With the regular season entering the home stretch and the playoff picture taking shape, the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers came into Sunday battling for the same wildcard spot. Seattle came in fresh off of a mini bye week after beating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night while the Panthers were in the midst of a two game losing streak, including an embarrassing loss against the lackluster Detroit Lions. Both teams played like their seasons were on the line and at the end of the day Seattle was able to stand victorious with a field goal breaking a tie game as time expired. What are the biggest takeaways for the Seahawks as they enter the final five games of the season?
Russell Wilson is ready.
The Sehawks play with the same approach in every game with slight adjustments based on personnel and injury, neutralize big plays on defense and control the clock with their running game, neither of those things happened for the Seahawks this week. Three players on the Panthers broke off plays of twenty-five yards or more with multiple from Christian McCaffery and the Seahawks were held to just seventy-five yards rushing in the entire game, despite this, Russell Wilson took over the game and willed the Seahawks to a victory like he has so many times before. Wilson completed twenty-two of thirty-one passes for three hundred and thirty-nine yards and two touchdowns. We saw Russell maneuver in the pocket better than he has all season, showing he has fully healed from a pesky hamstring injury that has limited him from the start of the season and the offensive line provided a solid pocket for him to sit in and make his reads. The results were explosive, with Wilson letting the ball fly high and deep to David Moore and Tyler Lockett and precise bullets to Baldwin and tight ends to keep the chains moving. It is a great time to have Wilson playing his best ball and if all goes well, he will be back in the playoffs come January after missing the post season for the first time last year.
Scheme is king on defense
The New England Patriots have been the top of the league for over a decade with highly specialized game plans from their head coach to take away what a team does best with a changing focus every week. The Seahawks produced one of the greatest defenses ever playing with the the opposite strategy, choosing to play the same basic scheme every game that lends itself to their player’s strengths and they have renewed that philosophy this year. They play to keep a lid on the defense and will allow plays underneath like running backs catching passes out of the backfield to be completed and rally to the ball. Christian McCaffery came into the game as the Panthers number one option on offence with over one thousand all purpose yards on the season as a dynamic pass catcher and runner, most people figured the Seahawks would adjust and leave a spy on McCaffery throughout the game, that didn’t happen. The Panther second year back recorded two-hundred and thirty two yards from scrimmage, with over one hundred coming in the air. Seahawks defensive coordinator, Ken Norton Jr., allowed his players to play in the scheme they are most comfortable in because asking young players to adjust from week to week leads to confusion, keeping things consistent allows them to make plays. Seattle only registered one turnover in the game in a red zone interception by Bradley McDougald, but they were actually able to force five fumbles out of Carolina through the game, the ball just kept bouncing directly back to the Panthers. The defense made plays and stood strong when they had to, especially in the red zone, to keep the Panthers from breaking the game open and pulling away.
Seahawks receivers showing strong
After losing two huge targets from the 2017 season, nobody knew how Seattle’s receiving core would look and perform outside of Doug Baldwin. After Baldwin went down with a plethora of injuries to start the season nobody knew who Russell would be throwing to, Tyler Locket and David Moore have answered the doubters in a big way. Lockett and Moore both took advantage of the opportunity that Baldwin’s absence provided and have continued to make huge plays for the Hawks since his return. Both players collected over one hundred yards in the air and caught a touchdown from Wilson, including Moore tying the game on forth down with a spectacular catch. In total, eight different receivers caught passes from Russell Wilson, which kept Carolina guessing on where the ball was going on every play. It’s evident that Wilson has built supreme trust with this receiving group and the result is the Seattle play book being fully utilized and available on every play and that is a dangerous thought for opposing defenses.
With Seattle playing four of their last five games at home, including the Minnesota Vikings in two weeks, they control their own destiny in whether they make the playoffs in a year where very little was expected of them. Seattle is also one week away from getting an elite outside linebacker back in Micheal Kendricks from suspension to replace the injured KJ Wight. Every game is a championship opportunity from this point on and the Seahawks will have to stay focused in the moment and finish strong before they get their hopes up, but they have put themselves in the perfect position to return to the big stage as contenders in the NFC.