Tag Archives: Michael Bennett

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

#10for10 Game #1: The Tip (Seahawks vs. 49ers, 2013 NFC Championship Game)

24 Dec

*To commemorate my 10th season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, I am telling the stories of the top 10 home games I have attended in the past 10 years*

10for10 sherman tip

Photo Credit: seahawksdraftblog.com

The Seahawks 2013 season was one nobody in the Pacific Northwest will ever forget. After going 13-3 in the regular season, we advanced all the way to Super Bowl XLVIII. There we defeated the Denver Broncos 43-8 to claim our first NFL world championship. If it wasn’t for the events of two weeks prior to the Super Bowl however, the Seahawks would still be Lombardi-less today. The 2013 NFC Championship had it all: Action, suspense, and when it was all said and done, a storybook ending. This is the story of the best Seahawks game I have ever been to.

The day was January 19th, 2014. The Seahawks were hosting the second NFC Championship Game in franchise history and we were one win away from a trip to New York City for the Super Bowl. Game time was slated for 3:30pm and I was taking my dad to the game, so we decided to skip the bar scene on this pivotal Sunday. We headed downtown around 10am and went straight to the Pyramid Alehouse for lunch. The place was already packed so we stood at a table inside the bar. I sipped on a few Pyramid Hefeweizens and enjoyed a plate of fish and chips. We watched the first half of the AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos and were joined in the late afternoon once again by my friend James and his brother Lane. James and I had airfare and hotel reservations to New York already booked just in case the Seahawks won. As we watched the game we talked about how excited we were to potentially head east for the Super Bowl and we briefly discussed things we might want to do when back there. I don’t call this overconfidence but when the opportunity presented itself we couldn’t help but talk about our potential vacation. We left Pyramid shortly before 2pm and headed straight into the stadium. Once we got our tickets scanned were all given a white “We Are 12” rally towel. My dad and I departed James and Lane and the two of us headed straight up to my seats.

10for10 james eric nfc champ

James and I on the main concourse prior to kickoff

When we hosted the NFC Championship Game 8 years prior I distinctly remember every fan being in their seats before the Seahawks had even ended pregame warmups and this game was no different. The Seahawks huddled up before heading back to the locker room one last time and 68,000 fans hollered to ear-shattering levels while waving their towels. We were ready. The Seahawks went the extra mile to pump up the crowd. Before the Seahawks were introduced, they played the Derrick Coleman Duracell commercial on the video screens. Towards the end of the commercial Coleman, who narrates the commercial says “and now I’m here with the loudest fans in the NFL cheering me on… and I can hear them all.” The video got the fans even more crazed. To this day I have scoured YouTube and various video websites to try to find video of the Coleman commercial played before the game and I have not been successful. It is a moment that will be difficult for me to forget.

After the 49ers took the field the Seahawks were introduced and the starting defense got their chance to run out of the tunnel individually. Richard Sherman was the first member of the Legion of Boom to take the field and deafening roar of the crowd lasted through the introductions of Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas. After Heart’s Ann Wilson performed the national anthem, owner Paul Allen raised the 12th Man flag just like he did before the ’05 NFC title game. The Seahawks were going to start the game with the ball.

On the first play of the game the Seahawks wanted to go for it all. The call was a play action pass. Russell Wilson faked the handoff to Marshawn Lynch and dropped back seven, looking deep down the field. He scrambled to his left and as he tried to tuck the ball away it was stripped and recovered by the 49ers Aldon Smith. After one play the Seahawks had turned the ball over deep inside San Francisco territory. I remember having a blank stare on my face and everyone around me had the exact same expression. “What the f**k was that?” was what was on my mind and multiple people in my vicinity shouted that exact same thought for everyone to hear. Fortunately Colin Kaepernick could not put the 49ers in the endzone following the turnover. We held the 49ers to a field goal and they took a 3-0 lead. Things did not get any better for the Seahawks on our next possession as San Francisco forced us into a 3 and out. After trading punts San Francisco got the ball again to start the second quarter. A 58-yard scramble by Kaepernick gave the 49ers a goal-to-go situation. After three failed attempts to get the ball into the endzone the 49ers elected to go for it on 4th down. In front of a raucous 12th Man Kaepernick handed the ball to Anthony Dixon who plowed ahead into the endzone. The touchdown gave the 49ers a 10-0 lead with 10:03 left in the first half. The Seahawks cut the lead to 10-3 on their next drive thanks in part to a 51-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin. Seattle headed into the locker room at halftime down by 7 and although it was disappointing we were not leading there was renewed optimism when, of all things, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took the stage for a halftime performance.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis played their hits singles “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” and at the end of the show Macklemore declared that “Seattle sports history will be made tonight.” This declaration left the 12th Man including myself jacked up. We as fans were ready to do everything we possibly could to help push the Seahawks to a comeback and a victory.

