The Herald of Everett, Washington
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John Boyle | jboyle@heraldnet.com
Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013, 8:48 a.m.

Seahawks-Panthers breakdown and a prediction

From today's paper:

SERIES HISTORY: The Seahawks lead the regular-season series 3-2, including last year's 16-12 victory in Charlotte. And of course Seattle also has a rather significant playoff victory over the Panthers, winning the NFC Championship Game in Seattle in January of 2006.

Key matchup

Cam Newton vs. Seattle's depleted front seven

When it comes to stopping a quarterback, the focus usually falls on the secondary, but when it comes to Newton, one of the best dual-threat QBs in the NFL, containing the Panthers offense starts up front.

That's not to disparage Newton's ability as a passer—he is more than capable of beating teams with his arm—but when Carolina is most dangerous is when teams have to focus too much attention on the run, opening up big plays in the passing game.

"Well he really taxes you as much as a quarterback could do it, because he's a terrific quarterback in the pocket, his presence is good, he can make all of the throws, he can do all of that stuff," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, "He's as dangerous as you can get when he takes off and runs out of that stuff and all of the basic stuff. But then they add all of the running game along with it."

"So what do we have to do? Everything. We have to do everything right. This is not easy. This is as difficult of a plan as we have to put together. That's why we have been working on it for so long."

Last year the Seahawks held Carolina's offense in check with Newton completing just 12 of 29 attempts for 141 yards. Newton rushed for 42 yards on seven carries, not a terrible performance, but hardly the type of game-changing numbers Newton so often puts up.

"We didn't let Cam run on us," said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. "We let him try to beat us throwing, which I don't think he can do. We made plays, made a lot of tackles and sacks."

Matching that success won't be easy for the Seahawk, especially not with Chris Clemons (knee), Bruce Irvin (suspension) and possibly Cliff Avril (hamstring) all sidelined, limiting Seattle's option when it comes to athletic defensive ends, a key position for stopping an option attack. Discipline is also always key to stopping an offense like Carolina's, but so too is the simple act of players stepping up and making big tackles, something the Seahawks did last year, and know they have to do again.

"At the end of the day, you have to have great players willing to make great plays, because everything's not going to happen the way it's supposed to happen," Wagner said. "Somebody's got to step up and make a play."

Yet as well as the Seahawks played against Newton, they are likely going to see a much better version of the quarterback and the offense than they did last fall. After a tough start to the season, the Panthers finished the year winning five of six, and over that span Newton passed for 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions and had eight rushing scores.

KEY NUMBER

3—Consecutive losses in road season openers the Seahawks, including defeats in Arizona and San Francisco the last two years. The Seahawks are just 13-24 all time in openers, but on the plus side, Seattle has 21-11 record in Sept. dating back to 2003.

IMPORTANT INJURIES

Seahawks: CB Brandon Browner didn't practice Thursday or Friday and is questionable with a hamstring injury. If he can't got, look for Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to fill in. DE Cliff Avril is doubtful with a hamstring injury, meaning O'Brien Schofield will probably get the start. The good news for Seattle is that defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel, who both have groin injuries, made it through the week fine and are listed as probable.

Panthers: Starting safety Mike Mitchell is doubtful with a calf injury, meaning veteran Quintin Mikell will likely get the start less than a week after signing with Carolina. RB Kenjon Barner (foot) and CB James Dockery (thumb) have been ruled out, while WR Domenik Hixon (hamstring), LG Amini Silatolu (hamstring) and DT Dwan Edward (thigh) are questionable. Former Seahawk Colin Cole will get the start if Edwards can't play.

Seahawks will win if they. . . Look out for Luke. Last year's defensive rookie of the year Luke Kuechly is quickly turning into one of the NFL's best linebackers, and based on his play in the preseason, Kuechly can be a turnover machine if offenses aren't careful. . . Don't dig an early hole. As much as Pete Carroll like's to preach the importance of finishing, his team dug itself huge holes in its two road playoff games last year. They came back both times, but couldn't hold on for a victory in Atlanta. This year they'd love to make things easier by avoiding those early deficits. "We weren't rope-a-doping in those two (games)," Carroll joked. "I know it looked like it, but we weren't.". . . Get some sort of pass rush going. With not Chris Clemons, no Bruce Irvin and likely no Cliff Avril, the Seahawks could struggle to get to Newton, but even if their pass rush isn't at full strength, the Seahawks need to find a way to make Newton uncomfortable to try to force bad decisions.

Panthers will win if they. . . Take care of the ball. The Panthers actually won the turnover battle when these teams played each other last year, but DeAngelo William's third-quarter fumble was the turning point in the game, and considering that the Seahawks forced 31 turnovers last year, ball security has to be a big concern for Carolina. . . Pick up where they left off. The Panthers looked pretty awful for much of last season, but finished the year winning four in a row and five of their last six. If they and Cam Newton can build off of that momentum, they could be very dangerous opening at home. . . Make the Seahawks one-dimensional. The Seahawks love to use the running game to set up big plays in the passing game, and with a beat up secondary, the last thing the Panthers need is to have to commit extra numbers in the box to stop Marshawn Lynch.

PICK

Seahawks 23, Panthers 16

The spotlight on the Seahawks is well-deserved, they are one of the NFL's best teams, but no team is a pushover in its home opener, especially not when the Seahawks have to travel cross country for a 10 a.m. kickoff.

Story tags » Seahawks

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