Another week, another impressive defensive effort for Pete Carroll's Seahawks. For the fifth time in as many games, they have held their opponent to under 300 yards of total offense. The No. 2 defense in the NFL could easily be No. 1 on Monday morning after shutting down Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense. They only garnered 190 yards of offense on 52 plays.
The pass rush was in full effect this week, thanks in large part to rookies Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner. Irvin added two sacks to his total as he now has 4.5 on the season, and Wagner picked up 1.5 of his own. Those 1.5 sacks were the first of his career.
Today's game was easily the best of his young career. He was asked to do what most middle linebackers struggle doing, keeping an eye on Cam Newton. When Newton was flushed out of the pocket, No. 54 was right there tracking the reigning rookie of the year step for step. Even on Carolina's read-option plays, he showed discipline and good decision-making that often led to short gains.
By game's end, Newton looked confused and rattled by Gus Bradley's highly effective pressure schemes. Cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman continued their upper-echelon level of play. Browner and Sherman limited All-Pro wideout Steve Smith to 40 yards on four catches—not to mention the fact they forced two fumbles. However, only one of them led to a change of possession.
Browner's strip off running back DeAngelo Williams led to Seattle's only touchdown of the afternoon. Four plays after the turnover, quarterback Russell Wilson hit Golden Tate on a 13-yard slant route for the score. It was easily one of Wilson's best throws of the game. The laser throw helped fans forget about the two previous third-quarter interceptions.
While the offense didn't look spectacular by any means, the improvement shined through. For the first time all season, Darrell Bevell's offense eclipsed the 300-yard mark. Lynch battled his way to 85 yards on 21 carries, and Wilson recorded his third 80-plus quarterback rating of the year.
Luke Kuechly and the Panthers defense made it hard on Lynch and the 'Hawks running game. Eight-man fronts became the norm at times, yet this is the case weekly. Up until today, Seattle's passing game hadn't made a dent in anyone's pass defense. But, Sidney Rice's ability to win one on one matchups on the outside helped out the execution of the offense.
Rice recorded his first five-catch game since Week 7 of the 2011 season. If Rice can stay healthy, he and Wilson will have a really strong relationship by season's end. Today marked only the second time No. 18 has appeared in the first five games of any season. Maybe that added bulk will help keep him unscathed for a full 16-game slate.
Third-down play on both sides of the ball looked improved as well. In four games prior, the offense was held back due to poor conversion rates. The 28 percent on third down is about as bad as it gets, but today's 7-of-14 mark may be the start to something new. That number is a direct result of improved gains on first and second down. Before today, 3rd-and-long situations murdered potential scoring drives.
Defensively, third-down stops looked like second nature. Rob Chudzinski's offense had its worst showing of the season today, only converting 2-of-11 on third down. Those kinds of numbers had to have made Coach Carroll ecstatic, considering his defense allowed five third downs of 10 yards or more last week. It's hard to not be impressed when both units completely turned it around after horrific performances.
In the words of Pete, "it's all about finish!!!"