10for10 macklemore

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

After forcing the 49ers to punt on their first possession of the second half the Seahawks got the ball with excellent field position. On the fourth play of the drive the Seahawks were facing 3rd and 1. Darrell Bevell called up “17 power,” the same play as the Marshawn Lynch Beast Quake run. Marshawn shed two blocks and broke away towards the front right corner of the endzone. As soon as he got out of the second tackle I could see the space he had to run and immediately went crazy. At about the 10-yard line Lynch tripped but his momentum carried him into the endzone anyway for the score. Skittles rained down in all corners of the stadium and I jumped up and down in unison with my dad and the folks around me. The game was tied 10-10 and it felt like a whole new football game was about to start.

The 49ers took the next drive 83 yards and with 6:29 left in the third quarter the Seahawks faced yet another deficit, 17-10. After this the Seahawks took full control of the game. After a Steven Hauschka field goal made it a 17-13 ballgame, the Seahawks forced another San Francisco punt. Heading into the fourth quarter the Seahawks had the ball on the 49ers 35-yard line facing 4th down. The following sequence will never be forgotten as a pivotal cog in the Seahawks 2013 Super Bowl season. Hauschka lined up for a field goal but with the kick heading into the wind, he was hesitant to go through with the attempt. Pete Carroll called timeout to go over their options and ultimately decided to send the offense back on the field to go for it. With the Seahawks in the huddle I sat down in my seat briefly, leaned over, and said a quick prayer. The Seahawks broke the huddle and I jumped up to stand. Wilson was able to draw San Francisco offsides and knowing he had a free play, Wilson launched a pass into the endzone which was caught by Jermaine Kearse. The stadium went crazy. For the first time all afternoon the Seahawks had the lead 20-17. There was still 13:44 left in the game and a lot could happen but what has happened time and time again at home, once we corral a lead, the 12th Man will make it awfully difficult for the opposing team to come back.

Everyone was back in the game. With Lil Jon’s “Outta Your Mind” on full blast before the next kickoff, every fan was screaming, waiving their rally towels, and jumping up and down. On the 7th play of the series and facing third down, Colin Kaepernick was flushed out of the pocket to his left. As he tried to cock the ball back it was stripped out of his hand by Cliff Avril and picked up by Michael Bennett. Bennett returned the ball to the 49ers 6-yard line. This was the loudest it had gotten inside CenturyLink Field all day. The 49ers were unraveling and if the Seahawks could score a touchdown and go up by 10 points, the game may be out of reach. Unfortunately the drive resulted in no points, as Russell Wilson fumbled a 4th and goal attempt from the 1-yard line, turning the ball over to the 49ers. After an interception by Kam Chancellor which was translated into a field goal the Seahawks held a 23-17 lead with 3:37 remaining. If Seattle could stop the 49ers one more time, they would be the NFC champions.

The Seahawks forced San Francisco into a 4th and 2 situation with 2:01 left in the game. The 49ers converted on a pass from Kaepernick to Frank Gore for 17 yards. After the next play, a 4 yard run by Kaepernick, the 49ers elected to let the clock run. After two more completions the 49ers had the ball 1st and 10 from the Seahawks 29-yard line. 55 seconds remained. After a pass to Vernon Davis the 49ers let the clock run down once more. With every second off the clock came more and more stress. The 49ers were getting dangerously close to the endzone and with them draining the clock, a touchdown would pretty much seal San Francisco’s second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. The fans tried to stay loud to try to throw the 49ers off but you could hear the worry and panic in the noise, a feeling that has never happened in my 10 years as a season ticket holder. There have been stressful moments but not like this; not with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Then everything changed. Then came the single greatest play in the history of the Seattle Seahawks.

