Coming off an unfortunate and disappointing loss against the Rams, the Seahawks make a very long trip to face the Carolina Panthers. The travel itself is a hazard and Carolina is not a team to be taken lightly. The Panthers haven’t gotten off to the start they imagined, but their offense, led by Cam Newton, remains exceptionally dangerous. On the plus side Carolina’s defense is nothing to write home about so Russell Wilson and company may have an opportunity to put up a respectable amount of points. A look at some of the most important matchups of this game shows the Seahawks might just have the advantage in this one.
Matchup #1: Earl Thomas vs. Steve Smith
Steve Smith may be 33 years old but the fact of the matter is the guy can still burn defenses deep. Often a decline in yards per reception is indicative of a receiver losing a step and Smith put up 17.6 yards a reception last year, almost 3 yards above his career average, showing that he’s still got it. In fact so far this year he’s getting over 20 yards per catch. Paired with a quarterback with plenty of arm to spare, Smith is a weapon. The Seahawks’ bruising corners (that’s not a phrase that comes up a ton, but I think it applies) will try and frustrate Smith at the line but they will need some safety help as neither Browner nor Sherman can run with Smith. That’s where Mr. Thomas comes in. Earl Thomas has the speed and skill to nullify Smith downfield and make the Panthers offense far less dangerous. Offenses have had a very difficult time beating the Seahawks deep this year and Thomas will try to show Cam Newton why on Sunday.
Matchup #2: Marshawn Lynch vs. Jason Phillips
With Jon Beason missing this game Lynch looks to dominate between the tackles. That’s hardly new but Carolina’s defense is awful, especially against the run, and Lynch is set for a day that will bring a smile to the faces of Seahawks fans and his fantasy owners alike. At MLB stands Jason Phillips, a former 5th round pick in 2009 who has 12 career tackles to his name. Phillips is stout at 6’1 240 but slow (4.69 40 time) and scouting reports describe him as a grab and drag tackler. When you face Marshawn Lynch that’s more like grab and get dragged. Look for Lynch to bust a highlight reel run or two up the middle in this one.
Matchup #3: K.J Wright vs. Greg Olsen
K.J Wright is quietly having an excellent year in 2012. Tackles aren’t everything but with 22 so far he already has almost half of his total from last year (46). He’s also defensed 2 passes showing himself to be the Seahawks foremost coverage linebacker. Wright has excellent athleticism and at 6’3 he has the length to help counter massive tight ends like Olsen (6’6). Olson is a guy who always struck me as very talented but chronically underused. Olsen has yet to explode for a huge season but could be on his way this year. It may be too soon to tell for certain, but it seems that Cam Newton is beginning to realize what he has in Olsen who is averaging 5 catches per game as opposed to less than 3 last year. He is also on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving, which is a huge number for a tight end. He will likely fall short of that marker but he is showing himself to be a real factor in the Panthers offense. I don’t envy K.J Wright’s task in dealing with Olson who has TE size to go with WR speed. Olsen defines matchup nightmare, but Wright is one of the rare line backers with the range, length and coverage ability to give him some trouble.
It’s hard to call an out of conference game a must-win, or any game this early in the season, but this feels like a game the Seahawks need to have. The Panthers are not push overs but they are a squad the Seahawks are capable of beating. Seattle isn’t going anywhere if they can’t win on the road and after squandering an opportunity in St. Louis and coming so close in Arizona they need this one. There aren’t any easy games in the NFL, especially on the road, but this is winnable. The 12th man is a beautiful thing but this week we’ll see if 11 men is enough.