Tag Archives: NFC South

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

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Review: Seahawks 31, Panthers 17

11 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rams/Seahawks Preview

27 Dec
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

It is a case of déjà vu for the Seahawks this week. Once again we end our regular season at home against the St. Louis Rams and once again a Seahawks win will clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks are 11-4, winners of their last 5 games. The Rams are 6-9, last place in the NFC West, and are looking to avoid their first double-digit loss season since 2011. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Rams 20-13. St. Louis’s win over the Seahawks back in October is the only divisional blemish on the Seahawks record. This week the Seahawks and the 12th Man want to ensure the road to Super Bowl XLIX goes through CenturyLink Field. This is what must happen for the Seahawks to avoid an epic upset that could cost us the #1 seed.

Overall, I believe both the Seahawks offense and defense ae plenty capable of getting the job done this week. The only way I see Seattle losing is if we beat ourselves which is a big reason as to why we lost to the Rams earlier this season. There are three things we need to avoid doing in order to come away victorious. The first thing the Seahawks must do is not to commit penalties in excessive fashion. Last week penalties were a huge problem especially in the first half. The Seahawks are averaging 8.5 penalties per game and there have only been two games this season where Seattle’s opponent commits more penalties than the Seahawks themselves. If the Seahawks can hold their number of penalties to under their season average we will be in tremendous shape. Specifically, the Seahawks must show they have fixed their problem with procedure penalties. Seattle committed two false starts and two offsides penalties last week. Zero is my target number this week. Anything greater than zero is a failure in my eyes.

The second thing the Seahawks must do is not commit turnovers; something they have done an excellent job controlling the past few weeks. During our five game winning streak the Seahawks have turned the ball over only three times. The Seahawks have also averaged only one turnover per game at home this season. Ball security has been a huge strength of this team down the stretch and the Seahawks will absolutely secure a victory if they can continue to not turn the ball over.

The third thing, which is the broadest yet the most important thing that must happen, is to avoid major injuries. With the playoffs coming up, the worst thing that can happen is for the Seahawks to lose important pieces of the starting lineup especially on defense. The Seahawks have played as complete of football since the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and the re-emergence of strong safety Kam Chancellor. We are ready to make an impact in January. The only thing that could threaten our hopes of making a deep playoff push is injuries.

After watching the St. Louis Rams drop back-to-back games the previous two weeks I am reminded of our matchup against the Arizona Cardinals last week. I say that because of the temporary leader of the Rams offense, quarterback Shaun Hill. After a lackluster game against Arizona two weeks ago, Hill bounced back with a 75% completion percentage and threw for 290 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and an interception in a losing effort last week against the New York Giants. This tells me one thing; Hill is a very inconsistent quarterback where even his best effort is not enough to win. Like Arizona last week, if the Rams have any chance at winning this game it will have to come at the hands of their defense and special teams. The Rams sport a very talented defense with recognizable names at all three levels but my focus this week is on a player who does not get constant recognition. My X-Factor player to watch for the Rams this week is safety T.J. McDonald. Not many Rams defenders do multiple things really well but McDonald does a very good job getting to the ball carrier to make tackles and also does a good job tracking the ball in the passing game. McDonald ranks third among all Rams in tackles with 98 on the season. McDonald also gets to the quarterback when safety blitzes are dialed up, recording two sacks this season. In the secondary McDonald has seven passes defensed and one interception. I do not expect the Seahawks to air the ball out consistently this week so I expect McDonald’s biggest impact to be getting to the ball carrier. If McDonald can force a Seattle turnover it is possible that St. Louis can keep this game close.

