NFL Week 13 Preview: Seahawks vs. Panthers
The Seahawks get a chance to wash the foul taste of that loss in Tampa Bay out of their mouths when the Panthers head to Seattle on Sunday night. The Panthers, at 4-7, are mired in a down year after going 15-1 en route to the Super Bowl last season, where Von Miller would proceed to eat their offense whole. Injuries, regression, and less-than-optimal offseason strategy have left this team depleted. Rookies headline their secondary. The pass rush isn’t what it once was. The offensive line features just one starter at their natural position (Andrew Norwell at left guard). Luke Kuechly is dealing with a concussion. Their most productive pass rusher in Mario Addison didn’t travel with the team. At the same time, Seattle gets to enjoy an influx of healthy players, with Michael Bennett (Moses!) practicing in full, Earl Thomas and Justin Britt joining him, and Russell Wilson finally coming off of the injury report altogether. The Panthers haven’t beaten a team over .500 all season. Strangely enough, I don’t think that will matter. These teams play each other so often it almost feels like a divisional matchup, and few things in football are more irrational than divisional games. I would really love for the Seahawks’ offensive line to play better so I don’t have to pay closer attention to them every week. But they don’t, so they will be front and center:
OFFENSIVE LINE: This group cost us the game in Tampa Bay; period, point blank. Were they the only group of players to struggle? No, but they really fucked the team over, giving up so much pressure and penetration to a defensive line with only one star player in Gerald McCoy. I’m concerned about them going into Sunday. While the Panthers don’t have the pass rush they used to, they are still capable of bringing the heat, while being one of the league’s top run defenses. What makes them even more concerning is the bulk they have in the middle. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short won’t go easy on Justin Britt, Mark Glowinski, or Germain Ifedi at all. Kony Ealy had a coming out party in the Super Bowl, but has been pretty quiet since then. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn up again at any time.
As I mentioned earlier, the Panthers have a disastrous situation on the offensive line right now, even worse than Seattle’s (in theory). However, the Panthers also mitigate some of that damage with a very dangerous rushing attack, headlined by Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton. Both players are incredibly difficult to bring down as runners, and can play through typical contact there. Let’s see if this group will be as big a liability as they can be.
DEFENSIVE LINE: This group also helped cost us the game in Tampa Bay, getting blasted off of the ball early and often by an OL group that is… just okay. I certainly expect to see better out of them at home, and Moses is back, so that is huge. He’s one of Seattle’s most valuable players, and he makes the defensive line better just by being there. Damontre Moore is questionable, but if he plays, will also bring much needed depth to a group that’s been mostly carried by Cliff Avril and Frank Clark for the last month or so.
As I mentioned previously, the Panthers may lack a legitimate presence on the edge, but they bring serious trouble on the interior; even more if first round pick Vernon Butler manages to find snaps and capitalize on them. The player I’m going to be concerned about the most, however, is edge rusher Kony Ealy. His game in the Super Bowl was outstanding, and it’s never wise to sleep on a player who could have another game like that in the tank.
Russell Wilson had his worst game of the season last week. While I’m positive he can shake that off, what I’ll be most concerned about is if he’ll be able to find any type of rhythm should the offensive line get folded like a $12 card table early and often, yet again.
Cam Newton is the reigning MVP for a reason; he is a dangerous talent, both with his legs and his arm. He has the ability to make accurate throws from angles and platforms that most players just can’t do. Plus at 6’5”, 245, he’s a nightmare to bring down. However, he’s also had a down year and has completed less than half of his passes for two weeks straight. With the players around him performing inconsistently (save for Greg Olsen), the Seahawks defense needs to keep him from establishing any kind of rhythm in order to keep this from being a tight game.
Bonus: Richard Sherman vs. Kelvin Benjamin: Kelvin Benjamin is incredibly talented, yet inconsistent. When he’s on, he’s just about impossible to defend one-on-one, standing at 6’5”, 240 with a massive catch radius that lets him play through tight coverage. Whether or not Sherman will shadow him remains to be seen, but he will be a player to watch regardless. If Sherman does, he will have his hands full. What doesn’t help is that Sherman hasn’t had the best time against the more physical receivers in the league this season. I’m curious to see if #25 will finally figure out a way to bring the physicality in a matchup like this (without committing penalties).