STACY ROST

Rost: What to watch for when Seahawks host Panthers in Week 14

Dec 9, 2022, 10:34 AM
Seahawks Panthers`...
D.J. Moore of the Carolina Panthers evades a tackle by Bradley McDougald of the Seattle Seahawks on December 15, 2019. (Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
(Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Don’t call this weekend a true must-win for the Seahawks, who certainly won’t be eliminated from a close NFC playoff race with a loss. But with five games to play, Seattle is running out of opportunities to seize the division title. A win Sunday (plus a loss by the San Francisco 49ers to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) certainly adds weight to the NFC West showdown due in a week’s time.

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Let’s not get too far ahead though — there’s one game ahead of Seattle right now, and it’s a match at home against the 4-8 Carolina Panthers.

I’d encourage you not to get stuck on the Panthers’ record. Not only because the Seahawks have been swept by the rest of the NFC South, but also because you don’t need to take my word for it. Our weekly recap of everything we learned in The Huddle begins with a preview from a Seahawks player, and ends with some names you need to watch heading into Week 14:

Who are the Panthers this year?

Looking at the whole of Carolina’s season doesn’t tell the entire story of this team. For example, their lead running back D’Onta Foreman enters this game with 563 rushing yards in 12 weeks. That’s not an especially impressive total until you consider that he’s only been a true starter for five of those weeks since Christian McCaffrey (remember him?) was the No. 1 back to begin the season. Foreman, now the primary back, has had four 100-yard rushing games in the last six weeks.

In a similar vein, No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore has 605 yards this season and four touchdowns. But over the first five weeks of the season, quarterback Baker Mayfield was completing just over 50% of his pass attempts and failed to surpass 200 passing yards in three of those contests. What’s more, three different passers have started games for Carolina. What might Moore’s season have looked like with consistency under center? He’s seen season highs in yardage during games not started by Mayfield.

Talent isn’t always obvious on a stat sheet, and players know this better than anyone — especially since they’re the ones facing off against that talent come Sunday.

“(Carolina is a ) tough, physical team,” Seahawks safety Teez Tabor told The Huddle Thursday. “They want to come downhill and smack you right in the mouth. They’ve got a huge running back that’s gonna lay heavy. A guy who I personally think should’ve been the starting quarterback from day one, I don’t run that organization obviously, but from the outside looking in I felt like Sam Darnold would be the guy that could lead the offense in the right way. They’ve got a number one, top-tier wideout out wide in D.J. Moore, a Maryland guy. If you watch his tape he’s won against all the number one guys across the league. We just watched the tape of him against Denver. Shoutout to my guy Pat Surtain, that’s my good friend, but D.J. Moore had some good one-on-ones and I have a lot of respect for Pat Surtain. I think he’s a top-three corner in the game right now. So I don’t ever look at the record. I know football, these guys out there ever since they switched the head coach, switched the quarterback, it’s going to be a tough game for us.”

The Panthers are coming off of a bye week, but in their last game (a week 12 matchup against the Broncos) Moore had 103 yards and a touchdown on 4 receptions. Foreman rushed for 113 yards on 24 carries. And keep in mind that the Broncos are the third-best team this year in limiting yards from opposing offenses.

What to watch for: Foreman is entering this weekend with a foot injury. He missed practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday. That status trends in the direction of playing, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Al Woods takes us to the line of scrimmage

Every episode of The Huddle features player interviews. Normally their job in that interview isn’t to tell us everything that crosses their mind when they walk up to face an opposing offense at the line of scrimmage, but defensive tackle and team captain Al Woods was willing to share his own thought process.

“Basically get the call, ready, break. Walk up to the huddle,” Woods began. “I’m immediately doing small diagnostics; how close the center and two guards are, what’s the spacing like, what’s the depth like. The center and guards are talking, so nine times out of ten they could be doubling me to get to the linebacker. So I’m gonna do the best I can to protect my linebacker first. Then fall off and make the play once the double teams splits. What I mean by ‘when a double team splits’ is they both attack me together, the center and the guard, then at some point in time one of them comes off to go attack the linebacker. Well technically my gap opens back up. And then I’ll come off of that and make the play on the running back because he’s trying to get in my gap.”

Does it tell us what exactly is going to happen on Sunday? No, but that’s not what this interview ended up becoming. To hear more from what became an insightful interview with Woods, check out Hour 3 of the Bump and Stacy show (which houses Hour 1 of The Huddle).

One thing to watch for…

Panthers broadcaster Amish Schroff, who joined The Huddle for the weekly opponent preview, says the Panthers are coming off of their best performance of the year. That doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns lingering.

“Can they establish the ground game and can they get off to a fast start?,” Schroff said. “It’s something they’ve really struggled to do. They didn’t score their first first-quarter offensive touchdown of the season until Week 12… can they handle the noise? Can they mute the crowd? Can they stay committed to the ground game if things don’t go their way early?”

With some injuries to the secondary, there may be an opportunity for Geno Smith and the passing offense. Watch C.J. Henderson (he’ll be wearing #24) against Seattle’s receivers.

“Candidly, he’s been the weak link on defense,” Schroff said. “Teams have come after him, team are targeting him. He’s missed assignments, he’s had pass interference calls go against him, blown coverage, he’s played off of guys in third down situations when he’s given up the sticks. To me, at the end of the day, we’re going to talk about C.J. Henderson in two ways: this was the game were Henderson grew up and took the next step as a football player… or man, this was a game where C.J. Henderson got lit up.”

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