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Seahawks notebook: Seattle prepares for a familiar foe in Carolina

The Seahawks will shift their focus to the Carolina Panthers and star RB Christian McCaffrey. (Getty)

The Seahawks had a tough loss on Sunday Night Football to the Los Angeles Rams and now they face a familiar foe in the team’s final road contest of the season.

The 3 Questions: How can Seahawks bounce back against Carolina?

Seattle (10-3) travels to Carolina to face the Panthers (5-8), a team they’ve faced seven times in the regular season since Pete Carroll became Seahawks head coach in 2010. Seattle is 6-1 in those games, which, aside from a 31-14 score in 2010 and a 40-7 win in 2016, are usually one-score games.

The Seahawks are now the NFC’s No. 5 seed after the tough loss in Los Angeles, and will likely have to win the last three games of the season to get the NFC West crown and a potential first-round bye.

Luckily for Seattle, they are very familiar with the Panthers.

“It seems like these guys are in our division (since) we play them almost every year and there’s some changes this time around, but the Panthers have always been tough,” Carroll said Wednesday. “It’s always been a good matchup for us, so we’ve got to get ready to go.”

Those changes are pertaining to the head coach and quarterback. Head coach Ron Rivera was fired before last week’s contest and quarterback Cam Newton has been out basically all season with a foot injury.

The Panthers have had Brandon Allen at quarterback, who has been up and down throughout the year.

“He’s got the throws and they’ve got all the actions and they believe in him,” Carroll said. “He’s got a really good group around him … they’ve got all kinds of firepower.”

That firepower includes running back Christian McCaffrey, who has a chance to reach 1,000 receiving yards in addition to his already 1,000-plus yards rushing.

“He’s a great player,” Carroll said of McCaffrey. “He was a great player in college.”

Carroll said he talked to McCaffrey during the NFL combine and he could see in his eyes that McCaffrey wanted to be, and would be, a star in the NFL. Now, he’s the best dual-purpose back in the NFL.

“To see him perform at such a high level so consistently, and he’s good at everything,” Carroll said. “He’s the best combo guy there is … he brings it and he runs tough and he’s good in the open field and he makes the catches and runs the routes. He’s an incredible player. It is built around him and it should be. They figured that out and it wasn’t hard to figure it out.”

Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright echoed his coach’s praise for the young running back.

“If they were having a winning season, I think he’d be up for MVP consideration, and I’m sure he may still get some votes,” Wright said. “The dude is just super talented, great in open space, really good between the tackles and he doesn’t get much credit but he’s a super strong guy that can hit it up the middle up the seam.”

The Panthers’ offense is different than when Newton is back there at quarterback. There’s more of an emphasis on running the ball.

“They used to live in shotgun (formation) all the time, but this guy (Allen) is getting under center, handing the ball off, they’re using fullbacks under center, so it’s a tough offense,” Wright said. “They’re a good, balanced football team and they’re not doing the same stuff (as with) Cam (at quarterback).

Injury notes

Some key Seahawks players have been banged up in recent weeks.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah missed Sunday’s game with a neck and shoulder injury, but has a chance to play this Sunday.

“Ziggy’s practicing today,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He’s got a chance, a real good chance, to be OK. But he has to still prove it. It’s a strength issue right now.”

Fellow defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was active last Sunday but has been dealing with a core injury that may require surgery. He didn’t practice Wednesday, but for another reason.

“He’s sick today,” Carroll said. “He got the flu thing. It finally hit him.”

It was reported that roughly eight Seahawks players battled the flu bug in recent weeks, though Clowney may be the last of it.

“He’s the only guy I know of (who has the flu) right now,” Carroll said.

Clowney, offensive tackle Duane Brown (knee/biceps) and quarterback Geno Smith (non-injury related) were the only three Seahawks who didn’t participate in practice Wednesday.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks missed last Sunday’s contest with a hamstring injury after fighting through it in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings. He’s working to get back to practicing.

“He ran yesterday, and I think he’s going again today,” Carroll said. “He won’t practice today, so we have to wait all the way to the end of the week to see if he can make it back.”

Starting in Kendricks’ place was rookie Cody Barton. He suffered knee and ankle injuries against the Rams but finished the game.

Barton practiced Wednesday and is “denying being hurt,” Carroll said. He said Barton has some areas to improve on after his first NFL start, but he played hard.

“He had some classic ‘first-time shots’ where he misjudged a couple blocks being on the edge and he had a couple routes in the flat he could have jumped a little better, so it’s just getting the game speed thing,” Carroll said. “He’ll be better this week and he’s going to pick up on every little tip that he can get to improve and help us out and I’m anxious to see him play again.”

