In some ways last season's game at Charlotte showed us a lot of what we would eventually learn about the 2012 Seahawks, especially compared to the way the team finished the season. Oddly, the Panthers win seems to get lost in the shuffle when we recap "big" moments from the 2012 season. One reason it gets lost in the melange of early games is that it lacked a singular signature moment, like the Fail Mary (TM) or the Wilson-to-Rice bomb that beat the Pats and effectively ended the Matt Flynn era in Seattle. (Although that goal line stand in the 4th quarter was pretty nice.) Another is that it was a pretty mediocre offensive display against a mediocre-to-awful Panthers defense. This was the first game with no training wheels (more or less) for Wilson. Not surprisingly, things were a little raggedy. Then, the Panthers game also has the misfortune of getting stuck in the gravitational pull of the Patriots upset.
Whatever the game lacks in hype, it was easily as diagnostic as the New England game. It was clear that the coaching staff trusted Wilson in week 5, and built a game plan around his strengths. At one point during the third series in the first half he was 8 of 9, while Lynch was only a modest factor with less than 10 carries a good ways through the third quarter. Wilson was sharp and the offense was clicking, but penalties and near misses were a problem. In fact it's worth recalling that the opening play of the second drive was a beautiful bomb to Tate inside the 10 yard line, nullified by a holding call on Giacomini for tackling Charles Johnson. (That was the game where Giaco got benched for Frank Omiyale. That was rock bottom for Giaco, but I think a lot of fans and media anchor on that game.) Finally, on defense, we saw the Legion of Boom do more than simply deliver bone-jarring hits. They were all over Panther receivers. Cam Newton wasn't at his most accurate, but he had few windows all day long.
So, what about this season?
Since both teams made a fair number of changes, I won't do much comparison of last year's numbers. It'll be interesting to see, when we recap the 2013 season, what emerged from this game as foreshadowing. That is, what gave us bona fide clues about this club's potential or its Achilles heel? I just confirmed my tickets today. So I'll make the 90 minute trek up the Charlotte to check it out. Here are some potential areas of foreshadowing I'll be watching for from the Hawks. These are not "keys to the game" as much as they are areas that are potentially problematic and might get exposed on Sunday and throughout the season.
1. Pass protection against an ostensibly improved Panthers front four. The Panthers front four could be pretty fearsome, but it is not without red flags. It was a turnstile last year, but Star Lotulelei could put an end to that. He flashes the kind of talent that can turn other guys who are just okay into better players. Along with fellow draftee, Kawann Short, and former Hawk, Colin Cole, the Panthers have some depth. Still, some guys have reputations for loafing, whether deserved or not. In last year's game, pressure was mostly a non-issue for Wilson. I imagine it won't be quite so comfortable this time. I'm looking forward to seeing how a still-not-quite-settled offensive line handles an ostensibly improved pass rush. I am especially interested to see what Giacomini does on Sunday. Pass pro will be a key question because I imagine that Bevell will not hesitate to once again devise a Wilson-centered game plan when he feels there are matchup advantages to be had. Seattle left quite a few points out on the field last season based on sloppy offensive line play, penalties and turnovers.
2. Defensive line pressure. On the flip side, a key to last year's victory was the ability to put consistent pass rushers in Newton's face--mostly with the front four. You could make the case that the front four peaked in that game. Newton could never get comfortable and set his feet in the pocket. He missed on a number of throws directly because of pressure. Clemons was a BEAST in that game, and the since-departed Alan Branch had one of his two or three best for Seattle. Clemons and Avril likely will not play. It will be O'Brien Schofield, Mike Morgan and Benson Mayowa instead (possibly Michael Bennett). Alan Branch has been replaced by Tony McDaniel/D'Anthony Smith and Jason Jones by Bennett/Jordan Hill.
3. Dominating field position. I have to say, as much as I like Kearse I am surprised that Christine Michael didn't appear to beat him out to at KR1. He strikes me as Percy Harvin explosive. At any rate, Seattle's roster is supposed to be designed to dominate this phase of the game. Carolina will provide a worthwhile test, at least of coverage units, with old nemesis Ted Ginn, Jr. and potentially Captain Munnerlyn.
4. Penalties. They derailed a couple of early drives last year. Seattle got much better as the year went on, and in many ways the Carolina game seemed to be rock bottom.
What do you think will be foreshadowed during the game?