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January 9, 2015 at 2:55 PM

What to watch in Saturday’s Seattle-Carolina game

Here are three things to watch in Saturday’s Seattle-Carolina game from beat reporters Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta.

First from Jenks:

1, The loss of defensive tackle Jordan Hill and play of Demarcus Dobbs. Hill, in his second year, had turned the corner in the second half of this season, and he had provided the Seahawks with a valuable up-the-middle pass-rush threat that they had lacked earlier in the season. He has out for the playoffs because of a calf injury, which means Dobbs should get the call to replace him. Whether Dobbs can generate similar pressure and fill Hill’s told is a big question.

2, The patience of the Seahawks’ defense. Safety Earl Thomas said the teams that have given Seattle’s defense trouble are the ones with a patient running back who can take advantage of the Seahawks’ aggressive defense. The key will be to see if the Seahawks can stay disciplined, or patient, and not allow cracks in the defense by running themselves out of position.

3, The defense vs. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. The Seahawks nearly eliminated Olsen in their first matchup, one of that game’s big keys according to linebacker K.J. Wright. Olsen isn’t as big of a name nationally as some other tight ends, but he is highly productive and one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets. Wright often draws the one-on-one match ups on tight ends, and he will once again have to do a good job in limiting Olsen.

And from Condotta:

1. Containing Cam Newton: Seattle has beaten the Panthers in road games each of the past three seasons and a key each time has been containing the running of Newton, who finished the season with 539 yards, third-most among quaterbacks in the NFL behind Russell Wilson (849) and Colin Kaepernick (639). However, Newton has been held to 42 yards rushing or less each game against Seattle, and had 24 on 12 attempts in the Seahawks’ 13-9 win over the Panthers on Oct. 26, 2014. Seattle defenders say the key is maintaining discipline to keep Newton in the pocket and tackling him low since the 6-5, 245-pounder has the strength to easily fend off high arm tackles. “He’s bigger than me up top,’’ said Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin who had two sacks of Newton in the game earlier this season. “You’ve got to really track him down and get those legs. You can’t run without your legs.’’

2. Which team gets its running game going: It hardly needs to be stated how key Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart are to each team’s offense. Or how similar they play. Each is regarded as physical and tough to bring down — each ranked among the top 11 in the NFL this year in yards after contact per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus (Lynch was third at 3.0 yards per attempt and Stewart tied for 11th at 2.6). Carolina has done a decent job against Lynch, holding him to 187 yards on 52 attempts the last three seasons. Stewart had 79 yards on 16 attempts against Seattle on Oct. 26, the fourth-most this year allowed by the Seahawks (Jamaal Charles 159, DeMarco Murray 115, Tre Mason 85).

3. Can the Seahawks not screw it up? Seattle is an 11-point favorite for many valid reasons — defending Super Bowl champs on a roll and playing defense at an historically good level the last six weeks and at home where they are 24-2 since 2012, to give the Cliff’s Notes version. But funny things can happen in the playoffs, especially if the favored team simply doesn’t play all that well. Look through any list of the biggest playoff upsets in NFL history — such as this one — and one common thread is turnovers and failure to take full advantage of scoring chances, especially early in the game, by the favored team. The good news for the Seahawks is that they have become adept that last few years at not turning the ball over — they had a franchise-record low 14 this season. Not giving Carolina any easy points or early hope will be the surest route to getting to the NFC title game.

 

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