Clayton: Wilson-Newton rivalry will be renewed, but Seahawks-Panthers should be low-scoring
Last week, the Seahawks won their NFC rivalry game against the Green Bay Packers.
Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have a seven-game history of playing in big games with playoff or championship ramifications. But Sunday’s Seahawks-Panthers game is just as big, and while Wilson’s rivalry with Cam Newton may be a little under the radar, it is pretty close to Wilson-Rodgers.
Both Seattle and Carolina have a great chance at making the playoffs, and each team has a chance to do damage to the other’s postseason hopes. Week 11 helped the Seahawks in the wild-card race with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington all losing. Also, Washington lost starting quarterback Alex Smith to a season-ending injury, while Dallas and Chicago are now in position to be out of the wild-card competition and are candidates more for leading their divisions.
That helps the Seahawks. Let’s look ahead to Sunday.
• Last year was the first time since Wilson arrived in Seattle that the Panthers and the Seahawks didn’t play each other. The first three Panthers-Seahawks games were played in Charlotte, and Wilson won all three in low-scoring affairs: 16-13, 12-7 and 13-9. The Panthers won in Seattle 27-23 in 2015, but the Seahawks bounced back to beat the Panthers 40-7 at CenturyLink Field in 2016.
You would expect Sunday to be a lower-scoring type of game. The Seahawks’ plan is to run the football more than 30 times and try to win the battle along the line of scrimmage. The Panthers are good at stopping the run, though, allowing only 98.5 rushing yards per game. If the Seahawks can establish the run, Wilson might be able to work some play-action pass on a Panthers pass defense that has struggled of late.
• This is a matchup of two candidates for Assistant Coach of the Year.
Mike Solari, Seahawks offensive line coach, has turned one of the worst blocking teams in the league into the No. 1 rushing attack. The Seahawks are averaging 154.3 yards per game on the ground and now have a line that is giving Wilson a decent pocket. Meanwhile, Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner has done a great job working with Newton. Prior to this season, Newton had only two seasons in which he completed 60 percent of his passes or better. Turner has mixed in some shorter passes and check-downs and has Newton up to 68.4 percent of his passes. His yards per attempt is at 7.4, which ranks fourth-best in his career.
• Sunday’s game ends a five-game stretch in which the Seahawks faced quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Philip Rivers, Rodgers and now Newton all in a row. They’ve come out of the first four games ranked 11th in the league in total yards allowed at 348.1. Naturally, points allowed increased from the high teens to 21.6.
One of the things expected during the first four games of the run was how tough it would be for the defense to create turnovers. These quarterbacks get rid of the ball quickly. Newton is different than the other four, however, because he loves to initiate contract, running the ball 10 times a game.
Thanks to Turner, though, Newton has cut down on his interceptions, only having thrown six this year. Normally, he would throw 12 to 17 in a season. And while he has fumbled five times this year, he has lost none.
• This should be a game in which running backs are featured. For most of the season, the Seahawks and the Panthers have been among the top teams for rushing yards out of run-pass option plays.
• In back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, the Panthers’ defense hasn’t played to its potential. Missed tackles have been a problem and Carolina has struggled in pass defense. Part of the problem was being on the road, where the Panthers are 1-4. They are 5-0 at home, though, and hope that home-field advantage will prevail.
• One Panthers problem that has been exposed of late is their struggles at tackle with starters Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams injured, part of why Newton has been sacked 20 times this season. The Panthers signed veteran tackle Chris Clark off the street and started him with less than a week of practice, while Taylor Moton is at right tackle.