Two major keys to beating the Seattle Seahawks are bottling up the running game and sacking quarterback Russell Wilson.
Check and check.
The Carolina Panthers held Seattle to just 78 rushing yards while sacking Wilson five times – tying a franchise-high for the playoffs.
“You’ve got to stop the run first in order to get the pass rush,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “As a defensive line, you’ve got to come off, be disruptive and create a new line of scrimmage and that’s what we did today.”
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The Panthers dominated Seattle’s offensive line for most of the day en route to the 31-24 victory, though their success tapered off as the game wore on.
First, as Short said, the defense had to stop the run. Seattle’s rushing attack is as prolific as Carolina’s, and the Seahawks’ passing game thrives on team’s respecting the rush to open up things in the air.
Seattle had Marshawn Lynch in the backfield for the first time since November after suffering an abdominal injury. But Lynch wasn’t the spark Seattle had hoped.
The player known as “Beast Mode” had just 20 yards on six carries Sunday. His carries were few because Seattle got behind so big, so early, but he was still getting stuffed each time he touched the ball.
But Carolina usually has success against Lynch. In his six games against the Panthers since 2012, Lynch has rushed 89 times for 323 yards for an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
“I will say this. We really do respect their running game,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s one of those things that we emphasize and work on. Our intention was he was going to play all along. We were going to be prepared for what they do.”
Containing quarterback Russell Wilson was also imperative. Wilson had 553 rushing yards this season and is always a threat to not just extend plays laterally but also past the line of scrimmage.
He rushed three times for 32 yards as the Panthers cut off Seattle’s love of the zone-read plays. By keeping defensive ends in their place to ensure Wilson couldn’t keep the ball and run outside, the Panthers shut down one of the most important elements to the Seahawks’ offense.
Then there was getting to Wilson in the passing game. He threw a career-high 48 times on Sunday, and a lot of that was, again, because of the score.
But Carolina got home on Wilson five times. Short, defensive end Charles Johnson and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards each had a sack, and defensive backs Tre Boston and Josh Norman had one apiece.
One play that doesn’t show up as a sack but ended up even better was Seattle’s second play from scrimmage. Short blew up guard Justin Britt and got into Wilson’s kitchen early.
The play forced Wilson to throw to Lynch quickly before Lynch turned around. Luke Kuechly intercepted the pass and scored a touchdown.
“They are coached extremely well, and they have a lot of great players,” Wilson said. “They made two plays on us, and then, like I said, those were my fault, and I take the blame for that. So you just move on and stay the course, and we did that today. Stayed in the moment, and I thought we did a great job of that in the second half.”
Too late, though.