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Seahawks beat Panthers: Closing the Book on Carolina

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Each season players must find their their roles. It doesn't just happen.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I was in Baltimore this past weekend for a conference, and thus missed the last (?) installment of Seahawks at Panthers. I live just 90 minutes south of Charlotte, so I was able to catch the 2012 and 2013 games in person. It was cool too, because a) B of A Stadium is a nice venue, (in fact I had a perfect, bird's eye view of Doug Baldwin's amazing toe-tapping sideline catch in 2013), b) Panthers fans are frustrated, but generally pretty chill (save the a--hole who wore the Rae Carruth jersey in 2012, and was generally being "that" guy), and c) a fairly sizable contingent of 12s make the game.

Though I am sad to have missed the 2014 game, I see two saving graces: The first is that I'll be able to make it out for the Giants game (Lord willin' and the crick don't rise).

The second is that these two teams have effectively played the EXACT. SAME. GAME. for three years running. Each game has been controlled for large stretches by both teams only to swing in Seattle's favor late on a proverbial handful of plays. The win probability chart from this year illustrates the point precisely.

Another interesting coincidence in the Panthers series is that in each game, one of Seattle's young players has had a signature moment where he established or solidified his role on the team.

The 2012 game really helped put Richard Sherman on the map nationally. He'd already established a bit of a name for himself, but he completely shut down Steve Smith to the point of utter frustration. I was there. I could see it all the way up in the cheap seats. Smith was helpless. He knew it. Panthers players and fans knew it too. That performance, as much as any other, vaulted Sherman into a qualitatively different place in people's minds. It put him firmly into the discussion as one of the top corners in the game, without caveat.

Jermaine Kearse's coming out party in the 2013 game was smaller in scale and impact, but it was in its own way important in setting the direction of the franchise. In that game Kearse flashed his ability as a big guy who can go up and get the contested ball, and that ultimately helped make Golden Tate seem expendable.

In 2014 I highlight two player performances as signature. Continuing a theme from last week's Closing the Book on the Rams, I highlight Robert Turbin and Paul Richardson. Turbin had a good all-around game, but his 21-yard reception from a falling down Russell Wilson highlights the "fit" Seattle has found with him as an outlet receiver.

Now, I'm not sure if his body will stand up to full-time duty at fullback (note, Seattle signed Will Tukuaku to play the pure fullback role). But, he has solidified his role as an outlet receiver in one- or two-back sets. Or, to put a finer point on it, the past couple games appear to justify the staff's decision to hand him that role.

This is as opposed to keeping Lynch, an all-around better back, on the field. Turbin is showing that he's better than Lynch as an outlet receiver if that role is featured.

The little things make all the difference on this play. Note how quickly Turbin clears the scrum once he reads Wilson's movement up in the pocket. Turbin never stops his feet, so once he secures the pass he bolts up the field. Beast Mode is a better pure pass catcher and pass blocker than Turbin, but this play is almost certainly a sack with Lynch in the backfield. As an outlet receiver, Turbin's knack for reading things and creating an angle makes things easier on Wilson. Lynch makes things harder, and that's a big deal.

Remember the scene in the movie Full Metal Jacket when the sergeant finally discovers that Private Gomer Pyle is actually a pretty good shot? Had the movie just ended right there the analogy would be perfect.

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The other player I want to highlight is Paul Richardson. The 49-yard kickoff return was nice, but a bonus. More relevant going forward are his plays in the passing offense. Perhaps most relevant of all was the failed bomb attempt to him on the next play from scrimmage following Turbin's 21-yard romp. Although the attempt failed, due primarily to an outstanding play by Josh Norman, it obviously caused Carolina to back off a bit. (In fact, Lynch had his longest carry on the very next play.)

Richardson is fast, but that's actually not what's important on the play. John Morgan described PRich as a "lean into the curves" route runner, and that attribute is nicely on display. He doesn't blow past Norman, but rather easily gets his body into position to shield Norman from the ball. Richardson ensures that Norman cannot win on the route; only on the throw.

The only bad thing that could happen on the play--an interception--was the least likely outcome. Norman would have to go over and/or through him to make a play on the ball. That he nearly did so without significantly interfering is a testament to why Norman got some hype as a "sleeper" out of Coastal Carolina. It was a very nice play (and I thought he had a very nice game). Even still, plenty of NFL crews would drop a PI flag on that play. (I'm glad they didn't.)

Richardson may not be so much a replacement for Percy Harvin. He brings some different skills to the table. That kind of fluidity on the route is not really something we've seen Harvin do.