Random Thoughts: Seahawks in all blue, Rams most likely in all white this week… Gus Johnson and Charles Davis have the call for FOX this week. This is the first and only NFL game Johnson and Davis call this season, as they normally are FOX’s number one broadcasting crew for college football. For those of you unfamiliar with Gus Johnson’s broadcast style you are either going to be wildly entertained or wildly annoyed. His nickname is “screamin’ Gus” for a reason. Just type his name in on YouTube and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I would love to hear a Gus Johnson call of a long Marshawn Lynch touchdown this week… We have played the Rams at home in week 17 four out of the past five seasons. Hey NFL, how about we switch the schedule up next year… Going to switch it up before the game. Pyramid Alehouse for lunch and perhaps a beer at Safeco Field before heading into the stadium. Looking forward to Pyramid’s fish and chips… The Seahawks are giving away “We Are 12” t-shirts at the gates this week. I hope they look cool. We’ll see if the Seahawks encourage the fans to wear the shirts or to use the shirts to wave like towels… The postseason schedule will likely be announced at halftime of Sunday Night Football between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. As excited as I am for the Seahawks game, I am almost more excited to see when and at what time the Seahawks will play their first playoff game. I am hoping we get to play on the Sunday of divisional weekend instead of Saturday like last year… Barring an epic collapse my hope is to be down at the Seahawks Pro Shop after the game getting my Seahawks 2014 NFC West champions gear just like last year!

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: A Seahawks win gives us the NFC West title and virtually guarantees we clinch the #1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The only way the Seahawks do not earn the #1 seed with a win is if the Lions/Packers game ends in a tie. If the Seahawks lose and the Cardinals lose, the Seahawks will still win the NFC West but could earn the #1, #2, or #3 seed depending on what Detroit, Green Bay, and Dallas do on Sunday. A Seahawks loss and a Cardinals win would give Arizona the NFC West title and the Seahawks will be the #5 seed. Here are Sunday’s games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

Dallas (11-4) at Washington (4-11)

Arizona (11-4) at San Francisco (7-8)

Detroit (11-4) at Green Bay (11-4): The winner of DET/GB wins the NFC North and clinches the #2 seed in the NFC. The loser clinches the #6 seed in the NFC.

Carolina (6-8-1) at Atlanta (6-9): The winner of CAR/ATL wins the NFC South and clinches the #4 seed in the NFC

Prediction: The Seahawks know what is at stake and they will not let anything prevent them from winning this game. Marshawn Lynch will score a pair of touchdowns and Russell Wilson will also throw for a pair of touchdowns. For the second straight week the Seahawks will not allow a touchdown and the Seahawks will coast into the playoffs as the 2014 NFC West champions. Seattle will wrap up the #1 seed in the NFC and will take a week off before getting ready to play either Atlanta, Arizona, or Detroit in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

Seahawks 31, Rams 6

Check back late Sunday night as I review our regular season finale against the Rams. I will also take a first look ahead to the NFL Playoffs and who I believe the Seahawks will face in their first playoff game. Enjoy the game and Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 13, Panthers 9

26 Oct
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks/Panthers Preview

25 Oct
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

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

Kickoff: 10:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks 19, Panthers 17

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

Rams/Seahawks Preview

28 Dec
Image

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

After losing to the Arizona Cardinals last week, the Seattle Seahawks have a third and final chance to clinch the NFC West division title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs this week against the St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks come into this week’s game at 12-3 after last week’s loss and the Rams enter Seattle having won 4 of their last 6 games. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Rams 19-12 and have won the last two games including a 14-9 win in week 8 in St. Louis on Monday Night Football. It is also noteworthy to point out that the Rams currently have an 8-game losing streak in Seattle. Their last win at CenturyLink Field came on January 8th, 2005 in an NFC Wild-Card playoff game. This week’s game has become the biggest game of the season and I expect and anticipate a playoff-type atmosphere on Sunday. This is what will be in the way and what the Seahawks must do to be the 2013 NFC West champions.