1st and 10 for the 49ers. 18-yard line. 30 seconds remaining. Colin Kaepernick drops back and throws a fade into the right side of the endzone. The ball is tipped into the air by Richard Sherman and falls right into the waiting hands of Malcolm Smith. The Seahawks had made the tip drill a common routine throughout 2013 and with no other 49ers receiver in the area, from my angle as soon as the ball was tipped I knew it was going to be intercepted. It was the most emotional I had ever been at a Seahawks game. I dropped to my knees because I was emotionally drained. With everyone in the stadium going crazy, after a few moments I got back up, hugged my dad, and the reality of the moment really started to settle in. “WE’RE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!” I exclaimed as Russell Wilson took three knees to win the game. With “Can’t Hold Us” playing over the speakers the teams met in the middle of the field and as the clock hit zero I pulled out my phone. I had a text I needed to send to James. That text, which I will never forget, simply said “PACK YOUR BAGS, BROTHER.” We were going to New York for the Super Bowl.

John Nordstrom, the original owner of the Seahawks, presented Paul Allen with the George Halas trophy and after several on-field speeches the fans left the stadium one last time to the sounds of Frank Sinatra’s classic hit “New York, New York.”

10for10 nordstrom allen

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

The rest is history. The Seahawks went on to win their very first world championship two weeks later. Without Jermaine Kearse’s 4th down touchdown and Richard Sherman’s tip, there is a very good chance the Seahawks would still be a championship-less franchise. From 2006-2012 the Seahawks season came to an end short of us being able to host an NFC Championship Game, the biggest game a team can host. Those long years waiting made this day absolutely worth it. There is no doubt this is the greatest Seahawks home game I have ever attended and going forward it will be extremely difficult to top.

Review: Seahawks 35, Ravens 6

13 Dec
ravens review 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

As far as the game goes it went as well as anyone would have wanted. But even though the Seahawks went into Baltimore and beat the Ravens 35-6 on Sunday, Seattle is now facing a bit of uncertainty going forward due to the injuries of key players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. For now however the Seahawks improve to 8-5 and take over the #5 seed in the NFC. The Ravens fall to 4-9 and guarantee their first losing season since 2007. Here are my thoughts following today’s win.

Wilson, Baldwin Fuel Offense: After a slow start Doug Baldwin came out and had a huge day for the third straight week. Baldwin caught 6 passes for 86 yards, half of them being touchdowns. I am impressed the Seahawks and Russell Wilson found different ways to get Baldwin open. Given the success Baldwin had had the previous two weeks it was certainly going to be priority number one for the Ravens defense to shut him down. If there was any question going into this game I feel extremely confident now saying Baldwin is Wilson’s go-to guy. Not to be outdone, Wilson had himself a game as well. In addition to his three touchdowns to Baldwin, Wilson also threw two touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett who led the team in receiving yards with 104. Over the past four weeks Wilson has thrown for a whopping 1,171 yards, 16 touchdowns, and no interceptions. This is clearly the best four-game stretch of his career and with two straight home games coming up next this is a perfect opportunity to pad those numbers.

Defense Stands Tall: There were brief times when it was almost sickening how efficient Ravens quarterback Jimmy Clausen was moving the ball against the Seattle defense in big chunks, specifically at the end of the first half. When you look at the scoreboard and stat board however the day our defense had against Clausen tells a different story. Our defense did not allow a touchdown for the second straight week, we held Baltimore to 27 percent effectiveness on third down, and we won the turnover battle 2-1. This game was a textbook example of what a good pass rush can do for a team. Even though the Seahawks did not sack Clausen when we were able to penetrate the offensive line Clausen’s throws were off target and oftentimes incomplete. For the Seahawks to give up a combined 13 points in two straight games on the road that is a number that we should be proud of.

