Behind Enemy Lines: Analyzing Seahawks Week 15 Matchup with Panther Maven
Trying to bounce back from an ugly performance in Los Angeles, the Seahawks will look to get back to their winning ways when they face the Panthers in a Week 15 tilt in Charlotte.
Preparing for the latest matchup between two NFC rivals, I teamed up with Scott Hamilton of Panther Maven to break down some of the biggest questions for each team, including Seattle's inconsistent, injury-riddled defense trying to stop MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey.
Scott Hamilton (SH): Seattle is coming off of a 28-12 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, yet is still in position to make a run at the NFC West title and the top seed in the NFC Playoffs. What went wrong during that loss to the Rams?
Corbin Smith (CS): I could write a 600-page novel about what went wrong for the Seahawks. They fell behind early as Ken Norton Jr.'s defense was carved up by Jared Goff and a dynamic Rams receiving corps. They surrendered 184 passing yards to Goff and gave up three touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer, eventually falling behind 21-3 at halftime. The offense didn't help by producing just three points and failed to capitalize on several opportunities, including a dropped fourth down catch by Malik Turner that would've sustained a potential scoring drive deep in opposing territory. Being down 18 points forced Seattle out of its original game plan and they had to be more reliant on the passing game in the second half trying to make a comeback. Unfortunately, with Aaron Donald and company able to pin their ears back rushing Russell Wilson, the offensive line couldn't protect the quarterback and the offense floundered.
The Panthers started off hot at 5-3, but have since lost five consecutive games. The blame can't fall squarely on one particular player, but second-year quarterback Kyle Allen has struggled mightily as of late. Looking at his regression, what's been the biggest problem for Allen? And what do you think of the future for the Panthers at the quarterback position?
SH: You could point at any one thing or say it's a combination of things - that's how dysfunctional things have been. The offensive line has been riddled with injuries and the play calling has been inconsistent. It hasn't helped that the defense has also put the offense into some tight situations. As far as Allen. he's facing teams that now have plenty of video with which to review and prepare. When that happens, the game suddenly gets much faster and much more complicated for young quarterbacks in this league.
Seattle is third in rushing, averaging 140.8 yards per game. Rashaad Penny is out for the season after tearing his left ACL during the first series of Sunday's loss. The second-year running back went down after posting his two best games of the season in consecutive weeks. He had 107 totals yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota preceded by a 129-yard, one-touchdown effort against Philadelphia. What does this setback mean for Seattle's depth at running back and what are the expectations for Penny's recovery/return?
CS: Losing Penny is a major blow for Seattle's offense because he offers a complementary skill set to starter Chris Carson. He's more explosive in open field and has a "turbo" button he can hit once he gets to the second level that Carson simply doesn't have. He was also showing signs of coming to life as a receiver, adding another weapon to Wilson's arsenal. It's a bummer he's got a long recovery ahead of him that could last into training camp next July.
Without him, the Seahawks will have to count on C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer to fill the void. A former receiver at Notre Dame, Prosise has always possessed intriguing talent, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy and landed on injured reserve in each of his first three NFL seasons. As for Homer, he's been an excellent special teams player and his only carry this season came on a fake punt in which he gained 29 yards and showed off outstanding burst getting to the sideline. Both players are capable, but one has major durability concerns and the other hasn't had much experience.
While everything has seemed to collapse around him, Panthers superstar Christian McCaffrey just keeps producing ridiculous numbers as a one-man show. He already has over 1,200 rushing yards, 86 receptions, and 16 total touchdowns. Considering all that has went wrong for Carolina this season, how has McCaffrey continued to play at an MVP level? How do you expect the team to showcase him this weekend against Seattle as they look to end their losing streak?
SH: Part of it is McCaffrey is still getting lots of touches - it's hard not to produce at least decent numbers when you're dealing with that much volume. But the biggest factor is his talent. McCaffrey has some unique skills both as a runner and a receiver that make it a pick-your-poison scenario for defenses. And against an aggressive defense such as Seattle's, expect lots of quick passes to expose the linebackers in coverage.
Even during the loss in Los Angeles, Seattle was still productive on defense and special teams in the second half. The Seahawks' defense had two interceptions (including a pick-six) while its special teams blocked a field goal -- and that was just during the third quarter. The defense has been especially strong during Seattle's past four games, recording 16 sacks and 15 takeaways during that span. What is Seattle doing to record those kinds of big play numbers?
CS: Seattle's pass rush has regressed back to being a non-factor over the past two games, but for a brief spell, they were able to rack up a bunch of sacks and quarterback hits against the 49ers and Eagles. The real difference maker has been the addition of safety Quandre Diggs, who has brought stability to the back half of the defense and played at an All-Pro level in his first four starts with the Seahawks. He already has three interceptions, including the 55-yard pick six against Goff last Sunday. He's a heat seeking missile flying up to make tackles against running backs and receivers, bringing the type of mentality Pete Carroll loves to have in his secondary. His presence has allowed Seattle to run more single-high safety looks as they did when Earl Thomas was manning center field, and while it'd be premature to compare those players, he has had a similar impact in the starting lineup and the rest of the defense has fed off of his energy.
Typically when these two teams have played in the past, we expected to see a physical, defensive slugfest. But unlike previous years, Carolina has been vulnerable defending the run and given up 19 runs of 20-plus yards, the second-most in the NFL. Knowing the Seahawks love to ground and pound with Carson behind a massive, bruising offensive line, do the Panthers have any shot at slowing them down? What's gone wrong for them this year in this aspect?
SH: It's a personnel question, I believe. Partly because of injuries to Dontari Poe and Kawann Short, but also just maybe not having the right pieces up front as Carolina continues to evolve from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 system. For some, it's merely getting adjusted, while for others it's just not the right fit.
Seattle's Russell Wilson has been in the MVP conversation for most of the season, passing for 3,422 yards with 26 touchdowns against only five interceptions and a quarterback rating of 107.5. Perhaps more impressive is that the eight-year veteran has made 125 consecutive starts, the second-longest active streak in the NFL. How do you explain his ability to not only be productive, but his apparent durability?
CS: As Wilson talks about frequently, he does an outstanding job not only taking care of his body, but also his mind. He has a mental coach who travels with him and is an integral part of his sustained success. Though I don't know if it's quite on Tom Brady's level, he has a very strict diet he adheres to in conjunction to his workout and conditioning program. All of those factors have helped with his durability. I also think his awareness to get down and not absorb many big hits as a runner has helped him stay healthy over the years. Many of the mobile quarterbacks who enter the league struggle in this capacity, but he knows when to slide and duck out bounds and young quarterbacks would be wise to learn from his example.
The Panthers were eliminated from contention last week with their eighth defeat and fired coach Ron Rivera a couple weeks ago. With three games left, including Sunday's match against the Seahawks, which players are you going to be watching most closely as it pertains to the future of the franchise? Who has the most on the line in the final three weeks?
SH: Kyle Allen is first on my list - will we see the Kyle Allen that led a four-game win streak or the one who's struggled ever since? The final image we have of him going into the offseason will have a big impact on his future with Carolina. And I'm curious to see how D.J. Moore continues to develop. He's become not only a nice complement to McCaffrey, but is turning into one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.