The Seahawks rely on pressure as evidenced by the eight sacks during an upset victory over the Packers on Monday Night Football. You know, the game that caused the real refs to come back. After a pretty tough opening 1st quarter of the season it doesn't get a whole lot easier in week 5 as the 2-2 Seahawks come to Carolina. The Seahawks boast the #3 scoring defense including one of the better front lines in the NFL led by DE Chris Clemmons. The Seahawks rely on pressure as evidenced by the eight sacks during an upset victory over the Packers on Monday Night Football. You know, the game that caused the real refs to come back.
Yet it's not just the front four that is fearsome in Seattle. The Seahawks boast an excellent pair of safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. I am definitely safety-jealous of these guys. They have some aggressive but young corners as well and that might be the key to the game. So let's see how we match.
Panther Running Game vs. Seahawks Run Defense
This is strength on strength as the Panthers rank #11 in the NFL at 122 yards per game and the Seahawks rank #3 in stopping the run (62.8 ypg). Something has to give here. As much as some of us loath the read option its now a staple of the offense so I expect it to be a big part of the game plan yet again. My hope this week is that they mix it up with some quick hitters up the middle to Stewart and play action to the check down like Tolbert. The Panthers must be successful on 1st and 2nd down to set up 3rd and short conversions. If they instead get in 3rd and long then the Seahawks will certainly bring the heat. As long as they keep contain on Newton it will work but if not we have seen how Newton can burn defenses once he escapes the pocket.
The key to running the ball effectively will hinge on two things: (1) If Cam continually gets stuffed and hit on the read option then that will rattle Cam and force the 3rd and longs early. Instead the Panthers need to bring some wrinkles to the running game early and save the read option for later in the game. I don't mean they should run the wildcat. How about just some power I to surprise the Seahawks to set up the play action and read option later. (2) They need to seal the edge so they can run the stretch plays for Williams. If Williams can get outside a couple times he could break a long one. That should keep the SS from cheating into the box on 1st and 2nd down.
LDE Red Bryant might be the weakest link up front for the Seahawks and with Byron Bell playing so well this should be an advantage, so let's run to the right. All of the running plays should be designed to slowing down the pass rush and hopefully create 3rd and short if not avoiding 3rd down altogether.
Panthers Passing Game vs. Seahawks Pass Defense
The surprise for me in researching this preview was seeing Marcus Trufant on the second team. Maybe it's because of injury but the word is 2nd year CB Brandon Browner is playing well in spite of some penalty problems. On the other side is another no name CB Robert Sherman. I expect Browner to draw Steve Smith as his assignment as the Panthers will certainly utilize their vertical passing game. Smith has been fairly quiet the past two weeks but I expect that to change this weekend. If the Seahawks have been vulnerable it's been being too aggressive and giving up big completions downfield on 3rd down.
The key of course will be keeping the pressure off of Newton because otherwise he tends to not make good decisions if that decision does not involve galloping downfield. LT Jordan Gross will have his hands full with Clemmons and rookie DE Bruce Irvin in passing situations. I feel good about keeping the DTs in check and Bryant doesn't scare me. We just need Cam to be decisive and hopefully pass catchers other than Steve Smith will be able to get open this week. Check that...when in doubt:
Throw the Ball to Steve Smith!
As I already said if Newton doesn't see his primary or secondary target he is usually taking off and that has been a key to the Panthers sustaining drives. The Seahawks tend to go to a zone on 3rd down so that should play into our strengths when choosing to pass on 3rd down.
The X-Factor: TE Greg Olsen
Honestly we could and should say Cam Newton is the X factor every week. But that is no challenge and I need some mental reps! So I'm going with X- Factor 1B:
If we assume the Seahawks force a dozen or so 3rd downs then the Panthers will need to focus on the short routes to extend the drive and that usually involves TE Greg Olsen. The Seahawks have fared well against TEs so far this season, typically using their large safety Kam Chancellor to cover them. Yet teams have done well against the ‘Hawks when keeping the passes short and to the edges. That plays right into to what the Panthers do with Olsen. If Olsen gets 10-12 targets and helps convert some 3rd downs then the Panthers will get into the red zone and put points on the board. Do that and it should open up a couple deep completions to Smitty. I think the Panthers will struggle to score TDs but should put enough points on the board to notch their second win.
Prediction: Panthers 16 Seahawks 13