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He Said / She Said: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Friday, October 16, 2015

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week six matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (2–3) and the Carolina Panthers (4–0).

When: 1:05 p.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 18 
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

Rogers: Five weeks in, the Seahawks are a mixture of potential, old problems, and some surprising new problems. Clearly, this isn’t the same Super Bowl-caliber team of 2013 and 2014. The emergence of Thomas Rawls is an unexpected positive that has become necessary with the extended gimpiness of Marshawn Lynch.

On the negative side, the Seahawks are proving to be vulnerable on the road, not having won a road game since December 21, 2014. While there is plenty of blame to go around, it’s not hard to lay it on the Legion of Boom, who allowed the most yards against a Seahawks defense by a passer (331) since October 2012. Kam Chancellor was caught peeking on both Tyler Eifert touchdowns. Some key defensive penalties (cough … Cary Williams … cough) also helped nudge the Seahawks to defeat.

Jess, are the emergence of Rawls and some home cooking for the defense enough for the Seahawks to be able to right the ship this Sunday against the visiting undefeated Panthers? Or perhaps there is some other factor that gives Seattle an edge. What would you hang your hopeful hat on?

Ridpath: I’m hanging my hopes on the one thing the Hawks have yet to deliver so far this season: 60 minutes of championship caliber football.

The Seahawks aren’t lucky enough to reside in the AFC South. With three losses heading into week six and a division rival sitting at 4–1, the Seattle defense must play like it’s December. They looked to be getting there last week in Cincy — following up a spate of missed tackles and blown coverage early in the game with a heavy helping of pressure (including 4 sacks), a long-overdue interception, and a fumble returned for six quick points. Twelves everywhere were breathing easy, up 24–7 heading into the fourth quarter.

But the fans weren’t the only ones who relaxed. It looked to me like the defense just lost their intensity near the end. And in doing so, they lost the game for Seattle.

The offense, on the other hand, deserves some kudos. Offensive tackle Gary Gilliam may have had a rough game, but overall, the Seahawks’ offensive line played better than they have all year. The communication was noticeably improved, with Russell Wilson making several smart pre-snap adjustments that turned potential trouble into positive yards. And Rawls tore up Paul Brown Stadium with a toughness that hinted of Beast Mode and a light-footed agility reminiscent of Barry Sanders.

With those collective performances, I see Seattle’s offense on an upward trajectory. To win against the Carolina Panthers this week, the defense needs to aim for an even higher arc and stay there for a full four quarters of football. No more slow starts. No more uninspired finishes. Seattle’s season is on the line.

Julian, are the Seahawks in a must-win scenario already in week six?

Rogers: I say no. It’s still not back-against-the-wall time if they lose to the Panthers. Hopes of a division title will be pretty much over, but a Wild Card playoff berth will still be possible.

Take a look at the NFC standings. It’s a bit of a mess. If you take away the division leaders, the (for this exercise) presumed winners, there are only two other teams in the conference that have a better record than the Seahawks (the 4–0 Panthers and the 2–2 Minnesota Vikings). The rest of the also-rans are at 2–3 or worse.

Here’s an interesting stat: Despite leading the NFL in rushing, the Seattle Seahawks are one of only three teams to have one or fewer rushing touchdowns so far this season.

In the west, the Seahawks will be chasing the NFL’s top scoring team, the Arizona Cardinals, at least until they play them for the first time on Nov. 15. They won’t make up ground until then … if then. For now the Seahawks need to take care of business at home right away. It won’t be easy. The Panthers are coming off a bye and are comfortable winning on the road (2 wins so far).

Jess, the Panthers look to be the same team as last year (tough defense, strong rushing offense and weak passing offense) but this year they’re winning. Are they a mirage or the real deal?

Ridpath: It’s hard to say. Carolina may be undefeated, but that should hardly come as a surprise given who they’ve played so far: the Jaguars (1–4), Texans (1–4), Saints (1–4), and Buccaneers (2–3). That season-launching set of opponents should have come wrapped up in a bow.

