The Carolina Panthers are a very good football team.
That is what makes this week’s win all the more impressive. Carolina have a top 5 running game, a former MVP at quarterback and a monstrous front seven on defense. This very good football team now sits behind Seattle in the playoff hunt, by virtue of a tiebreaker.
I’ve said since the beginning of the season, that this stretch of games, with Green Bay, Carolina and Minnesota in the space of 4 weeks, would be crucial. Win those three games and we SHOULD make the playoffs. We’re now two thirds of the way there.
In a nutshell, I feel it was a game decided on two fourth downs and two field goals. In the first quarter, the defensive line came up with a huge stop of Cam Newton rushing on a 4th and 2 from the five yard line. This forced a turnover on downs and helped in limiting the Panthers to 13 points from their first five Redzone trips.
The other was much later, with his team down seven, and less than four minutes on the clock, Russell Wilson was facing a 4th and 3 from the Panthers’ 35 yard line. With some excellent pass protection, he was able to throw an absolutely pinpoint pass to David Moore in the end zone for the touchdown that would tie the game.
Graham Gano has 50-plus yard field goals in his locker, which is why it surprised me so much that he lost his crucial attempt wide right. No such issues for everyone’s favourite salad-dodging Pole, Sebastian Janikowski. The veteran made no mistake from 31 yards out to seal the game as time expired. You just can’t teach being clutch.
Anyway, let’s break it down.
This was a long day for the D Line. Carolina has an elite set of blockers up front, and it showed. Christian McCaffrey consistently made big gains up the middle and round the fringes, Cam Newton didn’t seem hurried all day, and completed every one of his fourteen passes in the first half. Our pass rush was neutralized and we struggled in the run game.
HOWEVER. Football games as tight as this one are often decided on a handful of plays. One such play that springs to mind is Nazair Jones breaking through the block of Panthers pro bowl right guard Trai Turner to snag Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, forcing Carolina to accept a field goal from a second disappointing red zone trip.
As I said, a long day, but these guys can hold their heads high. They came up big when it really mattered.
Top five rushing attack. Electric running back that can beat you between the tackles and through the air. Dual threat quarterback with more rushing touchdowns than any other quarterback in history (14 more than anyone else). If you’d want a set of circumstances to favour you when attempting a fourth-and-short, these are them.
That doesn’t matter to Bobby Wagner. He and Austin Calitro stuffed Cam Newton at the first down marker, a ruling which was confirmed upon review. With KJ Wright inactive, Calitro stood in admirably, and didn’t look out of place in the starting lineup.
Barkevious Mingo also used his long frame to disrupt a certain touchdown catch for Greg Olsen, jarring the ball loose from the tight end’s hands. The three starters accounted for some 18 tackles on the day, including a big shift on special teams. Nice work.
Busy, busy day for our secondary. In addition to Christian McCaffrey splitting out wide on a regular basis, our defensive backs had to contend with a speedy set of Panthers receivers, led by rookie DJ Moore. Tre Flowers seems to be improving week on week. While he still falls off a tackle every now and then, he makes up for it with sheer work rate. Flowers and the again impressive Brad McDougald tallied 7 total tackles apiece. McDougald grabbing himself a key interception in the end zone, highlighting what was a hugely impressive day by the entire defense when backed against our goal line.
Luck wasn’t on our side with fumbles this week. Flowers forced two of his own, in addition to one each from Wagner and Mingo. All of these were recovered by Carolina. That is some horrendous luck on the part of the Seahawks. This is still a very good sign, as our great defenses of recent times have been all about generating turnovers and seeking out the ball.
There were some questionable penalty calls against Shaquill Griffin and Justin Coleman and as mentioned previously, we did tend to fall of tackles and give McCaffrey and Moore too much space (336 scrimmage yards between them), but the way we stood up in the red zone went some way to compensating our shortfalls.
Russell Wilson is a top 5 quarterback. I don’t think there is any question. While he may lack the prototypical traits of a pocket passer, he is proving that he is just as adept in the pocket, as outside of it. Aided by some great blocking up front (I’ll come to that in a little while) and some useful play calls, Wilson had one of his best statistical games of the season (21 of 31, 339yds, 2TDs).
Asked to throw the ball a little more than usual, Wilson proved more than up to the task, hitting no less than 8 different receivers over the course of the game.
We just have to talk about those two plays at the end of the game. Firstly, that fourth-and-3 from 35 yards out. To throw a rainbow right into the bread basket of David Moore, over the head of helpless Panthers defensive back Corn Elder. That was a beautiful throw, from a clean pocket. Credit to Mike Solari for his work with this unit.
Next there is the 43 yard bomb to Tyler Lockett not two minutes later. Finding Lockett on a route pattern that was only discussed earlier that week, setting up the game winning field goal. The deep accuracy on show this past Sunday was breathtaking. In a week when presumed MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes threw not one, but two interceptions with the game on the line, Wilson proved that being clutch isn’t about measurable traits.
Not a lot to say about our run game in this one. Carolina’s stout front seven didn’t give us an inch on the ground. Aside from Chris Carson’s X Games audition play in the second half. There are very few of these plays that would appear on a highlight reel. But aside from that, we ran hard, broke tackles and didn’t turn the ball over once.
What was pleasing is that our rushing attack opened up opportunities off play action and without their efforts, however statistically lethargic they may seem (2.7 ypc average), Seattle wouldn’t have won that game.
Three weeks removed from fluffing his lines against the chargers as time expired, David Moore came up huge in the fourth quarter, making sure of the game-tying touchdown with less than four minutes on the clock. On a day where he got himself over the 100 yard mark on just four catches from five targets, he once again looks like a genuine matchup issue for any defense.
In addition to Moore, Tyler Lockett had himself a big day, with 107 yards and a touchdown on his five catches from five targets. Lockett is vindicating the team’s decision to pay him ahead of Paul Richardson in the offseason. With Richardson floundering in Washington, having been limited to just 20 catches so far this season, Lockett is flourishing. He already has his career high in touchdowns (8) and is only three receiving yards from picking up another career high (661) with five games still to go this season.
With no less than eight different receivers catching passes this week, the Seahawks are proving that they have one of the most varied passing attacks in the league.
Mike Solari deserves some sort of award. Whereas in previous years that front seven would have eaten us alive, our offensive line held the panthers to just two sacks, and gave Russell Wilson more time in the pocket than he’s been used to. The image below tells a story. This is the moment Wilson uncorks the pass for David Moore’s touchdown.
Every man has his assignment. Carolina are rushing six and Russell still has time to allow his receiver to get 35 yards down the field into the end zone, and pick him out. Really, really excellent job, gentlemen.
I love you Sebastian. Not only are you winning us games, something we haven’t been able to say about a kicker in a little while, but you’re giving hope to portly gentlemen everywhere that we too, can be heroes.
The second of our three key wins is in the bag. If we can reach 10-6 at the end of the season, with tiebreakers over potential wildcard candidates in Dallas, Carolina, Green Bay and Minnesota, we stand a VERY good chance of making the postseason. While we may not get many players to the pro bowl this year, I’d challenge anyone to find a team that has outperformed its predicted results as much as the Seahawks. With four of our last five at home, and our only road game at a lowly San Francisco team that just got smashed by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s backup (sorry Jameis, but you are), who knows where we might end up.