Forget about how well the defense played. Forget about the bad calls that went against us. The primary reason why we were unable to win and clinch last week was the inept play by the Seahawks offense. Protecting quarterback Russell Wilson is by far the most important thing the Seahawks must do in order to be successful this week. J.R. Sweezy has been practicing this week and it is logical to believe he will be back starting at right guard, adding stability to a position that was a brutal weakness last week with Michael Bowie filling in. As important as the running game will be with Marshawn Lynch this week, it is the Seahawks passing game that will need to step up to move the ball in chunks, extend drives, and get into scoring range on a more consistent basis. Last week Arizona forced 7 Seahawks three-and-outs, which was a significant factor in Arizona being able to control the clock and tire our defense out. If the Seahawks offensive line does a sub-par job protecting Wilson, look for the Seahawks to utilize a screen pass package that could feature Golden Tate on bubble screens and Marshawn Lynch on conventional screens out of the backfield.

The Seahawks defense has not allowed more than 20 points in a game since before the bye week. This week, in an effort to improve exposed aspects of our defensive game plan last week, it is imperative that the Seahawks must be able to stop Rams running back Zac Stacy. Stacy has been on a tear as of late, running for 133 yards and 104 yards in the last two weeks respectively. Stacy also ran for his season high 134 rushing yards against the Seahawks back in October. Although St. Louis quarterback Kellen Clemens has been playing decent football since starting quarterback Sam Bradford got hurt that does not diminish the fact that Clemens will have to play in front of a revved up 12th Man that will be at full roar on Sunday hoping to boost the Seahawks into the division title. The Seahawks have intercepted 9 passes in their last two games and putting pressure on Clemens could significantly up that number this week. This is why Stacy becomes such a viable weapon for St. Louis and by eliminating Stacy’s production and forcing Kellen Clemens to throw will give the Seahawks a tremendous advantage this week. Look for the Seahawks pass rush to also make an impact on the left side of the Rams offensive line, as starting left tackle Jake Long is out for the season. Rodger Saffold will start in place of Long this week.

The last time these two teams played, the St. Louis Rams defense did a surprisingly incredible job of shutting down a Seahawks offense that had been rolling in their previous few games. It was this game that the Seahawks were unfortunately introduced to defensive end Robert Quinn. Quinn is currently the NFL leader in sacks with 18, racking up 5 sacks in his last two games, thus he comes into Seattle very hot. The way the Rams control this game is to make life miserable for Russell Wilson. And the way Seattle blocked against Arizona will not cut it this week as the Rams pass rush may be one of the league’s best right now. The Rams like to use pressure early and they will use packages that include Quinn, defensive end Chris Long, defensive end William Hayes, and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. Quinn will be the primary focus of the Seahawks offensive line and it would not surprise me to see Quinn line up at defensive tackle to try to penetrate the soft spots in the Seahawks offensive line. Double teaming Robert Quinn will be necessary at times but being able to harness the rest of the Rams pass rushers will make it easier for the Seahawks to take care of Quinn.

On offense for the Rams there will be a gigantic emphasis on the running game because St. Louis averages less than 200 passing yards per game this season. If the running game cannot pick up steam, quarterback Kellen Clemens will be forced to throw. Much like how I think Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense can effectively run screen passes this week, I think the same goes for the Rams. Kellen Clemens does not want to throw into the Legion of Boom and being able to play conservatively in the passing game could benefit the Rams offense overall. Using screen passes could be the best way to move the ball through the air this week and my X-Factor player to watch this week is a man who has suddenly become Clemens’s most popular target; wide receiver Stedman Bailey. Bailey is a rookie wide receiver from West Virginia and was taken two rounds after his college teammate Tavon Austin was also taken by St. Louis. With a season-ending injury to Austin, Bailey has seen significant playing time and has seen an increasing number of targets over the past 4 weeks. Last week Bailey led all Rams receivers in targets with 5, catching 3 of them for 44 yards. Bailey is short yet quick and I consider him a possible Doug Baldwin/Golden Tate hybrid. Using Bailey in the quick passing game is what I will look for this week while the Rams are on offense. If the Rams decide to throw bubble screens, expect Bailey to be the top target on the outside.

