Tag Archives: Luke Kuechly

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!

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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

2015 NFL Draft: Five Good Fits

29 Apr

Over the past 2 months I have scouted over 300 incoming rookies and analyzed hours upon hours of their game film dating back to the NFL Scouting Combine back in February. I have narrowed these players to a short list of about 35 players I would love to see the Seahawks draft this weekend. Of the players on my board, there is a shorter list of 5 players I believe would be perfect fits Darrell Bevell’s offense or Kris Richard’s defense. I would be over-the-moon ecstatic to see the Seahawks select any of the following players on either Friday or Saturday.

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Laken Tominson, Offensive Guard, Duke

There is no question that the Seahawks are desperate for offensive line depth, especially after the trade of center Max Unger to the New Orleans Saints and losing guard James Carpenter to the New York Jets in free agency. Laken Tomlinson from Duke would be a perfect fit in the middle of the line. Tomlinson is a fantastic run blocker and an excellent pass blocker, especially down field on screen passes. He is a tough player who bullies his opponents. Offensive linemen usually do not get mentioned on the television broadcast of their games but Tomlinson’s name was brought up positively several times on each game of his I watched. I do not think he would come into camp as the definite starter at left guard, but I believe an open competition between him and Alvin Bailey could put Tomlinson in a fantastic position to win the job.

Projected Round: 3

Photo Credit: imgkid.com

Photo Credit: imgkid.com

Danielle Hunter, Defensive End, LSU

Explosive pass rushers can oftentimes be very hard to find after the first round. I believe that LSU’s Danielle Hunter is the best “second day” pass rusher available and could very much still be on the board when the Seahawks pick at #63 overall. Hunter is extremely fast off the line of scrimmage and he does not have any problems getting past his initial blocker. He does a great job of collapsing the pocket even if he himself cannot get to the quarterback. He has a relentless motor that I believe will not keep John Schneider wary of his on-field effort. Hunter is arguably the best defensive lineman I watched film on and could be a steal for the Seahawks at the end of the second round.

Projected Round: 3

Photo Credit: zimbio.com

Photo Credit: zimbio.com

Kenny Bell, Wide Receiver, Nebraska

In a talent-rich wide receiver class, Kenny Bell from Nebraska stood out to me. He is Nebraska’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards and was a team captain in 2014. He was widely regarded as Nebraska’s most respected player during his time there which I believe would blend tremendously with the leadership the Seahawks possess, especially with Russell Wilson as his potential quarterback. On the field he possesses many traits that would put him right in the middle of the wide receiver rotation in 2015. Bell is 6’1 which would buck the trend of shorter receivers on our roster. Bell can line all over but could best be used on the outside as either a flanker or split end. Bell runs his routes with great timing and adjusts his routes extremely well to put himself in the best position to make the catch. He also has great hands and is nearly immune to dropping passes. That’s not to say he doesn’t drop a pass every once in a blue moon because he does. Bell’s most impressive on-field trait perhaps is his breakaway speed on vertical routes, which would give Wilson a very dependable and trustworthy weapon when throwing deep.

Projected Round: 5

Photo Credit: bluegoldsports.com

Photo Credit: bluegoldsports.com

Ben Heeney, Middle Linebacker, Kansas

To me, Heeney is a poor man’s Luke Kuechly. He carries many similar traits on the field to that of Kuechly but his projection as a day three pick goes to show there may be a bit of uncertainly. I like him and selecting him could provide a solid player to compete with Brock Coyle and Heath Farwell for the backup middle linebacker job. Heeney does a good job reading the quarterback’s eyes but he can be a bit hesitant committing where to go when the quarterback drops back to pass. He is a solid fundamental tackler and always seems to go low to wrap up the ball carrier. His biggest weakness is that he is not a bully, and his tenacity comes into question. Nevertheless I believe he would be a solid player to take a flyer on in the later rounds of the draft.

