by any means necessary, but the grit of the Seahawks defense and the timely play by the Seahawks offense late in the game, along with a fired up 12th Man helped secure a 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Divisional Playoff on Saturday afternoon. With the victory the Seahawks will play either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game next Sunday. This game had its ups and its downs and although Saturday’s game lacked one major play that shaped how the rest of the game played out, much like the last time these two teams met, there was a feeling of pure confidence that was not challenged until late in the game (more on this a little later). Here is what I took out of Saturday’s playoff win.

Halftime Over-Confidence: The Seahawks entered halftime with a 16-0 lead and the general feeling in the stands seemed to be that we would run away with the game in the second half. This was not the case with me. Two different things popped into my head. First, a 16-0 lead is only a two score lead. If the Saints scored a touchdown and converted the 2-point conversion (which they did in the fourth quarter), the Seahawks would suddenly have just a one score lead. The second thing I thought of was the NFC Divisional Playoff game from last season when the Atlanta Falcons took a 20-0 lead over the Seahawks into halftime. The Seahawks were able to come all the way back to take the lead before losing in the final seconds. At halftime I was probably the only person in my general area that felt legitimately nervous about the possibility of the Saints jumping out to close the gap in the second half. Perhaps I was disappointed and nervous that the Seahawks only came away with 16 first half points, but in my opinion it felt like a lot of people thought the game was all but over at halftime.

Lynch Powers Offense: As I was standing in the Brougham Beer Hall inside CenturyLink Field’s southwest concourse corridor about two hours prior to kickoff, I glanced up to one of the many televisions to see the bold prediction on NFL Gameday Morning that Marshawn Lynch would run for over 150 yards on the Saints defense. He came 10 yards short. When the Seahawks passing game was halted in the second half, Marshawn Lynch rose to the occasion, running for 71 second half yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run with 2:40 left in the game. Lynch’s stat line was practically split right down the middle between the first half and the second half and Lynch’s most valuable contribution late in the game was chewing clock, ultimately leading to his fourth quarter touchdown.

Passing Game Stalls When Harvin Leaves: In his final 4 regular season games, Russell Wilson had an average passer rating of 80.0; his worst stretch of the season. Wilson recorded a passer rating of 67.6 on Saturday while only completing 9 passes for 103 yards. This was only the second time all season that Wilson had single-digit completions. The presence of Percy Harvin seemed to get the offense into a groove in the first half but when Harvin exited the game with 1:21 left in the first half with a concussion, the offense struggled to gain any kind of momentum in the passing game following halftime. In the second half Wilson only went 2/9 for 35 yards passing. Weather may have played a factor in Wilson’s poor performance but it seemed a little odd that an offensive unit that played an entire season without Percy Harvin could look so lost once he left the game. Next week the Seahawks will face one of the toughest defenses in the league. Regardless of whether it is San Francisco or Carolina that comes to town next week, the Seahawks need to figure out how to make Russell Wilson more comfortable in the pocket as once again his hesitancy making throws potentially cost the Seahawks big chunks of yardage on Saturday. Hopefully with a healthy Harvin next week, the Seahawks will open up the playbook even more than they did against New Orleans which could help take some of the pressure off of Wilson in the NFC Championship Game.

Defense Must Improve: The Seahawks allowed only 15 points on Saturday with 7 of them coming in garbage time. Early on in the game it looked like the Seahawks defense might be able to hold Drew Brees and the Saints offense to a lesser yardage total than they did back in December. Instead, the Seahawks allowed 409 yards of offense, the most in a game since they played Houston in week 4. Brees successfully picked apart Seattle’s defense and many intermediate passes were completed in the middle of the field. The Seahawks seemed inept at times putting pressure on Brees. Although New Orleans only converted 25% of their third down opportunities, Brees seemed to have a lot of time to throw on those passing downs. More pressure and better play in the middle of the field need to be improved upon in practice this week or else Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton may have similar passing opportunities next week.

Goat of the Season: What in the world was Saints wide receiver Marques Colston thinking when he stayed inbounds and then threw an illegal forward pass with under 10 seconds left, ending the game? Colston will surely be berated by Saints fans in the coming days for choosing to stay inbounds instead of stepping out of bounds, which would have given the Saints one more play from the Seahawks 40-yard line. After watching the replay of the final play, it is possible to wonder if Colston saw a wide open Travaris Cadet across the field and if he could somehow throw him the ball, Cadet could score. Nevertheless Colston failed to make the smart decision and get out of bounds and it cost the Saints one final chance to try to score and tie the game with a 2-point conversion.

Thoughts on New Orleans: The New Orleans Saints have a very talented offense and a solid defense when healthy. The absence of safety Kenny Vaccaro was certainly noticeable on Saturday. I believe the Saints will bounce back strong in 2014 and will once again be contenders for the NFC South and potentially Super Bowl XLIX next season.

Random Thoughts: The Saints mixed it up on Saturday by wearing gold pants with their white jerseys. That was a surprise to me since they usually wear their black pants for all late season games… In my game preview I mentioned that one of the four divisional playoff referees will earn the opportunity to referee Super Bowl XLVIII. I am starting to wonder that if the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl Terry McAulay may be ineligible for the Super Bowl. It would make sense for the NFL to call upon a ref that did not officiate any of the Super Bowl team’s playoff games. Just some food for thought… The streamers were a huge success on Saturday and you could probably see them from multiple sections over. I think I found my new touchdown/victory celebratory prop, at least for playoff games… Everybody was in their seats with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. That made me happy. Hopefully the same goes next week… The 12th Man flags looked pretty cool from the upper deck, especially since I can look down the entire side of the stadium to see a wave of blue. I’m still disappointed that rally towels were not the giveaway but I would not be surprised to see them make an appearance next week… I didn’t get to try the beast burger because if I had bought one it would have been waterlogged by the torrential downpour that ensued about an hour before the game. I had to settle for a bigfoot hot dog in the second quarter. It was nothing special… Here’s a funny story. After the Rams game two weeks ago I had gotten an NFC West champions hat and I decided to wear it to Saturday’s game. Due to the strong wind gusts and sideways pouring-down rain, we decided to walk along the inside of the stadium to our seats instead of the upper deck concourse. As we approached our section, a sudden wind gust whooshed my hat right off of my head and I watched helplessly as it blew over the façade of the upper deck into the lower bowl. That was the end of that. I then trekked down to the Seahawks pro shop to buy a new NFC West champions hat. I made sure the second hat stayed on my head. Talk about an embarrassing moment but a laughable one after the fact for sure… We are one win away from Super Bowl XLVIII. I can’t believe it. The anticipation of next Sunday’s game will cause a serious lack of sleep this week.

Check back next Saturday as I preview the 2013 NFC Championship Game between the Seahawks and either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers. GO SEAHAWKS!