The Seahawks will look to bounce back from last week's loss in Los Angeles when they play the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. At 10-3, the Seahawks are right in the hunt for the NFC West, while the 5-8 Panthers are struggling, having lost five straight and six of their last seven.
Despite the difference in win-loss records, the Seahawks expect to have their hands full against Carolina given the two teams' history against each other. The Seahawks and Panthers have played six times in the regular season since 2012, and all but one of those games were decided by six or fewer points.
If the Seahawks are going to win and go 7-1 on the road for the first time in franchise history, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey vs. everybody on defense.
On one hand, it's probably unfair to the rest of Carolina's offensive players to say that stopping the Panthers comes down to stopping running back Christian McCaffrey.
On the other hand, Panthers interim head coach Perry Fewell did say when asked about McCaffrey on a conference call, "He has meant everything to our offense."
If ever there were a game when stopping one player could make all the difference, it's this one. The Panthers are struggling, hence a five-game losing streak and an in-season coaching change; they haven't had quarterback Cam Newton since early in the season; and Pro-Bowl tight end Greg Olsen is out this week with a concussion. Even so, the Panthers are still a threat in large part due to McCaffrey, who is closing in on 2,000 yards from scrimmage with 1,220 rushing yards and 726 receiving yards to go along with 16 total touchdowns.
The Seahawks have for the most part been strong against the run this year, but they know they'll have their hands full with McCaffrey, who against Seattle last year rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown and had 112 receiving yards with a touchdown reception.
"He's the guy," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "If they had a really good record, he'd definitely be in the MVP conversation. The guy is a beast. He can run in between the tackles well. What a lot of people know him for are his plays in open space, but the guy is just as tough in between the tackles. Heck of a football player, and he'll get at least 20 touches Sunday."
Said linebacker Bobby Wagner, "You definitely have to be on your game (against McCaffrey). The last time we played them, he had a pretty good game. We've got to make sure that doesn't happen again."
2. Russell Wilson and the passing game vs. Carolina's pass defense.
Yes, the Seahawks will want to run the ball, as usual, and yes, there should be opportunities given Carolina's struggles stopping the run—the Panthers rank 29th in run defense, allowing 139.2 rushing yards per game—but the passing game could be critical as well.
When these teams met last season, the Panthers loaded the box against Seattle's league-leading rushing attack and did a good job slowing Chris Carson and company, holding the Seahawks to just 75 rushing yards on 28 carries. The trade off, however, was more open space on the back end of the defense, and Wilson and his weapons capitalized, throwing for 339 yards and two touchdowns in a Seattle win. If Carolina employs similar tactics this weekend, there could be opportunities for the passing game to get going after a four-game stretch in which Wilson's and the passing game's play has cooled off a bit from an incredibly productive first half of the season. If Wilson and the passing game get back to the level the played at in the first half of the season, that would bode very well for the Seahawks down the stretch.
"He's playing at an MVP level," Fewell said. "He continues to amaze you with not only his intelligence of the game, and his decision making in the game but, his ability to extend the plays and find his receivers. It seems like they've been playing together for years and years. He seems to be in sync with every player on his offense. I think his leadership has grown tremendously from when I saw him back several years ago to today."
3. Seattle's pass rush vs. Carolina's offensive line.
When Kyle Allen took over for an injured Cam Newton, he and the Panther started off well, winning four straight games with Allen throwing seven touchdowns without an interception.
Things changed drastically for Allen and the Panthers in their next game, with the 49ers sacking him seven times and intercepting him three times. And ever since that Week 8 game, pass protection has been a problem, which in turn has contributed to an increase in turnovers.
Dating back to that loss to the 49ers, Allen has been sacked at least three times in seven straight games, including 12 times in the past two games. Seattle's pass rush has been inconsistent this year, struggling for stretches, then looking great in other games, such as in back-to-back wins over San Francisco and Philadelphia.
The pass rush has cooled off since those two games, particularly last week in L.A., and as defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. noted, "We haven't gotten to the quarterback. That's something that is obviously an issue." This week's game, however, could represent a chance for that pass rush to get back on track.
If the Seahawks rush can get to Allen, they'll have a good chance at improving upon a plus-11 turnover differential that is tied for the third best in the league. In no small part because of their struggles to protect Allen, the Panthers have turned the ball over 13 times during their five-game losing streak while producing just one takeaway on defense.
The Seahawks and the Panthers will meet this Sunday at the Bank of America Stadium for Week 15 of the 2019 season. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.