Wide receiver Tyler Lockett has been battling both the flu and a shin injury. Carroll said the star receiver is back to his old self.

“He’s really back,” Carroll said. “He felt really good last week and he’s going into this week rearing to go. He’s fine.”

Tight end Luke Willson has missed three-straight games with a hamstring injury, but is trending in the right direction.

“He’s chomping at the bit to play this week,” Carroll said. “He’s politicking, like those guys in Washington, D.C., he is working it. Give him credit, he wants to play in the worst way. He ran well today, and he was pumped up about it. He told me at least four times how well he looked in his workouts.”

Fullback Nick Bellore is also fighting a hamstring injury and practiced Wednesday. He has a shot to play Sunday.

State of the run game

Second-year running back Rashaad Penny tore his ACL Sunday and may have suffered more damage as well. He is out for the season.

“They are going to do surgery. … It’s a long haul to get him back, so we’re going to take all the right precautions to make sure that we start the process at the right time,” Carroll said. “It’s the ACL damage that they’re mostly concerned with.”

With Penny out, C.J. Prosise and rookie Travis Homer will back up starter Chris Carson. Carroll said the team is fortunate to have those two on the depth chart behind Carson.

“(Homer) has been a fantastic contributor on special teams and he’s worked throughout the year with us,” Carroll said. “We don’t have any hesitations. He will have a chance to get the ball this weekend. C.J. is going to step into the (second-string) role and alternate with Chris and Homer’s alive and ready to go, too.”

Carroll said he’s happy for Prosise to have a chance to contribute. Prosise, who has been injury-prone for most of his NFL career, said he feels great and is ready to play more.

“I feel more prepared than ever,” Prosise said. “I’ve been working on my game, working on myself, mentally and physically. I’ve stayed in the playbook and stayed ready. … I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, stronger than I’ve ever been, so I’m ready and I’ve been ready to play.”

Luckily for Seattle, Carson is still performing well and now has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

“To have a running back that has the attitude that we like to exhibit and the mentality, Chris has been exactly that,” Carroll said. “It’s been a trying year for him (with his fumbling problem). He’s been challenged, had to get his way back into the rhythm of things and all that and he’s done it well. He’s certainly maintained the attitude that really stands for all of us.”

Carroll said a lot of the credit goes to the offensive line.

“You know the big guys up front are really proud of the fact that he was able to come back again and get 1,000 yards because those are the guys who had to make it happen,” he said. “They all share that.”

The line has four of Week 1’s starters on it currently. The only one missing is center Justin Britt, who tore his ACL. Starting in his place has been Joey Hunt.

“Joey has really held his own. Like we said in the start, his smarts are really a plus,” Carroll said. “He has been in command of what’s going on up there. We have not taken a step back at all and he’s done a nice job. Joey’s got different strengths than Britt does. He’s got a different makeup in his ability to get downfield in second-level blocking has been really noticeable so he’s doing fine, and we’re really pleased that he’s been able to pull this off.”

Digesting the loss to Rams

Carroll was asked if his players weren’t as fired up to play against the Rams as they should have been. Carroll said that was not the case.

“It had nothing to do with that,” he said. “We got out-executed early in the game. They were going faster than we adjusted and it just took us too long to get going and then we never caught up on offense. They played great. I thought it was a really well-played game by them in all phases.”

Carroll gave a lot of praise to what the Rams did on both sides of the ball before saying any team can lose in any week to any team in the NFL and that the league has a way of testing your will.

“If you get caught up in (the success), it can humble you,” Carroll said. “Teams are so good, and it doesn’t matter what their record is. It’s just that day and it’s always been that case.”

The defense got burned by big plays and fly sweeps, especially early in the game. Wright said the loss stings because the Seahawks got dominated in every way.

“There’s different kinds of losses you take and that was an old-fashioned ‘you got your butt outplayed,’” Wright said. “We got out-physicaled. You have those losses where you were one play away … (and this) was just demoralizing pretty much from the beginning to the end.”

Wednesday transactions

Cornerback and special teams captain Neiko Thorpe was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and will miss the rest of the season after having sports hernia surgery. The Seahawks signed cornerback Ryan Neal from the practice squad and signed running back Xavier Turner, a preseason standout, to the practice squad.

Carroll said Neal has done a good job on the Seahawks’ practice squad and they like his toughness and confidence and aggressiveness. Carroll said Neal has made a good impression on special teams and will slide in for Thorpe in that role.

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