Watch the way Seattle plays defense Sunday and you will notice a trend.
The Seahawks will sell out to stop Carolina’s run game, particularly Cam Newton on zone-read plays. In the team’s most recent meeting in January, Seattle held Newton to only 3 yards in 11 carries. He got nowhere on the ground.
But what Seattle wasn’t able to do was stop Jonathan Stewart, who had 106 yards on 19 tries and scored twice in Carolina’s 31-24 playoff victory. Seattle coach Pete Carroll has a whole lot of respect for Stewart, which you could tell from his comments this past week.
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“Jonathan Stewart back there – he’s a problem,” Carroll said. “We’ve played against him forever. Some day we won’t have to play against him, but right now he’s still balling and doing good stuff. It seems like we’ve been playing against him for the last 20 years.”
Carolina’s only real chance in this game is if the Panthers can rush for at least 100 yards. Seattle will dare the Panthers to throw, confident its pass rush can get to Carolina’s overmatched offensive line quicker than Newton can get rid of it.
▪ Did you see the Dallas game Thursday night? The Cowboys (11-1) remind me so much of Carolina in 2015. Dallas didn’t play particularly well against Minnesota. The Cowboys gave up a final-minute touchdown drive to make it 17-15, Dallas. Then the Cowboys illegally hit Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford in the face on the potential game-tying two-point conversion. The referee didn’t see it, Bradford threw the ball too high and that was the ballgame.
Also, it’s worth noting that both Carolina and Dallas had their best season in years the season immediately after they parted ways with defensive end Greg Hardy.
▪ I have picked the Panthers’ outcome correctly four weeks in a row to go 7-4 on the season. Carolina’s offensive line is in such bad shape right now that the Panthers should consider this game a moral victory if Newton comes out of it with no injuries.
As for an actual Carolina victory – uh, no. Not against this team in this setting. My prediction: Seattle 30, Carolina 17.
Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler