Tag Archives: Star Lotulelei

Panthers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

9 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

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

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:15pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks 28, Panthers 10

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

Seahawks/Panthers Preview

7 Sep

Image

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

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

Kickoff: 10:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks 23, Panthers 16

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