Injury Outlook: Three starters got banged up on Sunday, each one varying in severity. Michael Bennett jammed his toe late in the game but is expected to be fine. Kam Chancellor injured his tailbone early in the game and head coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference he hopes Chancellor can bounce back and be ready for Cleveland next week. The most crushing blow comes in the offensive backfield. After gaining 44 yards on the first offensive drive Thomas Rawls appeared to injure his knee on a 2nd and 1 play deep inside Ravens territory. He was able to walk off the field gingerly under his own power which appeared to be a good sign. After the game however that good sign turned grave. Thomas Rawls broke his ankle on that play and he will be out for the rest of the season. This is a huge blow for an offense that shined ever so bright with Rawls carrying the ball. Losing a potential offensive rookie of the year candidate is burdensome but what pours even more salt into the wound is the fact the Marshawn Lynch will not be ready to return next week. It surprised me the Seahawks did not use a heavy dose of read-option in the second half but moving forward we may be forced to use Russell Wilson’s legs in the running game more than offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell would probably like to.

Thoughts on Harris: Barring a waiver wire pickup/plug n’ start next week against Cleveland, DuJuan Harris will likely see the bulk of the work load moving forward. This worries me immensely. After watching him work (and fumble on his 5th carry of the game) on Sunday I see a guy that does not come close to either Lynch or Rawls. The fact that Harris could not even outgain Rawls’s production on his only drive of the game speaks for itself. All it took was one play to formulate an opinion on Harris. On a 2nd and 6 in the third quarter Harris received the handoff from Wilson and cut left, running into Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw and gaining only one yard. If he had cut to the right Harris would have easily had a first down and possibly a little bit more. Harris uses all of his energy when he receives the handoff and has a difficult time reading his blocks. His largest run of the game was a 6-yard scamper on our first drive of the second half. His fumble also has me worried about his ball security because the way he carries the ball it moves up and down quite a bit. Let’s just hope Beast Mode can be back sooner rather than later.

Random Thoughts: The Ravens went with purple jerseys and black pants. I like that look much better than the purple jersey/white pants look. It’s more intimidating… Although the broadcast wasn’t as biased as I thought it may have been, it still was hard to listen to. There were several instances where they butchered the names of different players. For example, Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken was called “Kamar Aikman” multiple times by commentator Charles Davis. Also at the top of the broadcast sideline reporter Tony Siragusa called Russell Wilson “Russell Williams.” THAT one is inexcusable… Lots of 12’s in Baltimore but the broadcast tried to make the claim that they were pretty much all bandwagoners. I bet there were some but they do not understand just how many Seattle residents travel to our road games. I bet the majority of them were actually from Seattle.

What’s Next: The number two game of my #10for10 series will be published on Thursday. Look for my preview of next week’s game against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday morning.

Review: Seahawks 20, 49ers 3

25 Oct
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

What a way to set the foundation for an incredible vacation to the Bay Area. Without question the Seahawks played their most complete game of the season on Thursday night, dominating the San Francisco 49ers all night long. The result was a 20-3 victory where in all honesty the 49ers never were competitive. The Seahawks improve to 3-4 on the season and the 49ers now hold a record of 2-5. Here are my thoughts on Thursday’s game.

Running Game Gets Going and Russell’s Good Throws: The very first Seahawks offensive drive of the game set the tone for the rest of the evening and they did not look back. Running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 32 yards on the opening drive culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run. The offensive line protection allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to convert two first downs through the air on passes to Tyler Lockett and Fred Jackson. Offensively, Russell put the game away on his beautiful 43-yard touchdown pass to Lockett in the second quarter. Late in the game we were able to chew clock thanks in large part to the wonderfully basic play calling of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. After roasting Bevell almost every week thus far this season, I must say he called a great game on Thursday. We now have a good blueprint to run with for future games. Another day like this in Dallas next week and we will be very hard to beat.

Have A Day, Michael Bennett: After recording just 13 sacks in our first 6 games, the Seahawks came out and had a sack party in Santa Clara. Leading the way was defensive end Michael Bennett who singlehandedly recorded 3.5 sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. To make matters even better, Bennett made no mental mistakes that he has become known for so far this season. The production of our defensive pass rushers leaves me very optimistic about our upcoming games. Even though we did not force any 49ers turnovers it feels like our entire defense has turned a corner. I understand that the San Francisco offense is not very good but hopefully our ability to successfully close out a game in the fourth quarter will give us momentum heading into next week.

