Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images
Last week they were the reason the Panthers lost, but can they step up against an offense that's considerably more muted?
This week has been one of finger-pointing for Panthers fans, looking for the cause of the late collapse against the Atlanta Falcons. There's plenty of blame to go around, but none more deserving than a defense who allowed what should have been a game ending 99-yard drive, to turn into a game winning field goal. Can Carolina turn it around this week against the Seahawks, and a considerably less effective offense?
Carolina Pass Defense Vs. Seattle Pass Offense
Ask me this question 72-hours ago and I would have felt pretty good, now I'm slightly petrified. Your three starting corners this week with be Josh Norman, Captain Munnerlyn, and Josh Thomas. With Chris Gamble out, the Panthers will need two tested and failed CBs, to pair with an unproven player to piece together enough of a secondary that simply needs to buy time. In order to beat Seattle through the air they wont need any impressive, Darelle Revis-like coverage, all they'll need to do is not lose their men quickly, and give the defensive line enough time to get to the QB.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, the pass rush led by Charles Johnson was stifling. It's rare to see a DL manage to shake Matt Ryan, and yet he looked utterly lost in dealing with the Panthers defense. Sean McDermott called effective base schemes that took away quick routes, and let Johnson, Hardy and Alexander have a few seconds to work against their man. Russell Wilson boasts a different kind of challenge as a mobile QB, but early in the season he hasn't shown pocket presence in spades. If the Panthers can get their pass rush working again they can dominate, but with a secondary proven to struggle, that's going to be tough.
Carolina Run Defense Vs. Seattle Run Offense
This one is pretty easy to work out. Carolina are ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, and they're facing a running back who literally excels at everything the Panthers struggle with. Let's take stock of how running backs have fared against the team thus far:
- Doug Martin had the best game of his rookie season
- For one week Mark Ingram didn't look like a bust
- Antonio Brown became the world's favorite fantasy football pickup (and most have dropped since)
- Michael Turner-ed back the hands on the clock (see what a did there?)
Now the Panthers face Marshawn Lynch who's on pace for a career-high in carries, yards, and yards per carry. He's powerful, speedy, essentially everything you want out of a starting running back. Jon Beason hasn't been amazing in 2012, but being without him only further weakens an already poor unit. The hope will be to turn this game into a shootout with early scores, and hope that forces the Seahawks to abandon the run. Last week though the Panthers allowed 7.9 yards per carry to Turner, and it's wholly possible Lynch could average over 10... I can't believe I wrote that, but it's true.
X-Factor: Luke Kuechly
It's a toss-up whether Charles Johnson or Luke Kuechly is more important, but ultimately I have to go with the player who is most vital in stopping Marshawn Lynch. With Beason out, it appears Kuechly will move to the middle and play his natural MLB position. This is where he won the Bronko Nagurski award, this is where he amassed a stupid number of tackles for Boston College, and this is where he's home. The move gives an already instinctual linebacker an opportunity to rely more on his instincts, and if he's up to the task and can stuff Lynch, there's a good chance the Panthers walk away with the W.
The Seattle defense will almost be too much for the offense, but this will be a low-scoring affair that sees not a lot of excitement.
Carolina 13 - Seattle 7