Less than halfway through the 2014 season, the Panthers and Seahawks have combined for 6 losses. In the entire 2013 season, the two teams had a combined 7 losses. Such is the way the NFL goes. Both defenses look to be shells of their 2013 selves and it has been reflected in the win-loss records.
Last week, the Seahawks offense faced a defense that is similar to the Panthers. On paper, it looks like a strong unit anchored by an imposing front seven, but with weaknesses on the back end. In reality, a key loss at defensive end has contributed to the defense becoming a sieve against the run and a lack of pass rush has exposed the weaknesses of the secondary. Sound familiar? Against this defense, Seattle mustered 463 yards of total offense while gaining nearly 7 yards per play.
Those numbers are probably a little frightening to Panthers fans after they saw their team's defense get picked apart in Lambeau Field last weekend. The Panthers gave up three touchdowns on the Packers first three drives and found themselves in a 21 - 0 hole less than thirteen minutes into the game. Aaron Rodgers had as many incompletions as touchdowns (3) on his way to a near perfect passer rating. On the ground, both of the Packers top two backs gained over 5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Let's look at it a little closer.
Panthers Defensive Line vs. Seahawks Offensive Line
The Seahawks are one of many teams that have issues on the offensive line. Outside of All Pro Center Max Unger, none of Seattle's offensive lineman grade out positively on the year according to Pro Football Focus. Luckily for Carolina, Unger has been bothered by a foot injury and is yet to return to practice. RT Justin Britt has had his share of struggles on the year, allowing 14 hurries through 6 games, including 6 last week alone. In total, Seattle's offense has allowed Russell Wilson to be hurried 54 times through 6 games (For comparison, the Panthers have allowed the QB to be hurried 58 times through 7 games). If there was a week for the defensive line to recapture their former dominance, this would be the week. The Rams were able to sack Russell Wilson 3 times while hitting him another 5 and hurrying 17 of his throws. At the same time, running room was hard to come by for Marshawn Lynch, who was able to muster only 2.9 yards per carry on the day.
Panthers Rushing Defense vs. Seahawks Rushing Offense
The Panthers take on one of the more run heavy teams in the league this weekend. Seattle runs the ball on 47.22% of their plays, good for the fifth most in the league and they do so for good reason. They lead the league in yards per carry, and this week they face a defense that is last in the league in yards allowed per carry. Sounds like a winning combination. Lynch struggled mightily last week and hasn't been vintage beast mode this year, but he's still dangerous and he's not the only threat the Seahawks have on the ground. The other significant threat is QB Russell Wilson. With Lynch laboring more this year than in years past (He hasn't topped 90 yards since week 1), Wilson has begun picking up the slack. He's run for a touchdown in three consecutive weeks while rushing for over 100 yards in two of those games. For the last three games in total, Wilson has carried the ball 20 times for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns.
If dealing with one of the league's more revered RBs wasn't enough to worry about, the Panthers also have to keep their eyes on Russell Wilson. The Panthers defense has shown a propensity to give up the occasional big run to QBs on an almost weekly basis, and they have yet to face a QB with the running ability of Wilson. Expect to see a lot of big runs on Sunday from both Lynch and Wilson.
Panthers Passing Defense vs. Seahawks Passing Offense
Russell Wilson has been having a very Russell Wilson season. He ranks in the middle of the pack in yards per attempt and completion percentage while being further down in yards per game. However, he's very safe with the ball, as his TD:INT ratio is 5:1, which contributes to his 5th ranked passer rating.
Out wide, Doug Baldwin leads the team in targets, catches, and yards. Despite being the teams top receiver, the Stanford product is on pace for just 61 catches for 822 yards, though he is coming off a big day on the heels of the Percy Harvin trade. Against the Rams, Baldwin hauled in 7 passes on 10 targets for 123 yards and his first touchdown on the year. Next in the pecking order is Jermaine Kearse, who seems to be good for a highlight sideline catch on a semi-regular basis, but isn't a consistent producer. After him, the Seattle WR corps features a hodgepodge of lesser known players that all contribute here and there; a list that includes the likes of Ricardo Lockette who has scored a pair of TDs on the year, Bryan Walters, and Paul Richardson. Despite not having a cast of stars at WR, Seattle will likely still have their with Carolina's very shaky secondary.
Writing these defensive previews has become a bit depressing. Back in the preseason, it felt like the Panthers defense would have the edge virtually every week. Almost halfway through the season, it's quite apparent that the opposite is the case. This is a bad defense, and it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon. Marshawn Lynch will probably force a ton of missed tackles and have a big day. Wilson will probably have several huge runs as the defensive line loses contain. The rather underwhelming WR corps of Seattle will probably find gaping holes in the zone coverage as Wilson has more time to throw than he should. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it seems to be this year. It's hard to see Seattle having much difficulty moving the ball and putting points on the board this Sunday.
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