The Bad: There were two things I did not like on Thursday night. The first thing was the Russell Wilson’s decision making on the two interceptions he threw. The first one was a ball thrown at the very end of the first half. He saw Doug Baldwin in the back of the endzone but did not see Tramaine Brock. Brock stepped in front of the pass and made the interception in the endzone. A score of any kind would have given the Seahawks at least a 20 point lead heading into halftime. Wilson’s second interception was thrown into double coverage intended for Jermaine Kearse. From my view in the corner at Levi’s Stadium I saw Wilson had Doug Baldwin wide open and could have hit him in stride if he threw the ball a second or two sooner. Luckily that second turnover only resulted in the only 3 points the 49ers scored all night. The second thing I did not like was the continuing shaky play of the Seahawks offensive line. Their performance was buried among the big plays and the way the game played out overall. It was until after the game I realized the offensive line played a subpar game when I saw that the unit allowed another 5 sacks of Russell Wilson. Next week in Dallas may be a greater challenge. A similar offensive approach however may work well against the Cowboys.

Thoughts on San Francisco: This 49ers team is a disaster and the saddest part may be that their fans definitely know it. They have a banner hanging the length of the press box that says “home of the faithful” but the fans were anything but faithful on Thursday night. This team has talent but they are in need of a partial rebuild to get back to where they were a mere two years ago. With the future of Colin Kaepernick uncertain and the defense lacking experience it may take another couple of seasons for the 49ers to contend for even a division title. Let’s see if ownership is willing to give head coach Jim Tomsula that long of a leash.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks wore wolf grey and improved their all-time record wearing wolf grey to 6-0… Levi’s Stadium is an absolutely gorgeous facility. The fans of the two teams who make it to Super Bowl 50 will certainly enjoy the gameday experience in that building. The tailgating in Blue Lot #1 was a lot of fun, even though the lot was gravel and we got there so early that the tailgates around us were not fully raging until shortly before we made the walk over to the stadium. Next time I head to Levi’s I’ll probably try to get a parking pass in the green lot since it is closer… The 12’s really traveled well this week and we were certainly heard. 49ers fans didn’t even seem to care that their stadium had been taken over by the enemy. It was kind of bizarre and nothing like what I had experienced at Candlestick Park in years prior… Beer and food prices were a little steep but the variety was hard to beat. I bought a couple of hot dogs but two of my friends enjoyed curry, which they generously let me taste test. It was delicious… The view was great but the sun beat down on us for about the first quarter which was both hot and annoying. I consider it lucky that this game was in primetime. We would have been baking and extremely uncomfortable if it was a Sunday afternoon game… After the game we tried to go down to the NFL Network postgame show but the seating hosts would not let the large contingent of Seahawks fans down to the lower level seating, most likely because they did not want to show just how many Seahawks fans took over Levi’s Stadium. Take my word, if they had let all of us down there it would have challenged the number of fans who were waiting around after the Seahawks beat Arizona on Thursday Night Football in 2013… As we waited for traffic to die down after the game we decided to continue our tailgate. A group of 7 of us enjoyed a few celebratory beers before heading back to downtown San Francisco where we were staying… I will definitely want to go back to Levi’s Stadium with friends in future years. I had a great time and I know the other two guys I stayed with did also… Fight on.

What’s Next: Look for my preview of next week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys on Friday evening, a day earlier than normal.

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: Packers 27, Seahawks 17

21 Sep
Photo Credit: Packers.com

Photo Credit: Packers.com

As disappointing of a start this season has gotten off to, I can say it is not surprising. The Seahawks fell to 0-2 Sunday night after a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. This is the first double digit loss in 66 games dating back to November 6th, 2011. I try to be as much of a realist as possible, so when I say I am not surprised we have started the season 0-2, it is disappointing to see headlines involving the words “panic mode” in the media considering how tough of a draw we got at the top of our schedule. While I sat in the bleachers at Lambeau Field, the guys around me and I came to the conclusion that the Seahawks have lost their identity. That certainly looked to be the case. This review will be mostly commentary, as I dive in to try to figure out how to re-shape an identity for the 2015 Seahawks.

