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This Week in Defense: Panthers at Seahawks, NFC Divisional Round

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Narrative Of The Game:

The Panthers are finally forced to play a game in Seattle after three regular season contests in Carolina. I know some people looked at the past contests and said to themselves: "how much different can that be?" Most folks were picking Seattle in a close game, but some were pushing the angle of, "who can beat the Seahawks in Seattle?" and so we were treated to a national media narrative painting the Seahawks like a giant to be conquered, rather than the defending Superbowl Champions. It was quite and interesting angle -- normally stuff like this might get under my skin -- but I felt good heading into this game.

With two weeks to prepare, Pete Carroll and company have always come in ready to play football. This game really would be no different.

Let's get started.

The Plays

[1st Quarter 15:00 1st and 10 Run by Jonathan Stewart for a gain of 4 yards -- fumble forced by Earl Thomas]

Earl Thomas had to find a new way to create turnovers, as teams have shied away from throwing deep. This year, he has had four forced fumbles in the regular season, all of which were key in affecting the game. Here, he sets a great tone on the very first play from scrimmage.

Cam Newton gets pressured by a great inside rush from Cliff Avril, forcing him to dump the ball off to running back Jonathan Stewart, who has some blockers, but can't utilize them because of a nice stalemate by Kam Chancellor. The slight stutter-step allows Earl to track him down with his phenomenal speed -- as he's done all year -- and the defense makes a statement on the first play.

Kam Chancellor changes so much for this team when he's on. Even on this play, where he's not in on the tackle, he forces Stewart to take extra steps and slow down because Kam can take on a guard like a linebacker -- which is essentially how he's set up in the defensive formation here. More on Kam later.

[1st Quarter 10:00 3rd and 2 Cam Newton pass incomplete thrown away -- pressured by Cliff Avril and KJ Wright.]

I love this play specifically, because it kills the zone read fake. Seattle has been all over the zone read option from the get go, but Cliff Avril -- who is built as a natural speed rusher -- killed two plays on this second possession. It's almost scary how quickly he gets out of the blocks here, but also nice was K.J. Wright's follow and finish. As Cam Newton, who has some brutal escapability, gets loose from Avril, he has to throw the ball away as K.J. zooms in for the nice finish. Also, credit Dan Quinn for the blitz design on 3rd and short. I love the call.

[1st Quarter 2:27 2nd and 10 Fumble by Cam Newton forced by Michael Bennett, recovered by Tony McDaniel.]

The Seahawks, and specifically Michael Bennett, have been anticipating the snap count from Carolina on this drive. At least three times, we saw Seattle's d-line get the jump on the snap, and Bennett nearly was offsides again. Here, they get a great jump on a simple zone read. The speed causes Cam Newton to flinch at the last second -- at the point of decision on whether to pull or give the ball to Jonathan Stewart. Seattle knew they would have to play this specific concept against the Panthers, and they are all over it in these first possessions. I personally was flashing back to something Pete Carroll said during last year's Superbowl:

"There ain't enough minutes in tonight."

Because it looked like early on they just had Carolina's playbook or something. Hoo boy!

[2nd Quarter 12:04 3rd and 4 Pass caught by Philly Brown for 11 yards coverage by Tharold Simon]

Tharold Simon is a young man and this game proved it more than any other. This play best illustrates his aggressive tendencies and how Carolina took advantage of them. Philly Brown runs a nice corner pattern here, but it's Simon jumping inside to square up the route that opens up the outside on the throw. Carolina did pick up a blitz, so this route has time to develop, but I have concerns about this kid understanding his leverage points in coverage. Even in man to man, there are keys to read to help you play, and he just looked lost several times in the game.

[2nd Quarter 11:31 1st and 10 Run to DeAngelo Williams for 8 yards tackled by Bobby Wagner]

Everything that seemed to be going right in the first quarter was going wrong in the second as Seattle seemed to be scheming themselves out of some plays. Will Tukuafu and Bruce Irvin are lined over the left tackle and guard, and they get driven off the ball really badly. Michael Bennett does shoot in, and almost makes the play at the point of the counter run by Williams. O'Brien Schofield is in too on this D-line formation, but why would they have a more pass-rush-heavy line in on first down versus a run heavy team?

[2nd Quarter :40 1st and 10 screen pass to DeAngelo Williams gain of 1 yard tackled by Kam Chancellor.]

A screen call against a blitz is probably bad for the blitzing team in many cases. However, Kam Chancellor makes the difference again. He already made this exact play earlier in the game, and he's so fast he actually knocks DeAngelo Williams to nearly no gain. It's a pretty meaningful play, as Carolina had just converted a fourth down to keep their drive alive. Seattle just looked out of sorts here and though the half wraps with a field goal, it didn't look, good especially at the line of scrimmage as Carolina threatened to dominate on the ground.