Like I previously stated earlier in this post, after last week’s loss the sense of urgency this week has blossomed from easy comfort to overblown panic. To all of the fans, especially those attending this week’s game, I remind you that we still control our own destiny but the Seahawks need us to do our part now more than ever. The 12th Man needs to enter CenturyLink Field on Sunday with the belief that this is a playoff game. I expect an extremely loud atmosphere (even for a Sunday afternoon game) that will make St. Louis struggle as badly as San Francisco and New Orleans did in primetime atmospheres. Plain and simple, this is a playoff game. Get to your seats with plenty of time to spare during pregame and cheer and yell like it is a playoff game.

Random Thoughts: This week’s game theme is fan appreciation and the Seahawks will be giving away tons of prizes throughout the game. I haven’t won anything on fan appreciation day since 2008… Last season the Seahawks chose 60 season ticket holders randomly to be on the field for player introductions. If they are doing it again this year I didn’t get picked. Oh well… The Seahawks will wear all blue this week and the Rams will likely wear white jerseys and white pants… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan will broadcast their final Seahawks game of the season this week on FOX… Jeff Triplette is this week’s referee. Triplette’s crew has been rather controversial this year. In a Sunday night game between the Giants and the Redskins a few weeks ago, Triplette’s crew incorrectly told Redskins coach Mike Shanahan that they moved the chains for a first down but they really had not gained enough yards for a first down. The Redskins could not convert and the Giants won the game… This week I am taking my sister to a Seahawks game for the first time since her birthday in 2008. This is also the first time I’ve taken a family member other than my Dad to a game since then. She recently turned 21 so I will be able to show her what a normal gameday is like when I take my friends. Pregame at the Hawks Nest Bar starts at 9am… Shortly after the afternoon slate of games the NFL usually releases the schedule for both Wild-Card weekend and Divisional weekend. The Seahawks will likely know what day and what time they play their first playoff game by 5pm Sunday night. Congratulations to Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Max Unger, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas for being named to this year’s Pro Bowl and congratulations to Russell Okung, Golden Tate, and Steven Hauschka for being named Pro Bowl alternates. However, hopefully they trade their trip to Hawaii for a trip to New York to play in the Super Bowl instead.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: As we enter the final week of the regular season there are 3 scenarios that could determine the Seahawks road to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Scenario #1: A Seahawks win clinches the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

Scenario #2: A Seahawks loss and a 49ers loss to Arizona clinches the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

Scenario #3: A Seahawks loss and a 49ers win over Arizona clinches the NFC West for San Francisco; the Seahawks would be the #5 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

The NFC North and NFC East division titles will be decided by win-or-go-home games that will determine who will be the #3 and #4 seeds.

The Carolina Panthers can clinch the NFC South and the #2 seed with a win over Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Tampa Bay. New Orleans wins the NFC South with a win and a Carolina loss.

Here are this week’s games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

St. Louis (7-8) at Seattle (12-3)

Carolina (11-4) at Atlanta (4-11)

San Francisco (11-4) at Arizona (10-5)

Green Bay (7-7-1) at Chicago (8-7)

Tampa Bay (4-11) at New Orleans (10-5)

Philadelphia (9-6) at Dallas (8-7)

Prediction: This game will feature shades of our first game against St. Louis and last week’s game against Arizona. The Seahawks offense will struggle to get going and the Rams will have the lead at halftime. A couple of big gains in the passing game and a touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch from just outside the goal line will give the Seahawks a late lead. The defense will play a consistent game throughout the day and they will step up when we need them to the most. The Rams will need to put together a touchdown drive in the final minutes to win the game but Richard Sherman will pick off Kellen Clemens, giving the Seahawks the win, the NFC West title, and home field advantage.