Running Game: After going up against an extremely tough defense in St. Louis, this was a perfect opportunity for the Seahawks offensive line to prove they could get back to normal to allow Marshawn Lynch to establish the run game. Consider this opportunity squandered. Lynch has averaged only 57 yards per game to start the season and his ineffectiveness has stalled our entire offense. In order for us to put up points more consistently Lynch needs to get back to playing like himself and the offensive line needs to play better to help him. I believe the offensive line is still gelling and Lynch’s production will only improve. It will be difficult to win games if our running game cannot get going. Things must change with two straight home games on deck.

Jimmy Graham: When we traded for tight end Jimmy Graham over the offseason it was to give Russell Wilson a star target in the passing game to balance our offense out. On Sunday Graham caught only one ball for 11 yards, making him a non-factor in our offense. There was one play in particular in the third quarter that really had me scratching my head. On 3rd and 3 Graham lined up wide to the right and had a one-on-one matchup. Instead of throwing his way, Wilson handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and he was stopped short of the line to gain, forcing 4th down. Why in the world do you have a weapon as talented as Graham when you won’t throw him the ball in scenarios where he excels the most? Graham’s role in the offense is infuriating to me and Graham himself. If you’re only going to use him as a decoy like we did on Sunday night, I would rather have Max Unger back.

Shutdown Defense: The Seahawks took a 17-16 lead in the second half but to be honest I had no confidence that we would be able to hold it. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers used quick passes to pick our defense apart late and Green Bay’s offensive strategy resulted in 11 unanswered points to end the game. It is no secret that our defense lacks “boom” without strong safety Kam Chancellor. In addition, the intimidation factor seems to be completely gone. Adding multiple mental mistakes along the defensive line (including three offsides by Michael Bennett on Sunday) does not make things any easier. One thing I’ve noticed is that we cannot make a big stop when we need it the most, whether it be forcing a turnover or a third down stop. The Seahawks will continue to drop games unless our defense can figure out how to get back to playing our style of defense, something that may be extremely difficult to do until Chancellor comes back.

Random Thoughts/What’s Next: This will be a rather busy week on the blog. Look out for a commentary about my game day experience in Green Bay in the middle of the week. Also, my #10for10 countdown continues on Thursday when I publish the story of the 8th best home game I have attended over the past 10 years. Look for my preview of next week’s home opener against the Chicago Bears on Saturday.

Seahawks/Rams Preview

12 Sep
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams

Site: Edward Jones Dome (St. Louis, Missouri)

Kickoff: 10:00am

The preseason-long wait is finally over. The two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks begin their journey for a third straight Super Bowl appearance on Sunday when they take on their NFC West rivals, the St. Louis Rams. In their meeting in St. Louis last season, the Seahawks came close to completing a massive comeback. Unfortunately some Rams trickery and possibly some help from the officials was enough to doom the Seahawks as they lost 28-26. No matter how good or bad the Rams are, they ALWAYS play Seattle tough at the Edward Jones Dome. Since the Seahawks and Rams became rivals in 2002, Seattle has beaten St. Louis by more than one score only twice at the dome. Given that this is the first game of the season, this will be a much more evenly matched game than you may think. Here is what I will be looking for this week.

It may be only week one, but believe it or not this may be the toughest road test the Seahawks will face all season. It is crucial that our offense does not struggle. This week on offense I am looking for the Seahawks to break from their traditional offensive approach. What I mean is this. The Seahawks tend to formulate a game plan and for the first half they stick to their blueprint no matter what happens. This sometimes means the Seahawks struggle, fall behind, then in the second half they adapt to what the opposing defense is doing and in the process call plays that will take advantage of the defense’s weaknesses, thus moving the ball and scoring points. I would not be surprised at all if the Seahawks try to establish the running game early and struggle, allowing the Rams to control the momentum early. I believe stretch runs, screens, and quick slants are the best plays to call for the Seahawks to thrive this week due to the uncertainty of our offensive line play against the Rams superior front seven. Given this, Tyler Lockett could make a big impact out of the slot this week. If the offense can put at least two touchdowns on the board and Marshawn Lynch can run for at least 70 yards, Seattle will be in fantastic shape.

