When the Seattle Seahawks take the field on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina the world will be watching. The steady stream of Seahawks hype that began at the start of the offseason has been crescendoing over the last couple weeks.
Win convincingly and the Seahawks take their spot as a playoff front-runner and a possible Super Bowl favorite. Lose and they'll cast a shadow of doubt that perhaps the hype was, well, just hype.
The Seahawks need to win, and for that to happen, there are four things they need to make sure they do:
Get Russell Wilson Going Early
The Seahawks are a run-first team. They're going to remain a run-first team. By the end of this game, I expect that they will have more rushing attempts than passing attempts, but that doesn't mean that it has to start that way.
Carolina's run defense looks like it's going to be very good. Lining up and running head first into that brick wall just isn't a path that will likely lead to success.
Instead, Seattle needs to let Wilson pass the ball early in the game. Give him the opportunity to make a few plays and force Carolina to adjust their defense to try and stop him. Once the Panthers adjust, then it'll be time to let Marshawn Lynch and the running game take over.
Many teams loaded up the box early in games in 2012 to try and stop Lynch and the running game. That trend is likely to continue this season, and the Seahawks should take advantage of it.
Wind The Clock
The Seahawks are still incredibly thin along the defensive line because of injuries sustained late in the preseason. The offense needs to help those linemen who are going to play by running as much time off the clock as possible and keeping the Panthers offense on the sidelines.
Luckily, a slower pace is nothing new for the Seahawks. In fact, it's part of the team's core philosophy. Taking some basic stats from NFL.com and doing a little mathematics shows us that the Seahawks offense operated at the second-slowest pace of any team in the NFL last season.
To help give you an idea of just how methodical the Seahawks were last season, check out the chart below. Rather than taking up the space to list all 32 teams, I've limited the chart to only the fastest- and slowest-paced teams, and I've included the Panthers in there just because I know someone will ask.
|1||New England Patriots||24.93|
|2||New Orleans Saints||26.08|
|30||San Diego Chargers||30.72|
|32||San Francisco 49ers||31.47|
Contain Cam Newton and Generate Inside Pressure
This was the topic of yesterday's film breakdown. The defensive ends must be disciplined and keep Newton from getting to the outside.
That doesn't mean the Seahawks want to give Newton all day to pass either. With the defensive ends in charge of containment, any pressure on Newton must come from the inside, as demonstrated in this play from last year's game.
As with the play we looked at in my previous article, the Seahawks defense is going to rush only their four down linemen. Both of the defensive ends widen to help quickly establish containment, while the defensive tackles shoot their gaps and work to get pressure on Newton.
The three linebackers are in zone coverage underneath. This provides a layer of protection in case Newton decides to pull the ball down and run up the middle. Bobby Wagner (underlined) is especially well-positioned to defend any such attempts to scramble.
Rolling forward a few frames shows just how much wider the DEs have gone. Both DTs continue to collapse the pocket.
Finally, we can see the result of the play. Pressure from the inside forced Newton to throw the ball too early, and it resulted in an incomplete pass. You can also see that Clemons has recognized that Newton can no longer escape to the outside, so he has begun moving inside to shut off a potential running lane for the quarterback.
Overall, this is a great example of how to get pressure on a mobile QB like Newton while still limiting the risk of giving up a big play.
Avoid Giving Up The Big Play
If this game is a low-scoring game like I expect it to be, one big play could decide the outcome. That could be troublesome for the Seahawks, since Cam Newton led the entire NFL in big plays in 2012, according to stats.com.
They define big plays as either pass plays of greater than 20 yards or runs of greater than 10 yards. Newton's 35 big plays in the passing game were good enough to be tied for the fourth most overall.
As a runner, Newton had 26 big plays in 2012, which ranked him 14th in the NFL. That's better than most NFL running backs.
His combined 61 big plays tied Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson for the league lead. For comparison, Seattle's Russell Wilson was responsible for 42 big plays. That's still a respectable total, but it is significantly fewer than Newton.
Look for the Seahawks to play much more zone than we are accustomed to seeing, specifically Cover 3, as they look to avoid giving up any game-changing big plays.