Three things to watch in Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Seattle:
How will Luke Kuechly hold up?
It’s been five weeks since the Panthers Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly last played a game. While Kuechly’s conditioning could be an issue against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked rushing attack, the bigger question is whether we’ll see the same Kuechly in his return from a concussion that sidelined him for more than a month. Kuechly doesn’t think he’s more susceptible to additional concussions, but most of the research suggests otherwise. The same week Kuechly was cleared, his replacement A.J. Klein entered the concussion protocol. Klein will miss Sunday’s game. Kuechly’s return will give the defense an emotional lift, but everyone will be keeping an eye on No. 59 when he takes on his first block and makes his first tackle.
Can Cam Newton quiet the crowd?
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been playing the best football of his career. But he’s not fared particularly well against Seattle. Newton had three turnovers in the playoff loss at Seattle in January, including an interception Kam Chancellor turned into a game-sealing, 90-yard touchdown. The Seahawks’ 12th Man fan base will be at full roar after Newton stopped short of calling CenturyLink Field the loudest stadium in the league. But Seattle’s fifth-ranked defense will give Newton more problems than the crowd noise. Newton can’t afford to linger too long in the pocket, as he has done vs. Seattle in previous meetings. If his receivers aren’t open, Newton needs to scramble or throw the ball away.
Will Carolina take advantage of Seattle’s porous line?
The Seahawks’ made-over offensive line has done a nice job opening holes for rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who had a pair of 100-yard games while Marshawn Lynch was out. But pass protection has been a different story. Russell Wilson has been sacked an NFL-high 22 times, a total Panthers LB Thomas Davis says would be higher if not for Wilson’s elusiveness. Recently acquired defensive end Jared Allen is out with a pinched nerve in his back, and Charles Johnson remains on short-term injured reserve. That means the Panthers will have to get pressure from the likes of Ryan Delaire, who had two sacks in his debut at Tampa, and Wes Horton, who will start in Allen’s place two weeks after being cut.
Panthers at Seahawks
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.