The Seahawks host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday looking to build off of last week's win over the Rams, while the Panther are looking to carry some momentum out of their bye, having beating Denver in Week 12 prior to getting last weekend off.
To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to panthers.com senior writer Darin Gantt with five questions about the Panthers.
Obviously, 4-8 isn't where the Panthers were hoping to be at this point of the season; what have been the biggest factors that have led to that record?
Gantt: Their biggest challenge in the last three years has been finding some stability and consistent play at quarterback. They've started five different guys since the start of 2020 (Teddy Bridgewater, PJ Walker, Sam Darnold, Cam Newton, and Baker Mayfield) and have bounced back and forth between some of them. Never finding an answer there was one of the central themes in Matt Rhule being let go early this season.
They released Mayfield on Monday and are back to Darnold now, and he's coming off a fairly solid day against the Broncos, with a touchdown pass and one rushing/rolling score that wasn't pretty but worked. If they can limit turnovers, they think he can give them a chance.
But with all the changes at quarterback, the Panthers never really established an offensive identity under Rhule (who had three offensive coordinators in as many seasons).
All of that being said, the Panthers have won three games and been competitive in others since Steve Wilks took over the head coaching job; what's the mindset of the team heading into this closing stretch of the season?
Gantt: They're still playing like they have a chance at the playoffs, and the crazy part is, because they live in the NFC South, they do.
Wilks was also around here in 2014 as defensive backs coach when the Panthers were 3-8-1 (including a 13-9 loss to the Seahawks here in October), but rallied to win the final four games of the regular season and win the division at 7-8-1. They actually won a playoff game that year, too, beating the Cardinals, before losing at Seattle in the divisional round.
There's been a lot of change at quarterback this year for Carolina, what does Sam Darnold bring to the offense now that he has been named the starter?
Gantt: There have been stints when Sam looked like the kind of competent quarterback that people spend first-round picks on. In the first four games of 2021 (before the Christian McCaffrey injury in Week 3 derailed them), he had a passer rating in the 90s and led the league in rushing touchdowns. Then things got worse, and then he got hurt, and then he got hurt again in the preseason this year.
Last week, Sam made a few throws, but was mostly careful with the ball, and that's what they want him to do in a traditional run-based game.
He's got the arm to take some shots downfield, and he's hit a few, and he's probably the most athletic quarterback they've had on the roster this year. His mobility is an added factor on offense, but the key with him will always be taking care of the ball and not sharing it with the other team. He's a free agent at the end of the season, so this game is also an audition for him for the future, whether it's for the Panthers or someone else. And you guys are apparently aware that former Jets quarterbacks can sometimes find a new home and flourish.
This game will be a homecoming for Panther GM Scott Fitterer; what has he brought to the organization since leaving the Seahawks for that job last year?
Gantt: It's funny, Fitterer was once part of a front office that used the draft to collect a talented bunch of players, primarily on defense, and then when they found a young quarterback, the team suddenly took off. That's kind of what he's working on doing here. There are some good young parts on this defense and a secondary full of high picks who can make impacts, along with defensive linemen Brian Burns and Derrick Brown.
Scott's a sharp evaluator (which you know), but he also has a knack for working with people across the organization. A coaching change in midseason was a curveball, but the former college baseball pitcher knows something about those too. His ability to communicate and build consensus has been important for the Panthers. And as this season has progressed, he's stockpiled picks by trading McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson, giving them the kind of flexibility they need for next year's quarterback search. He walked in the door talking about being "in on every deal," and he's lived up to that mantra, having learned well from John Schneider that you can't be afraid to make moves.
Mostly, Scott has beefed up and modernized the scouting operation (along with assistant GM and former Seahawks staffer Dan Morgan), and brought what should be a familiar-looking platform to his return to his old home.
What matchup or matchups are you most looking forward to seeing play out in Sunday's game?
Gantt: With the way Geno Smith and the Seahawks are able to pass the ball, it's going to be a test for the Panthers' secondary. Seeing how they choose to defend Metcalf and Lockett will be interesting because they show some different looks.
Former first-rounder Jaycee Horn doesn't get a lot of traffic (teams haven't tested him much), but against a team with multiple top receiving threats, he'll have the opportunity to make some plays. Horn has the kind of size and speed and physical nature (sound familiar?) to be the kind of player they build around here for the future, but also one who could be central to Sunday's outcome.
Snoqualmie Casino players and staff participated in the punt, pass, and kick event at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on December 4, 2022. In addition, Seahawks Legend Thomas Rawls and Seahawks Dancers were in attendance at the event.