Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The Seattle Seahawks take on the Carolina Panthers this week in the divisional round of the playoffs. This is a rematch of a Week 8 game that Seattle won 13-9. To try and get an idea of what we can expect in this game, I thought it would be interesting to take look back at the first game and see how Seattle managed to pull out the win.
The Seahawks were 3-3 and coming off a home loss to Dallas followed by an embarrassing road loss to the St. Louis Rams. Carolina entered the game 3-3-1. They were coming off a tie with Cincinnati followed by a blowout loss to Green Bay.
Seattle was reeling and desperate for a win to stop the wheels from completely coming off. They’d lost two straight, and were on the verge of dropping below .500. The Seahawks were also already three games back of Arizona in the NFC West.
There is important context that needs to be included in any discussion about this game. The Seahawks had traded wide receiver Percy Harvin just nine days before this game. Harvin’s exit completely changed the offense for Seattle, and they had yet to find their new identity as team.
Both team limped into this game with a litany of injuries. Carolina was without three running backs, two guards, and wide receiver Philly Brown on offense. On defense they were down two linebackers and cornerback Bene Benwikere.
For the Seahawks the problem was even worse. One defense they were without CBs Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. They also lost Tharold Simon early in the game, leaving them with a practice squad call-up playing in the nickel down the stretch.
The defensive line wasn’t immune to the injury problems either. DT Jordan Hill and rookie DE Cassius Marsh were both injured an unavailable. Strong safety Kam Chancellor played, but was greatly slowed by an ankle injury.
The First Half
The Panthers dominated the early portions of this game. The Seahawks went three-and-out on both of their first two drive, while Carolina had no trouble moving the ball.
Carolina’s first two drives combined for 23 plays, 104 yards and ate up 12:47 of the game clock. Fortunately, Seattle’s defense was able to keep the Panthers out of the endzone, so the Seahawks were only down 6-0.
The Seahawks took advantage of good field position on their third drive to cut Carolina’s lead to 6-3. At this point the Seahawks had a total of 30 offensive yards over three drives. The Panthers did not have a first half drive in which they gained less than 46 yards.
Carolina responded with an 11-play drive that ate another 11 minutes off the clock. It didn’t generate any points though, since Cliff Avril forced and recovered a Cam Newton fumble at the Seattle 16-yard line.
At this point Seattle’s offense showed life for the first time all game. Seattle marched down the field and down to the Carolina seven-yard line. Unfortunately, poor clock management led to a desperation throw by Russell Wilson that was intercepted in the endzone.
The Third Quarter
Seattle’s defense stiffened after halftime. The Seahawks were able to completely shut down the Panthers in the third quarter. Carolina’s three third-quarter drives combined for only 54 yards and resulted in two punts and an interception.
Seattle’s offense was able to move the ball in the third quarter, but were unable to turn that into a lead. The good field position created by the interception only resulted in a field goal because of an untimely penalty.
Seattle’s other drive covered 60 yards, but generated no point. backup center Steve Schilling dropped the ball mid-snap on third-and-one at the 21, and the Panthers recovered.
The game headed into the fourth quarter tied 6-6.
The Fourth Quarter
A 51-yard pass from Newton to rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin set up Carolina for another FG and 9-6 lead. Both Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas appeared to have a chance to make a play on the ball, but it slipped through for Carolina’s only big offensive play of the gain.
The Seahawks responded on their next possession with their best offensive drive of the game. Wilson led the Seahawks on a 10 play, 80 yard drive that was capped off by 23- yard touchdown pass to TE Luke Willson with just :53 left in the game.
Carolina had one last chance, but the Seahawks were not going to be denied. A false start penalty and two sacks by Bruce Irvin left Carolina with fourth and 25. One more inaccurrate throw by Newton was all it took to wrap up the win for the Seahawks.
An Overall Look
Seattle’s offense scuffled throughout the game. They couldn’t move the ball on most of their drives, and when they did they turned the ball over before they could get points. It was a very poor showing overall.
Most of the problem was that the Seahawks were unable to get Marshawn Lynch going. Carolina stacked the box to stop Seattle’s All-Pro running back, and it worked. Lynch did have one big run for 25 yards, but other than that averaged only 2.8 yards per rushing attempt.
Defensively, Seattle struggled to stop the run in the first half, but made the adjustments necessary to fix that issue. They were strong against the pass throughout the game, allowing only 171 passing yards overall.
Win Probability Curve
What We Can Learn
Since that game, the Seahawks have found their offensive identity. They have been consistently good lately on that side ball lately, which wasn’t true when these teams first played.
The reason was because Carolina was able to stop Seattle’s rushing attack. The Panthers will now be without nose tackle Star Lotulelei, and the Seahawks will have center Max Unger back. Those two things should allow the Seahawks to have more consistent success this week.
Defensively, this is a good matchup for the Seahawks. Seattle has always played Cam Newton tough, and now he’s hurt. Newton is nursing back and ankle injuries that will prevent him from being as effective.
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