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October 25, 2014 at 10:06 AM

What to watch: Seahawks-Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch in Sunday’s Seattle-Carolina game from beat writers Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta.

First, from Jenks:

1, The response. For the first time in a couple years the Seahawks have faced questions about how good they are and where they’re headed. Will they use that to regain their tenacity and fiery from a year ago? The Seahawks have beat two of the better teams in football in Green Bay and Denver, but they haven’t looked like themselves in their three losses, particularly in the last two. Players inside the locker room have sensed that there’s a feeling from the outside that their season is nearing collapse (and with another loss it very well could be). Will Seattle silence that talk for at least another week?

2, The play of Tharold Simon. Starting cornerback Byron Maxwell is still out with an injury so that means the second-year corner Simon will start in his place. In his first career start (and game) last week, Simon got into a shoving match with a Rams player, was flagged for a costly unnecessary roughness penalty that led to a Rams’ touchdown and a fine from the league for Simon and also left the game early with a sprained ankle. Simon has tons of potential, and he is the exact type of corner the Seahawks covet. But can he turn that potential into production?

3, The linebackers. The Seahawks will once again be without starting middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, which means their three linebackers this Sunday will again be Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith on the outside and K.J. Wright in the middle. That’s an experienced group that has shown they can still play well without Wagner — they did so last year at times — but they also struggled last week against the Rams. Carolina tight end Greg Olsen is probably Cam Newton’s favorite weapon, and the Seahawks have struggled defending the tight end this year. The defense must play better all around, but the linebackers need to play better than last week.

And from Condotta:

1. The first quarter: Seattle coach Pete Carroll preaches often that what matters most is how the Seahawks finish, not how they start. But this feels like a game when a quick start is pretty vital, given all that has been swirling about the team this week. Among the many differences beginning to be apparent about the Seahawks this year and last season is its first-quarter dominance. A year ago, Seattle outscored opponents 69-22 in the first quarter, and trailed at the end of the first quarter just three times. Seattle has already allowed as many points in the first quarter this year as it did last season, 27, while scoring 33, and has trailed twice. Seattle, in fact, allowed just one first-quarter touchdown all of 2013 but has allowed three already this year, one in each of the past two games, scores that helped set the tone for what became defeats.

2. Defending the tight ends: Seattle has allowed a remarkable eight touchdown passes to tight ends this season, which accounts for half of all the touchdowns scored against the Seahawks. That’s a big reason Seattle has been particularly bad defensively inside the red zone, having allowed touchdowns on 13 of 18 possessions inside the 20, 72.2 percent, which ranks 31st in the NFL. And now comes another tough tight end challenge in Greg Olsen, who leads the Panthers with 41 receptions for 493 yards and five touchdowns. Asked this week what needs to change in the Seahawks’ defense against tight ends, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor said “we have to be keyed in to our zone coverages and man covers and be disciplined and technique sound.’’

3.  The pass rush: Another glaring difference in Seattle’s stats from this season to last is a lack of sacks — the Seahawks have just seven after getting 44 last year. Three of those came in the first game against Green Bay, meaning the Seahawks have gotten just four in the last five games. Carroll said this week the team may make some changes to try to get more pressure up front, which could mean possibly blitzing more often or using some personnel in different roles, or some combination of both. Whatever the case, Seattle has to make something work Sunday against Carolina QB Cam Newton, who can be dangerous if given time — Newton has been sacked 15 times this season. However, Seattle also has to make sure to contain Newton and not let him get out of the pocket and run. And the Seahawks will have to do that without middle linebacker, who was a key in keeping Newton in check in 16-12 and 12-7 wins at Carolina the last two seasons but is sidelined with a toe injury.


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