However, let's just take this time to properly idolize Kam Chancellor and his beastly play.

[3rd Quarter 11:26 1st and 10 Read option pitch to Jerricho Cotchery for no gain - tackled by Kam Chancellor.]

After his weird field goal blocking attempts close to the second quarter, Kam immediately makes the first play of the second half on a weak read option pitch. The play is mostly dead by the time Cam Newton pitches the ball to Cotchery -- but Kam stays nice and wide against the look so he can make the play.

These plays are designed to challenge the aggression of defenders -- but Seattle was rarely tricked, especially at the safety position in this game. Kam and Earl were making plays all over the field, and really helped make sure that Carolina was slowed to a patient worm as big plays were sorely lacking. This was due in large part to the play of your two best safeties in the league: Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

{3rd Quarter 7:37 1st and 10 Cam Newton sacked by Cliff Avril for a loss of 8 yards]

Nothing cute on this one. Cliff just anticipates the snap count and winds up about three steps ahead of the tackle, who is drifting toward the numbers to presumably play a speed rush. He did this earlier, and Avril beat him to the inside, which happens here too.

Cam was trying to throw against Simon, but the had Brenton Bursin there, and Simon manages a jam. This kills what I think looks like an out-n-up route. Once that's dead, Cam holds the ball and drifts with no sensation for the pass rush. He eats a sack, which kills the momentum of a really positive drive for the Panthers' first possession. He follows the sack with two straight incomplete passes.

[4th Quarter 13:15 3rd and 11 Pass incomplete intended for Mike Tolbert KJ Wright in coverage]

This play best illustrates why the Panthers can be so hard to defend. Cam Newton's ability to run causes guys to break concentration at times, and lose guys they're supposed to pick up in coverage. K.J. Wright is one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL, but once Newton starts floating in the pocket K.J. gets a little flat footed against a simple Texas pattern, which Tolbert is actually jogging at the start of the play.

Had Cam hit it, it would have been a first down as K.J. was a full stride behind Tolbert by the time he realizes his mistake. Luckily, it doesn't cost the 'hawks as Tolbert attempts the catch with the same intensity that he ran (jogged) his route.

[4th Quarter 6:14 2nd and 4 Pass intended for Ed Dickson INTERCEPTED by Kam Chancellor returned 90 yards for a TOUCHDOWN]

The most promising drive of the of the day for Carolina, taking only seven plays to get into the redzone, ends in a pick six. Cam Newton, who had been nearly intercepted by Richard Sherman earlier, has this one picked off by the waiting Kam Chancellor. For Kam, this play is all about reading Newton's eyes. He sees Dickson sit down and instantly knows to lock in on a pass. Schematically, the Seahawks look like they expect some kind of motion or pick play as they bring Chancellor tighter into coverage to make sure he can blow up any blocks and play that if it happens. Instead, the Panthers run off-throw underneath look on 2nd and 4, and pay dearly for their poor choice as Kam sees it the whole way. Ballgame.

Overview Of The Game:

This game was nicely planned by Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn. They played Carolina's motion and option runs better than they did in Carolina. Seattle did get blocked some, and I would tip my hat more on the end of Carolina understanding their blocking rhythm. Seattle contained the passing offense for the most part, and save for two Greg Olsen passes and a tough day for Tharold Simon, I didn't see any scary holes in the defensive coverage. Adding a gimme touchdown late, Cam Netwon made a few throws but was largely contained as a passer in this game.

I also would like to point out that Cam Newton's ability to run helps their blocking so I don't expect Green Bay to come in and be able to get a bunch of yards rushing. The Seahawks also adjusted their line of scrimmage attack strategy in the second half and got some early pressures and run stops to slow down the Panthers.

Game Ball:

Demarcus Dobbs-WHAT?! He did great! Nah, Just kidding, just kidding. Very rarely do I pick the consensus guy but to say anyone other than Kam Chancellor after that insane performance would be just for the sake of being contrary for the sake of being so. Kam has been my favorite safety for awhile now, and this game was how I felt his year was going to go before the injuries slowed him up. DPOY in 2015 -- start your campaign early.

Also don't look at his arms, you'll feel sad in comparison.

Needs Work

Tharold Simon. This is only the second time I've singled out one player but after feeling like he was breaking through and taking Maxwell's spot, this game makes me terrified to lose Byron. Stay with us Byron, we love you.

**Thanks to Jennifer Chen for another fantastic set of GIFs