The good news for the Panthers is that their star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is slated to be back on the field after missing three games to a concussion. The NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2013, Kuechly tops the league in tackles over the last three seasons. That could spell trouble for Seattle’s run game.

On the offensive side, the Panthers are clearly putting most of their eggs in the running game basket — which makes sense given that Cam Newton’s legs tend to be more reliable than is arm. Having only played four games to Wilson’s five, the two are neck in neck in terms of QB rushing yards this season (195 for Newton versus 198 for Wilson). Overall, Carolina ranks fourth in the league in average rush yards per game and has outrushed their opponents 529 yards to 368.  

But consider this: The Panthers have performed worse in several key areas compared to their four lackluster opponents:

  • 83 total first downs, compared to 91.
  • 1288 offensive yards, compared to 1356.
  • 758 passing yards, compared to 988.

So why are they undefeated? It appears the key difference is turnovers — where they have an impressive differential of +8. I’m oversimplifying, sure. But if the Seahawks can tip this stat to their advantage, they may find the antidote to the Panther’s secret formula.

Julian, after an envy-inducing opening schedule and a bye week, what do you expect Carolina will focus on as they face their toughest challenge of the season so far? And how will Seattle respond?

Rogers: You’re right, the Seahawks, despite their losing record, represent a much stiffer test than the cupcakes the Panthers feasted on in the first four weeks. Record aside, the Seahawks remain a formidable force at home among the 12s.

With two of the worst passing offenses in the league (the Seahawks are ranked 26th and the Panthers are ranked 29th), expect both teams to try to assert dominance in the run game. Neither team wants to have to try to win it at the end by passing their way down the field. If the Panthers do have to pass their way to victory, they’ll have to feed a couple of 30-year-old receivers. Their top receiving threat, tight end Greg Olsen leads the team with 17 receptions and two touchdowns. Keep an eye out for resurgent journeyman veteran receiver Ted Ginn, who is second on the team with 12 receptions and three touchdowns.

The Panthers do not like to throw it much. And they don’t have a rusher of note after team-leading rusher Jonathan Stewart, who is averaging a mere 3.7 yards per carry. He has no touchdowns. It’s the Cam Newton Show. After reading your litany of stats that pull the curtain back on the Wizard of Frauds, I’m convinced. The Panthers are winning more than they deserve to and the Seahawks are underperforming. I expect both trends to reverse themselves on Sunday. Prediction: Seahawks 23, Panthers 19.

Ridpath: I absolutely agree with you that Newton is the Panther’s only hope. Shutting him down will likely be the singular focus for Seattle’s defense. The question is, can they do it for a full four quarters? I’m betting yes — largely because they’ll be eager to save face after last week’s bitter disappointment.

I’m also betting on continued improvement from Wilson and those charged with protecting him. The phenom quarterback displayed his brains as much as his brawn last week — showing that he can grow and adapt to the new look of his offensive line. And with or without Beast Mode, I expect more good things from Rawls this Sunday. His journey from undrafted free agent to NFL Rookie of the Week nominee has got to feel almost dreamlike. I’m looking for him to keep that dream alive in week six. Prediction: Seahawks 31, Panthers 20.

--------------------

Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: The game winner. I’m 4–1 on the season. I called the Bengals the bully of the AFC. After their come-from-behind victory over the Seahawks, I see no reason why they should not be in the Super Bowl discussion here on out.

What he got wrong: I pronounced the Seahawks defense to be rounding into form. They then surrendered more than 200 yards of offense in the fourth quarter on their way to blowing a 17-point lead.

What she got right: The game winner, and the three-point score differential. I’m now 3–2 on the season. I predicted Seattle would finally nab their first interception, and Andy Dalton was kind enough to toss a floater to Earl Thomas. Thanks for making me look good, guys.

What she got wrong: I thought we’d see more than 15 completed passes for Seattle. I also expected a better performance from the defense overall, and from the LOB in particular. Who didn’t?

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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