It should be obvious what my defensive focus is on this week. Half of our Legion of Boom starters have turned over from last year. Strong safety Kam Chancellor continues his holdout, which means that Dion Bailey will start in his place. Cary Williams will start at cornerback opposite of Richard Sherman. If Rams quarterback Nick Foles gets good protection I expect him to challenge our secondary early. It also would not surprise me if the Seahawks play a good amount of nickel coverage with Marcus Burley this week to take away the potential speed threat of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in the slot.

The St. Louis Rams enter this week’s game somewhat of a mystery on offense. They are led by a new quarterback, Nick Foles, who was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia over the offseason. Running back Tre Mason is questionable this week and rookie Todd Gurley will be inactive as he is still rehabbing from a torn ACL he sustained while at the University of Georgia last year. At this point it is looking like Benny Cunningham will start at running back. To make things even murkier, St. Louis will start two rookies along the offensive line. For the first time ever I am putting my X-Factor Players to Watch spotlight on these rookie linemen, left guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein. Brown will have to deal with Brandon Mebane in the A gap while Havenstein will have his hands full with Michael Bennett on the outside. If Bennett can penetrate the line of scrimmage with ease the Rams could be in big trouble throughout the game. Short passes may be the best strategy for the Rams given the questions in pass protection and because of how poorly the Seahawks defended quick passes during the preseason, especially on third down. I believe Foles will look to his bigger receivers Kenny Britt and Brian Quick on the outside. Keep an eye on Quick in particular, as he will likely line up against Cary Williams.

If there is one thing the Seahawks should have learned in these games in St. Louis is to be on the lookout for special teams funny business. In 2012 the Rams successfully executed a fake field goal for a touchdown and the Seahawks lost by 6. Last season the Rams conducted a fake punt to perfection, baiting all the Seahawks special teamers to one side of the field with a decoy returner while Stedman Bailey fielded the punt on the other side of the field and ran straight down the sideline for an easy touchdown. Then late in the fourth quarter, punter Johnny Hekker lined up to punt but threw the ball for a first down, extending the Rams final drive. The Seahawks, as you know, lost by 2. I believe everything is fair game on special teams in this game. I believe three fake-outs in three years is enough for Pete Carroll and the coaching staff to finally put a heavy emphasis on trick plays in practice this week. The Seahawks will surely be on alert. I dare the Rams to try to catch us off guard on special teams.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks are finally telling the fans in advance what their uniform combo will be. We will be wearing white jerseys and college navy pants this week. Hopefully the Seahawks will give this kind of notice every week this season… The Rams will wear navy jerseys. My guess is they will wear navy pants with them… Kenny Albert and Daryl “Moose” Johnston have the call for FOX this week… The referee this week is Jeff Triplette. Since Bill Leavy has a new role with the NFL, I now believe Triplette is the worst referee in the league. Don’t be surprised to see many questionable and/or wrong calls this week… It will be nice to have a bunch of friends over for football this week. Barbeque and Bud Light all day long!… The Rams are yet another team threatening to relocate to Los Angeles next season and they may be in most dire need for hometown support. The Rams are struggling to fill seats at the Edward Jones Dome for this game and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the majority of the upper deck empty. Given the excitement around St. Louis for the Cardinals success and the fact that they play at the exact same time as the Rams on Sunday, support for the Rams will be visibly lacking, perhaps virtually nonexistent at the dome. Personally I would love to see the Rams move to Los Angeles because the NFL would kill two birds with one stone. The Rams moving to LA would mean that the NFL wouldn’t have to worry about division realignment (something that would have to occur if the Chargers and Raiders both moved to Los Angeles). In my mind a Rams move would also create a geographically perfect NFC West with teams in Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona, and Los Angeles.

Prediction: I expect rust. I expect penalties. What I do not expect is for the Seahawks to lie down. Marshawn Lynch will catch a touchdown out of the backfield in the red zone and Jermaine Kearse will add a deep touchdown of his own. Steven Hauschka will miss one extra point but will redeem himself in the fourth quarter with a 48-yard field goal. The game will come down to a 57-yard field goal attempt off the foot of Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, which he will hook wide right. The Seahawks will survive and start the season 1-0 for the third straight season.

Seahawks 16, Rams 14