The 10-3 Seattle Seahawks will face off against the 5-8 Carolina Panthers this Sunday in their final road game of the season.
Seattle is 6-1 on the road this year and will play a struggling Panthers team that fired its head coach last week, but that doesn’t mean Carolina won’t present its share of challenges.
Here’s what you need to know about Week 15, by the numbers:
The number of receptions for Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey in 2019. That’s the most of any Panthers player, the most of any running back in the NFL, and the fourth-most for any player this year. His 1,946 all-purpose yards are most in the NFL this season. And while the Panthers rank 21st in total offense, McCaffrey has still been impressive and is a favored target of quarterback Kyle Allen.
It’s no surprise, then, that stopping McCaffrey – and putting pressure on Allen – is the key to stifling Carolina’s offense.
“He’s good at everything,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said earlier this week about McCaffrey.”He’s the best combo guy there is. Eighty-six catches he’s got right now… It’s crazy numbers. He brings it. He runs tough and he’s good in the open field. He makes the catches and runs the routes. He’s an incredible player. The answer is yes, it’s built around him. It should be.”
That task of handling McCaffrey became trickier for the Seahawks Friday when two key players in the front seven were ruled out: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (core/illness) and outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring). Kendricks’ absence means another start for rookie Cody Barton, with Shaquem Griffin providing additional depth.
While defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has been pleased overall with Barton’s development, he admitted Barton also had his share of, well, rookie mistakes in his first career start in Week 14.
“Cody being a rookie, you expect some inconsistency,” Norton said. “He played some plays really well, and the plays he didn’t play really well were plays that may have hurt us a little bit. At the same time, very happy with his development… He’s the type of guy that is a fantastic note taker, fantastic in the classroom. But at this level you have to also learn on the field, he had a lot of on the field learning. He’s going to be 10 times better this week.”
That’s the number of rushing yards per game the Panthers’ defense is allowing from opponents, good for 29th league-wide. It’s a drop from last season when the Panthers were holding opponents to 112 yards per game (12th overall) and effectively limited the Seahawks – then the league’s leading rushing offense – to just 75 yards for their third-lowest total of the regular season.
Carolina’s struggles against the run are in part due to its change in scheme this past offseason. That change was part of an effort to boost the team’s pass rush after the Panthers finished last season ranked 27th in sacks. The sack numbers have skyrocketed – their 47 sacks this season are second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers – but according to The Athletic’s Joe Person, other defenders have seen less production.
“Ron Rivera, when he was still here, transitioned to more of a 3-4 front,” Person told 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Huddle Thursday. “Kind of a hybrid, they still do some 4-3. And honestly I don’t think that a good fit for their personnel. Now, it’s helped in terms of sacks; they’re second in the league in sacks. But it’s just kind of exposed (linebacker) Luke Kuechly primarily, their best defensive player, to a lot of uncovered offensive line. In the 4-3 it just seemed like he had more protection from those guys up front. So he’s not been quite as effective as we’re used to seeing. He’s still over 100 tackles, but there have been moments – like last Sunday in Atlanta, when he was blocked on a pretty critical touchdown when that game was still close.
“But it’s certainly not all on Luke Kuechly. They’ve had bad run fits up front, and then they’ve got guys like Kawaan Short who’s hurt and now Dontari Poe is on season-ending IR. It’s been a combination of things, but that has plagued them all year long… and I don’t know at this point that it’s going to get fixed.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their biggest weakness on defense is one the Seahawks will be happy to exploit.
Seattle isn’t averaging the rushing yards per game they were last season, but its 140 yards per game is good for third overall, and lead tailback Chris Carson reached the 1,000 yard mark in last week’s loss to the Rams, becoming the first Seahawk to rush for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Marshawn Lynch in 2014.
The number of times quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked this season. That’s fourth-most in the league behind Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Carolina’s Kyle Allen, and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston. And it’s a number that will probably rise on Sunday against Carolina’s front seven.
The biggest numbers from that group are coming from edge rushers Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin. Addison has a team-high 9.5 sacks this year, while former Seahawk Irvin has 5.5.
Wilson has finished with a sub-100 passer rating in his last four games, but faltering pass protection has been part of that – Wilson has been sacked five times in two of those games (vs. San Francisco and the Rams) and six in another (Philadelphia).
More Seahawks coverage
• O’Neil: Seahawks, set up for a blazing finish, epitomize Carroll’s career
• Mychal Kendricks, Jadeveon Clowney ruled out vs Carolina Panthers
• Moore: Hawks should be able to run on Panthers, but D still a concern
• O’Neil’s Playoff Watch: Seahawks don’t need to streak into postseason
• Heaps: WR Josh Gordon needs snaps over role players