Enemy Confidential: Seahawks Looking to Bounce Back Against Struggling Panthers
This will be a much different looking Panthers team than the one the Seahawks have battled so many times in recent years.
Gone is quarterback Cam Newton, relegated to injured reserve and possibly to another team this offseason.
Also gone is coach Ron Rivera after nine years, 76 wins, three division titles, and a Super Bowl appearance.
But running back Christian McCaffery is still around, and still running and catching the ball out of the backfield at an elite rate. His 1,220 rushing yards are third in the NFL, while his 86 receptions rank fourth overall, not just among running backs but among all receivers.
And Newton’s replacement, Kyle Allen, has a bevy of weapons on the outside to compliment McCaffery, with D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel combining to catch 123 passes for over 1,600 yards.
But the Panthers recent struggles can be traced directly to a crash back to Earth for Allen. After getting off to a blistering-hot start in relief of Newton, tossing seven touchdowns without an interception over his first four starts - Allen has now been picked off 12 times in his last seven games and the team has lost five straight as a result.
Now let’s take a closer look at the Seahawks upcoming opponent, including series history, additions/departures, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the Panthers in this week’s Enemy Confidential:
--14th meeting all time. Seahawks lead the series 9-4.
Are you surprised these two teams have only met 13 times? The perception that the Seahawks always seem to draw the Panthers in the league’s scheduling process is one severely tilted by recency bias, as nine of those 13 meetings have come since coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010. Carroll himself is 7-2 versus Carolina, including a postseason victory in 2015. The regular season meetings tend to go down the the wire, with last year’s matchup proving to be no exception. Trailing by a touchdown with 3:26 remaining in the game, Russell Wilson connected with David Moore for a 35-yard score on a 4th and 3. A missed Graham Gano field goal on the ensuring drive by the Panthers left the door open, and Wilson found Tyler Lockett for a long gain to set up an easy Sebastian Janikowski field goal as time expired to seal the 30-27 win.
But the most unforgettable meeting between Seattle and Carolina no doubt occurred in January 2006 as the Seahawks trampled the Panthers 34-14 in the NFC Championship Game to advance to the franchise's first Super Bowl. The unrelenting crowd noise at then-named Qwest Field from the pregame all the way through to the final whistle made life miserable for Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, as well as the national television crew who had to essentially scream throughout the game to overcome the rock-concert like background audio.
--Subtractions: The biggest change on the Carolina sideline is the absence of longtime coach Ron Rivera, who was fired December 3. Defensive assistant and former Buffalo coach Perry Fewell was promoted to interim head coach to finish out the season.
You can also count former All-Pro quarterback Cam Newton on this list, as he was placed on injured reserve November 5. Newton came back from offseason shoulder surgery to start the first two games on 2019, but then sustained a Lisfranc fracture in his foot and the injury turned out to be more severe than initially hoped.
Over the offseason, the Panthers suffered some key losses that in retrospect may have severely impacted the strength of the team’s locker room. Longtime linebacker and leader Thomas Davis was allowed to leave in free agency, ultimately signing with the Chargers. At the same time, the retirements of defensive end Julius Peppers and center Ryan Kalil are thought to have severely impact the leadership dynamic of the team as well.
--Additions: Carolina attempted to fill Kalil’s shoes by signing former Denver center Matt Paradis to a three-year, $27 million deal. Following Kahlil was always going to be a tall task but Paradis has struggled mightily in pass protection and was called by one Panthers reporter the “biggest disappointment” of the 2019 season. Elsewhere, the Panthers focused on bolstering their defensive line through free agency by adding former Tampa Bay All-Pro defensive lineman Gerald McCoy and one-time Seahawk linebacker Bruce Irvin to the fold. Those two have combined for 10.5 sacks on the season. Free safety Tre Boston was also signed during the offseason, bringing him back to the organization that originally drafted him in 2014.
In the draft, the Panthers again focused on defense, adding high-profile EDGE players in first round pick Brian Burns out of Florida State and Alabama’s Christian Miller, a fourth round selection. Burns has 5.5 sacks, while Miller has chipped in with 2.0 sacks in a limited role. Ole Miss offensive tackle Greg Little was taken in the second round and recently, he’s been the team's starter at left tackle.
A number of key starters missed Wednesday’s practice for the Panthers, including McCoy (knee), Little (ankle), and defensive end Mario Addison (chest) who leads the team with 9.5 sacks, while former Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen was limited. Olsen missed last week’s game while going through the NFL’s concussion protocol and his availability this week bears watching.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
77.1: Percentage of “on target” throws by Kyle Allen, 11th-best in the league, ahead of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, and Russell Wilson.
10: Broken tackles after a reception by McCaffery, second-best in the NFL this season.
711: Total air yards passes traveled before being caught by D.J. Moore, the ninth-best mark in the league.
59: Hurries allowed by the Panthers offensive line, fourth-worst in the NFL.
47: Total sacks for Carolina's defense, second-best in the NFL behind Pittsburgh.
19: Number of 20-plus yard runs given up this season, the second-worst mark in the NFL.
138.9: Opponents passer rating against Panthers safety Erik Reid, fourth-worst in the NFL.
464: Total air yards given up on completions by Panthers cornerback James Bradberry, eighth-worst mark in the league.
23.9: Missed tackle percentage for cornerback Donte Jackson, the seventh-highest among qualified defenders.
--There’s no doubt preparing for the Panthers begins with trying to stop McCaffery, a player Carroll says he saw something special in during the pre-draft process in 2017.
“I remember sitting at the combine in the evening, sitting down with him,” Carroll recalled. “Just one on one with him. I was really excited to talk to him because I was so impressed with him as a college player and I kind of wanted to see if he had that kind of twinkle in his eye about being great. He left no doubt and I was blown away by his mentality. I walked away really, really impressed.”
“To see him perform at such a high level so consistently, he’s good at everything,” Carroll continued. ‘He’s the best combo guy there is. 86 catches he’s got right now. That’s third or fourth in the league right or whatever it is, as well as 1,200 yards. It’s crazy numbers. He brings it. He runs tough and he’s good in the open field. He makes the catches and runs the routes. He’s an incredible player.”
--But Carroll is careful to caution against focusing solely on slowing McCaffery down, because despite Allen’s recent struggles, there’s a lot to work with on that Carolina offense.
“They believe in him (Allen) because they give him the opportunities to throw the ball down the field and do all the stuff,” Carroll said. “They know that he can do it. He’s got a really good group around him. Both [Curtis] Samuel and [DJ] Moore, those guys are really good. When Greg [Olsen] is playing too and 22 back there, they got all kinds of firepower. It’s a good club. Over the years, we’ve always had great respect for them when Cam [Newton] was playing. We’ve seen the good that Kyle can bring them. They’re formidable because of all the ways they can attack you.”