There are a lot of Carolina fans going into Sunday’s game against Seattle believing that the Panthers have a chance to win. It’s hard for me not to agree with that since Seattle’s been playing some bad football lately (one win in their last five games) and the Panthers looked slightly improved last week. However, it should be noted that Seattle does play well at home and Carolina is still only a one-win team so I’m not going to go in expecting a victory. However, the more I look at it, the more I feel that Carolina will have their chance at win #2 this week. Let’s take a closer look at the Seahawks to see what exactly we’re up against.
Seattle is in the bottom-ten in both passing and rushing defense (30th and 22nd respectively). and are dead last in rushing offense. They also have the 2nd worst red zone offense in the league next to the Panthers converting only 34% of their red zone drives. A particularly interesting note for this game is Seattle's defense has given up over 300 rushing yards in their last three games, 99 of those yards came from Chris Ivory of the Saints.
The Seahawks are still in a rebuilding process under new head coach Pete Carroll and they have done slightly better than I expected this year with wins over San Diego and Chicago but recently, they have looked more like the team I expected to see. The offensive line is still adjusting to a new blocking system and have a rookie replace long-time left tackle Walter Jones. As a result, the run game has struggled and they have given up 26 sacks on the year. The defense is also adjusting to somewhat of a new system with some personnel changes and has struggled mightily.
The key to the Panthers winning this game seems to rely on running the ball. Seattle has the worst run defense in the league and while Carolina’s running game hasn't been as explosive as it should be, it has picked up the last few weeks. Mike Goodson has missed practice this week due to the birth of his child but he is expected to play while Jonathan Stewart will get the start. The Seahawks have injuries to Chris Clemons and Colin Cole on their defensive line and while there is a good chance Clemons might play, Cole being out is a huge blow in their ability to stop the run. LB David Hawthorne has been the one doing most of the run stopping as he leads the team in tackles. Safeties Earl Thomas in Lawyer Malloy are 2nd on the team in tackles, showing they give up a lot of big runs. It's apparent that this is another opportunity for Stewart having a big game.
When it comes to the passing game, Jimmy Clausen has a good chance to finally have that breakout game we’re all waiting for. There’s just a few things that concern me; The Seahawks have played well against bad offenses this year (see both Arizona games), they rush the passer well (25 sacks this season) and they have two very dangerous ball-hawks on defense in Marcus Trufant and rookie Earl Thomas. Seattle loves to blitz and it shows with 6 of their sacks coming from their safeties (Lawyer Malloy has 4 of them). However, the biggest pass rushing threat remains DE Chris Clemons, who has been a force ever since being acquired from the Eagles. Jordan Gross and/or Gary Williams need to be ready for him. The rest of the line needs to be prepared to pick up blitzes, too if Clausen wants to have enough time to throw.
The linebacking corps of the Seahawks has a lot of talent but have performed somewhat below expectations. As I mentioned earlier, David Hawthorne is having a solid season but Lofa Tatupu hasn’t been the game-changer that he used to be at MLB. Aaron Curry was labeled as a bust by many people but he’s improved a lot compared to last year but there's still some who think he isn’t playing up to his contract’s value. We will be seeing plenty of these three on Sunday since Carolina will run the ball a lot and Hawthorne will have his hands full.
As I said earlier, the secondary of Seattle is what scares me because Earl Thomas has shown he can be a game-breaker at free safety and Jimmy Clausen is bound to throw a wayward pass or two. Marcus Trufant will likely be covering Steve Smith, too and while I still consider Trufant one of the top cover corners in the league, he has been smoked numerous times this year. Dwayne Bowe caught 13 passes for 170 yards against him last week and Marcus Colston caught 8 for113 yards the week before. Will this mean that Clausen has a chance to get the ball to Smith easier? Who knows? Drew Brees and Matt Cassel (who is actually having a fantastic year) were the QB's in those games while Clausen’s shown the ability to throw the deep ball a few times. he hasn't thrown it much. Let’s hope that changes this week. Just stay away from Thomas’ side of the field.
The biggest disappointment for the Seahawks this season might be the anemic running game, especially after they traded for Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has made a couple nice plays at the goal line but is only averaging 39 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry. Justin Forsett was supposed to be the #1 back there but has only run for 409 yards at an average of 4.3 yards per carry. He has been a nice compliment in the passing game on screen plays, though. Leon Washington has made more of an impact in the kick returning game than the running game. Carolina’s run defense has been awful the past few weeks but thankfully, the task for them here isn’t too hard to take town. Then again, Lynch is a talented back and could run all over us if he’s given the space so be aware of that.
The passing game is what’s gotten it done for the Seahawks offense and while it’s becoming obvious that it might be Matt Hasselbeck’s last year as the Seahawks starting QB, he has produced the most points for them this season. Carolina has a strong pass defense but they get worn down very easily and QB’s have taken advantage of that. See last week where Jake Delhomme constantly used the no-huddle on us early. The one thing that may work in our favor is that Seattle’s offense seems to thrive on big plays. They have a lot of plays of over 20 yards and Carolina plays in a defense that is design to restrict big plays. It will also help that TE John Carlson is listed as questionable for this game so the Seahawks will be missing their big "3rd and short" weapon.
However, there are still a lot of receivers here that can do some damage. One of them being the surprisingly relevant Mike Williams who has emerged as Hasselbeck’s favorite target. Deon Butler is largely a big play threat but can burn our secondary if we’re not careful (and Charles Godfrey is anything but that) and the same can be said for Ben Obumanu. Brandon Stokely seems like the guy who is most likely to have a big game since he has caught most of the balls thrown at him and will probably be running a lot of shorter routes over the middle, which have killed us. Also, Chris Gamble possibly sitting out this week might play a factor in how well we do at defending the pass. Captain Munnerlyn was good at covering Mohammad Massaquoi last week but Richard Marshall is still prone to get burned. If we limit the big plays and force them to score in the red zone, we could actually have a better chance given how much the Seahawks have struggled inside their opponent's 20.
So, you could say that this is definitely another "winnable" game for Carolina but a lot of things need to go right, and they haven't this season. If we can hold Seattle's offense at bay early and establish a run game, then I do like our chances. If Lynch suddenly has a breakout game or Hasselbeck torches us, then that's another story