Projected Round: 6

Photo Credit: Rant Sports

Photo Credit: Rant Sports

Clayton Geathers, Safety, Central Florida

In a rather underwhelming class of safeties, I wound up getting really excited while watching tape of Central Florida’s Clayton Geathers. I believe Geathers is the closest thing to Kam Chancellor this draft has to offer. Geathers is a punisher who is not afraid to lay a big hit on a receiver going over the middle. He plays tight coverage and does a great job in pass coverage but at times he can be overeager. One play really stood out to me, an interception he made last season against the University of Houston. Geathers jumping in front of the pass, picking it off, and running it back to the house for a touchdown was almost a spitting image of Chancellor’s pick-six in the playoffs against Carolina. I believe he would fit extremely well in the Legion of Boom. He is absolutely my favorite defensive player available and would be an absolute steal in the last round of the draft. I project him as a 7th rounder but it honestly would not surprise me one bit to see him selected in round 5 or even as early as round 4 if a team is as in love with him as I am.

Projected Round: 7

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!

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!

Seahawks/Panthers Preview

7 Sep

Image

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

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

Kickoff: 10:00am

The 38th season of Seahawks football kicks off Sunday as the Seahawks head to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers. Seattle leads the all-time series against Carolina 4-2. These two teams last met last October. Thanks to an errant pass by Cam Newton on 4th and goal, the Seahawks escaped with a 16-12 victory to improve their record to 3-2. It is very important for the Seahawks, this season more than any other, to take each game one at a time. We cannot afford to start slow like against Arizona last season because these early season games could come back to cost you big time at the end of the season heading into the playoffs. Here are some keys to this week’s game.

Given the handful of injuries and Bruce Irvin’s four-game suspension, I am most interested to see what our starting defensive unit looks like this week. Specifically, I am curious to know who will start at the “Leo” defensive end position. Chris Clemons has been ruled out by Coach Pete Carroll this week. Cliff Avril has been nursing a hamstring injury but he has been practicing this week. His status for Sunday’s game is still up in the air. Michael Bennett is also nursing an injury to his toe. I expect Bennett to play this week but he will see snaps at defensive tackle for most of the game. If Avril is unable to play, the starting defensive end will be O’Brien Schofield. I would be more comfortable having Schofield start over rookie Benson Mayowa simply because he has prior starting experience. He started at outside linebacker on a good Arizona Cardinals defense last season. I am not sure if Mayowa is ready to be thrown into the starting rotation. Mayowa would be best used exclusively on passing downs. I believe using Mayowa at defensive end and Schofield at outside linebacker on third down would be the best pass rushing option if Avril is unavailable. If Avril is available, our third down pass rush package could consist of Mayowa on the other side of the line with Schofield at outside linebacker.

The number one key for the Seahawks offense this week is avoiding a slow start. Last season when we opened up the season at Arizona, many including myself believed that we could handle the Cardinals easily which would entail jumping out to a strong, early lead. Instead the Seahawks scored only 3 points in the first half and lost the game after scoring only 16 total points. Avoiding a slow start in essence means limiting the Panthers to build any kind of momentum. If the Seahawks can score a minimum of 14 points in the first half, I will consider us to be in good shape. A sub-key to achieving this goal will be to control the tempo of the game and win the time of possession battle. In a week one situation, you do not want to give Cam Newton and the Panthers offense time to move the ball. If Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch can be effective in the run game, it bodes well for the Seahawks to control the time of possession battle and to jump out to an early lead.

One more thing to keep an eye out for this week is Jermaine Kearse on special teams. It was announced on Monday that Jermaine Kearse would get the first crack at filling Leon Washington’s shoes as the Seahawks kick returner. Kearse’s one kick return in the preseason was returned for a touchdown. That one kickoff return earned him the chance to be the Seahawks kick returner to start the regular season.  I am interested to see what the rotation will be if Kearse struggles. I would not be surprised to see Golden Tate to get the next chance at returning kicks. Tate will return punts on Sunday.