Seahawks 21, Rams 16

Check back for my Rams/Seahawks review as well as a brief outlook on the start of the NFL Playoffs on Sunday night. Thanks for reading and enjoy the game. Go Hawks!

Review: Seahawks 34, Saints 7

3 Dec
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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

If there is anyone who doubts the ability for the Seattle Seahawks to win at home, especially against the better teams in the National Football League, I would like to meet them. Under the Monday Night spotlight, the Seahawks routed the New Orleans Saints 34-7. With the win, the Seahawks go to 11-1 on the season, have clinched a playoff berth, maintain their 3 game lead on San Francisco in the NFC West, and the Seahawks now have a 2 game lead on the Saints and the Carolina Panthers for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. There is so much to get to after this game so let me jump right into my thoughts.

Seahawks Defense Forces Brees into Worst Performance Since 2006: Thanks to the pass rush pressure of the Seahawks front 7 and outstanding coverage by the Legion of Boom, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was only able to complete 23 of his 38 attempted passes for 147 total yards, including one touchdown. Brees’s yardage total marks the lowest number of yards he has thrown for since December 24th, 2006 when the Saints played the New York Giants. Although the Seahawks only forced one sack of Brees, the pressure was present throughout the game, frequently collapsing the pocket. Brees never got comfortable behind center and the noise certainly did not help. Brees was effective throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham who had 3 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, however Brees tried to explore all of his options throughout the game and receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills simply could not get separation from the Seattle secondary. Perhaps New Orleans would have been more effective by throwing in Graham’s direction more often but as each drive happened and the more points the Seahawks scored it was going to be impossible for Brees to focus on one receiver and expect the Saints to get back into the ballgame.

Next Man Up: It was an all-around incredible performance from the Seahawks defense on Monday night but the play of cornerback Byron Maxwell should calm everyone who was worried about a back-up cornerback facing an explosive offensive unit like New Orleans has. Maxwell stepped in for Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond and held his ground, making 2 tackles and recording 2 passes defensed; one of which was nearly intercepted. Without both Browner and Thurmond in the lineup, the Seahawks are 5-0 dating back to last year when backup cornerbacks start in their place. Maxwell gave me no reason to think he cannot do the job and hold down the fort until Thurmond comes back in week 17. The depth of our roster especially at cornerback is proving to be an asset that is continuing to pay off. Next week against San Francisco will be a challenge for Maxwell, especially on the road. Maxwell certainly earned the faith, trust, and respect of the 12th Man on Monday night.

Avril, Bennett Make Play of the Game: New Orleans had no chance of winning this game after what happened on a 3rd & 5 with just under 7:00 left in the first quarter. Defensive end Cliff Avril rushed around Saints right tackle Zach Strief and stripped the ball away from Drew Brees. The ball was caught by Michael Bennett and ran back 20 yards for a “fat guy” touchdown and a 10-0 Seahawks lead. Although this play only made it a two-score game, the feeling inside CenturyLink Field was that the 12th Man was in no way going to let New Orleans get back into this game. Plays such as this one give the fans something to scream about and once the stadium exploded and the Saints immediately got the ball back I knew what was coming; the kind of noise that gives an opposing offense zero chance of being effective moving forward. This was the number one game altering play of the night. The Seahawks outscored New Orleans 24-7 after that play and that 10 point deficit following the Bennett touchdown was the closest the Saints trailed the Seahawks all game.

Meet Our MVP Candidate: During the ESPN postgame show the 12th Man let out chants of “Russell Wilson, MVP” and it got me thinking, could Wilson actually be a legitimate MVP candidate after a performance like he had on Monday night (22/30, 310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 139.6 passer rating)? Wilson now ranks 3rd among eligible quarterbacks in overall quarterback rating, and his 22 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions is one of the best ratios in the league. On the field imagine how the Seahawks would do if Tarvaris Jackson was our starting quarterback instead of Wilson. When you take significant (and I cannot stress the word ‘significant’ enough) players out of the equation is sets back your entire team dramatically. Taking Wilson away from the Seahawks is becoming more and more parallel to taking Peyton Manning out of Denver and Aaron Rodgers out of Green Bay (as Packers fans are currently learning). If he keeps up his dynamic production for the rest of the season, I would consider Russell Wilson a serious candidate for the 2013 NFL MVP award.

