Seahawks-Panthers Preview

So, last Sunday was not fun. The Seattle Seahawks blew a fourth-quarter 24-7 lead to the still-unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals and lost in overtime 27-24. The loss dropped the Seahawks to 2-3, and put a premium on stringing wins together.

A possibly positive way of looking at the schedule is this: three of Seattle’s opponents through week six have yet to lose (Green Bay, Cincinnati and this week’s matchup, Carolina). That means the Seahawks have lost to two teams who have beaten everyone they have played, and could defeat an unbeaten team this Sunday. Of course, the Seahawks should have bested the Bengals, and probably the Rams too. The 2-3 record should most likely be 4-1. But it isn’t.

So what do the Seahawks need to do to move to 3-3 – the same record they had through six games last year, by the way – and change the direction of their season?

Credit- BleacherReport.com

Credit- BleacherReport.com

Protect Russell Wilson

This has been a strange season for Seattle. The offensive line looks atrocious one week in a win against the Detroit Lions and then really good for three quarters against a very good Cincinnati team in a loss. Those three quarters were where running back Thomas Rawls gained most of his 169 yards rushing. The main problem has come in pass protection, especially when the Seahawks needed to be able to throw the ball. When the Bengals were making their fourth-quarter comeback, Seattle failed to eat up any clock because they could not get any rhythm in the passing game. Wilson was sacked or harassed (or there were untimely penalties) and the offensive line simply failed to do its job. Wilson has been sacked a league-high 22 times this season. As the Panthers currently rank sixth against the run this season (92 yards allowed per game), and are also welcoming back Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly, Seattle will need to be able to throw when needed to win the game. How well Seattle’s offensive line protects Wilson will go a long way in determining if Seattle loses just their third game in the last 31 at home.

All that being said, let’s take a second to discuss just how good Wilson has been this season. Last year his Pressure Rate (percentage of his drop backs that he is forced to rush his throws or scramble) was 46. That was the highest in the league. This year is rate is 45.6, so no better. Wilson, though, has a 77.3 accuracy under pressure rating. That is insane. His average-yards-per-attempt is 8.8, tops in the league. Also, he ranks first in the league in completion percentage on non-play-action throws at 73.8. Does Wilson still hold on to the ball too long sometimes? Yes (he averages 3 seconds before release; a good average is lower than 2.5 seconds). But imagine how dreadful the Seahawks offense would be without Wilson. He is able to escape the rush better than most and run for yards, but is also underrated in his ability to throw for yards under pressure.

Feed Off the Crowd

Seattle might get more of their intensity from their home fans than any other team in the league. There is already discussion this week about 12s from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton told Larry Brown Sports, “I can’t say (CenturyLink) is the loudest that we’ve ever heard before because we’ve played in some loud places.” There are a lot of loud places, but there is no place like Seattle. Newton has only played one game against the Seahawks in Seattle when his team lost in the playoffs last season 31-17, but he gets his second chance to get up-close-and-personal with Seattle fans this Sunday.

Seattle has seemed to lack its trademark intensity this season. Part of that may be that safety Kam Chancellor missed the first two games, and he sets the tone defensively. Part of that may be that running back Marshawn Lynch has missed most of the season with injury, and he sets the tone offensively in many ways. Most of what has been lacking might possibly be traced to the fact that Seahawks have played only two of their first five games at home, one against a bad Bears team and one against a winless Lions team. Still, the fans at Seattle’s home games were very loud and affected the other teams.

lynch

Lynch is expected to return this week. Rawls has been unexpectedly very good in Lynch’s absence, but Rawls does not yet have Lynch’s ability to inspire the crowd with the violence of his runs. The secret to the passion at CenturyLink is that players feed off the fans and fans feed off the players and so on. The Seahawks have players in Lynch and Chancellor, among others, that can build the frenzy of the fans. The crowd does the same for the players. It is a perfect storm.

This week 12s need to be their best. The Panthers come to Seattle bloated with confidence, return their best defensive player, and Newton is having his best season. The Panthers would also like to revenge four straight, mostly low scoring and close, defeats to the Seahawks. Seattle needs this win. Seahawks fans can affect this game, and they need to. They need to inspire a Seattle team that has seemed uninspired at times this year. They need to create a volume so loud it forces Newton into making mistakes. This game can, and should, be won the way Seahawks football has been successfully built to win the last several years: defense, Lynch running the ball and an extreme home field advantage.

After the Panthers game, two winnable road games follow. The first is a quick follow-up to Sunday when Seattle goes to San Francisco on Thursday night. The second is on November 1st when the Seahawks visit a Dallas team that should still be lacking quarterback Tony Romo. The Seahawks should take advantage of these opportunities to get their first two road wins of the year. If they are able to defeat the Panthers on Sunday and then win on the road, their record will be 5-3 and they would have five of their next seven games at home. That almost makes this Panthers game a must-win, and the Seahawks should.

Prediction: Seahawks 21 Panthers 17