Like last year against the Panthers, the player that the Seahawks defense should be most worried about is quarterback Cam Newton. I predicted a Seahawks loss in Carolina last season, based on the notion that I thought Cam Newton was going to go off, throwing for multiple touchdowns and rushing for a significant amount of yards. Although Newton did not play well last season, especially against the Seahawks, the potential remains there for him to break out at any time. If we were scheduled to play the Carolina Panthers later in the season, I would probably feel more confident in the Seahawks being able to beat them. In week one however, any outcome is possible regardless of who you we playing and where we are playing. The Seahawks defense must use their speed to slow Newton down and limit his running lanes if he is forced out of the pocket. If we are successful in taking Newton’s feet away we will definitely have a better chance to win. I am not expecting much out of our pass rush this week but if Newton can buy time and is going to scramble, the movement of our linebackers and secondary, not the defensive line, will be the key to our defense this week.

The Carolina Panthers have a very young, yet talented defense. Each level has one player that cannot go unnoticed this week. Along the defensive line is rookie Star Lotulelei. Star, the cousin of Seahawks linebacker John Lotulelei, was Carolina’s first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Lotulelei showed a lot of physicality during the preseason and beat out former Seahawk Colin Cole and fellow rookie Kawann Short for the second defensive tackle job. Lotulelei will be effective in stuffing the run if he can beat the man across from him. I expect the Panthers to line Lotulelei up against right guard J.R. Sweezy. In the second level the Panthers boast the 2012 defensive rookie of the year, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly led the Panthers in tackles last year and he does a great job of getting to the play. I am looking to see how Kuechly handles the zone-read option. The Seahawks had not installed the zone-read option when these two teams played last season. If the Seahawks are effective in fooling Kuechly, it will bode well for us extending our drives and scoring points. The man to watch in Carolina’s secondary is cornerback Josh Thomas. Thomas lost his starting job in the middle of last season and with the release of veteran Drayton Florence at the end of the preseason, Thomas earned his starting job back for the start of this season. Expect Sidney Rice to line up against Thomas this week and I believe Russell Wilson will try to test Thomas early and often by throwing to Rice in the first half.

One of the things I felt was crucial during the playoffs last season was the Seahawks mindset that every game was a win-or-go-home playoff situation. I think it would benefit us tremendously if we come out and show the same sense of urgency against the Panthers. If we put playoff level effort and show playoff level urgency in every regular season game, we will be better off in the long run.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear blue jerseys this week. With a game time temperature expected to be in the high 80’s or low 90’s, the Seahawks will most likely wear either white pants or grey pants this week. The Seahawks wore the blue jersey/grey pants combo in Carolina last season… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan have the call for FOX this week. Sigh… Jeff Triplette is this week’s referee… This is the only game I’ll be watching from home in the first month of the season… I don’t like these 10am kickoffs. But it is the first week of the season so my adrenaline will be flowing all day Sunday… 2 games on NFL Red Zone in the afternoon: Packers/49ers and Cardinals/Rams. I get to watch and keep track of the entire NFC West this week and I’m pretty pumped about that… If anyone is interested in my television routine on a gameday where the Seahawks play on the road, here it is: NFL GameDay Morning on NFL Network from 6am-8am, ESPN Fantasy Now on ESPN2 from 8am-9am, FOX NFL Sunday from 9am-10am, the Seahawks game from 10am-1pm, NFL Red Zone from 1pm-4:30pm (the Seahawks game and Red Zone are flipped when the Seahawks play at 1pm), Football Night in America on NBC from 4:30pm-5:30pm, and Sunday Night Football following… Call me a fan or call me a fanatic… If the Seahawks lose and the 49ers win I am going to be pissed.

Prediction: A lot of my friends believe the Seahawks are going to blow out the Panthers. I think we will win but it will be a very close game. The Seahawks and Panthers will both get off to slow starts in the first half but the Seahawks ability to wear down the Panthers defense with long drives will be the difference. The Seahawks will score touchdowns; the Panthers will kick field goals. The Seahawks will head home 1-0 and will start preparation for a huge game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Seahawks 23, Panthers 16

Check back on Monday for my review of the Panthers game. Enjoy the weekend everybody. Welcome back football! Go Seahawks!