Thoughts on New Orleans: Take away the primetime factor and the home field advantage out of Monday’s game and I think the Saints would have had a better chance of staying with the Seahawks. No team would have much of a chance in an environment like what the Seahawks hosted on Monday Night. The Saints are a very good team and I could definitely see a rematch next month. Right now however the Saints need to be more and more worried about losing the NFC South to the Carolina Panthers. The Saints have the capability of getting to the NFC Championship Game and perhaps even the Super Bowl, but if they have to pay Seattle another visit in the coming weeks I expect their goal of a Super Bowl championship to evaporate.

Let Me Be Bold: The Seahawks are now 6-0 at home this season and have beaten both San Francisco and New Orleans in primetime settings. I now expect the Seahawks to earn home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs and if that is the case, I believe the Seattle Seahawks will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. All worries about a possible home game letdown at some point this season have transformed into a solid, unmistakable truth: NO, and I mean NO team can come into our house against this team and win. If you thought the atmosphere at CenturyLink Field was crazy for this game, just imagine what it will be like here in the playoffs. From where I’m sitting, if you are a Seahawks fan I would definitely be comfortable making your reservations for New York City immediately.

Random Thoughts: I took my friend Dylan to the game and we started the day by having lunch at Chuck’s Hole-In-The-Wall Barbeque on James Street downtown which was a long overdue first for me. In my opinion it is the only place around town that challenges Dixie’s in Bellevue for my favorite BBQ restaurant. I highly recommend the brisket with spicy BBQ sauce… Got to the bar at 12:30 and all the tables were full by 1. That was pretty amazing. Good thing we got one of the three booths… It’s really fun to walk across the street to the stadium as the sun is setting. It really gets me excited for the primetime feel of a Seahawks game… The defense was introduced this week and although Byron Maxwell started in place of Brandon Browner, the Legion of Boom was still announced to the crowd as a group… Ed Hochuli deserves to be the referee for Super Bowl XLVIII. He did an incredible job explaining calls and very few penalties were inaccurately enforced… I should clarify, he did an incredible job explaining calls except for when he got too into detail when he said at one point while explaining a call “we didn’t let the team [run a play] because we were stretching our balls.” [Insert joke here]… Pizza is to damn expensive in sports stadiums… There were very few Saints fans in attendance this week. That was a pleasant sight to see… After the game we made our way down to the lower level for the postgame show and it was packed. It is amazing to wonder what a game would look like down that close. In the upper deck the players look like ants sometimes and on the lower level not only is the game closer, but the stadium feels incredibly big. I can only imagine what the 12th Man sounds like from the lower level… Let me say this, I appreciate the job that alcohol enforcement does on a game-by-game basis but sometimes it seems like they overstep their job description and take things way too seriously. Alcohol enforcement was turning away fans that wanted to be a part of the postgame show crowd and were calling in Seattle police officers to kick out fans who were doing absolutely nothing wrong. Please stick to what your job entails, AE; kicking out the unruly fans that are interrupting the fan experience and making fools out of themselves… I got a thumbs up directly from Ray Lewis. That was pretty cool… It feels so good to be 11-1. It only makes next week’s trip to San Francisco that much more exciting.

This week will be a busy week on the blog. It is our second hate week of the season as the Seahawks now focus on the San Francisco 49ers. Check back midweek for a special commentary piece highlighting our upcoming game against the 49ers. My game preview of Sunday’s Seahawks/49ers game will be up early Saturday morning. Go Seahawks!