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Four Matchups To Watch: Seahawks at Panthers
When: Sunday, 10 a.m. PDT, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Records: Seahawks 4-0 in the preseason, 11-5 last season; Panthers 3-1 in the preseason, 7-9 last season
TV: FOX (channel 13 in Seattle), with Chris Myers, Tim Ryan and Jennifer Hale
Radio: 710 AM ESPN Seattle and KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller
Rest of the West: Packers at 49ers; Cardinals at Rams
Seahawks defense vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton: This is a nose tackle-to-free safety task, because Newton can beat you throwing the ball or running it. He has passed for 7,920 yards, the most by a player in his first two NFL seasons. He’s the only QB in league history with 500-plus rushing yards in each of his first two seasons. He’s also the only NFL player with 5,000-plus passing yards, 25-plus TD passes (40), 1,000-plus rushing yards (1,447) and 15-plus rushing TDs (22) in his first two seasons. A huge key to the Seahawks’ 16-12 victory in Charlotte last season was that they didn’t allow Newton to beat them doing either. They held him to 42 rushing yards, and the Panthers to 82, by using cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner to take away his outside pitch options in the zone-read. They pressured him into a 12-of-29, 141-yard passing performance. Time to dial up a repeat performance.
One to watch
Seahawks coverage units vs. Panthers returner Ted Ginn Jr.: The Seahawks have seen his opening-day act before. It was in 2011, when Ginn was with the San Francisco 49ers. After the Seahawks had scored to slice the 49ers’ lead to 19-17 and seize the momentum late in the fourth quarter of their opener at Candlestick Park, Ginn returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and then scored on a 55-yard punt return 59 seconds later. Ginn scored a 74-yard punt return for his new team in the preseason. The Seahawks can’t afford to give the Panthers anything easy, so containing Ginn is a priority.
Fun to watch
Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith: Sherman, an All-Pro selection last season, was seemingly everywhere this offseason – including on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But it hasn’t seemed to affect his ample game. And Sherman will need to bring his ‘A’ game against the Smith, who continues to get it done in his 13th NFL season and at the age of 34. Since 2005, only the Colts’ Reggie Wayne (9,954) and the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald (9,633) have more receiving yards than the 5-foot-9 Smith (9,256). Last season, no one in the league had more passes defensed than Sherman (24) and only the Bears’ Tim Jennings (nine) had more interceptions than Sherman (eight). Smith likes to chat between plays, and Sherman also has been known to offer a few words as well. So this one will be worth watching, from start to finish.
One tough task
Seahawks FB Derrick Coleman vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly: It’s not just Coleman’s first NFL game, it’s his first real game playing fullback. While it remains to be seen just how much the Seahawks will use their new fullback, when they do Coleman will have to contend with Kuechly, who led the NFL with 164 tackles as a rookie last season. The Seahawks ran the ball more than any team in the league last season (536) and All-Pro back Marshawn Lynch had a career-high 315 carries. Coach Pete Carroll remains committed to running the ball, so at some point Coleman will have a run-in with the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Panthers have the lowest winning percent in the league in season openers (.333, 6-12) and the Seahawks rank 30th (.351, 13-24). … The Seahawks won seven of their last eight regular-season games in 2012 and then went 4-0 during the 2013 preseason, while the Panthers won their final four games and five of the last six in 2012 and then went 3-1 in the preseason – their best August record since 2006. … Since November of 2011, Lynch has a league-high 2,531 rushing yards and he posted 100-yard efforts in the eight of the final 10 regular-season games last season. … The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the league last season (245) and the defense ranked a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed. … MLB Bobby Wagner led the Seahawks in tackles last season with a franchise rookie-record 140. … Smith is the Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions (772), receiving yards (11,452) and TD catches (63). He surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the seventh time in his career last season (1,174). … The Panthers led the NFL with 10 interceptions during the preseason, when the Seahawks committed a league-low two turnovers (both interceptions by Russell Wilson in the Week 2 game against the Broncos).