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Breakdown Corner: 4 plays that worked vs. the Carolina Panthers

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Carolina came to Seattle in Week 6 and slipped away with a last-minute win. Here are four plays that worked for the Seahawks in that game, and how they might be relevant this week.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Otter Pop Bowl wasn't a great showing of last week's offensive plays in action, this weekend's contest at Carolina will hopefully see the Seahawks less weather-constrained and a little more fleet-of-foot, which should make all of this week's plays more relevant.

With that in mind, it's time to look back at the tape of a Week 6 matchup and analyze what went right for Seattle in a game the team really should have put in the W column.

1st Quarter, 8:20 left, 3rd and 13, CAR 14, CAR ball

Result: Cam Newton pass deep middle intended for Jerricho Cotchery is intercepted by E. Thomas at CAR 33.

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Seattle comes out playing cover-2 with man coverage on the receivers. This is the start of Carolina's second possession of the game -- after both teams failed to move the ball on their respective first attempts -- and Cam Newton is really getting his first looks at the Seattle defense. And oh boy does it fool him.

Jerrico Cotchery is initially watched by DeShawn Shead, and shortly after the snap, Shead breaks off to help Richard Sherman on the outside with Tedd Ginn Jr. Cotchery now appears uncovered, but Kam Chancellor is stepping up to match up with him. On the left hand side, Devin Funchess is simply out of the play thanks to Bruce Irvin forcing Fozzy Whittaker to engage him behind the line; that takes away the possibility of a running back outlet for Newton, and Kevin Pierre-Louis quickly doubles up Funchess.

Newton appears to be progressing Funchess, then Ginn, then Greg Olsen, then Cotchery. Corey Brown and Ginn are doubled, and Seattle has three guys (Kam, Earl Thomas, and K.J. Wright) covering Cotchery and Olsen. It's a bad look for Newton, who sees Olsen as doubled (Wright and Thomas) at one level and thinks Cotchery is going to break open at the level behind. Thomas is too smart for that play, though, and since Olsen has settled in, he makes a half turn when Newton sets himself to throw, then breaks all-out on the release.

The front four aren't putting too much pressure on Cam here, but they do manage to keep him bottled up. It's not ideal from that perspective, but Seattle keeps all 5 linemen, plus Whittaker, occupied. Indeed, Irvin's contact with Whittaker extends the time Newton has to throw and gives him a running lane to the right, but since the situation is tough for the quarterback, Irvin understands that he's giving his team some freedom even while he's taking on a guy he doesn't need to. Had Newton decided to run, he probably would have gotten 4-6 yards out of the deal; on 3rd and 13, that simply won't cut it.

Why this play? Obviously, it was a big turn for Seattle, which put up a field goal on the ensuing possession. It's actually an aggressive coverage scheme for a 3rd-and-13, but I'm particularly impressed by the communication between Shead, Chancellor, and the linebackers. It's perfect execution of a defensive containment play against a good running quarterback, where the coverage is solid and practically begs Newton to make a mistake in a throw or accept a modest gain with his feet.

2nd Quarter, 12:28 left, 3rd and 9, SEA 11, SEA ball

Result: Russell Wilson pass short right to Chris Matthews pushed out of bounds at SEA 23 for 12 yards.

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Remember Chris Matthews? This is a moment about him, but my contention is that Matthews could easily be replaced by other receivers on the Seahawks roster to make this a successful play.

Seattle has Luke Willson in at tight end and puts Matthews on the right outside. Doug Baldwin flanks the left end of the line, and Jermaine Kearse is lined up outside left. Carolina shows man coverage with a cover-2 concept. Wilson is in the shotgun next to Marshawn Lynch.

At the snap, Baldwin runs a quick slant just shy of the marker. His role here is to swing the middle linebacker to the right side, freeing up the possibility of using Lynch as an outlet. Kearse runs a comeback route: he breaks straight upfield for 14 yards, then comes back to the 21. It's not clear what the progression is here because Wilson never needs to move beyond his first receiver.

On the right side, Willson draws the more significant coverage. Off the line, Thomas Davis (58) steps across to take him, which is exactly how Seattle wants this played. Willson drifts first outside, then hooks a little back in, forcing the linebacker to square up with the sideline and making the deep cover man Roman Harper (41) stay at home. That isolates Matthews on the outside with Charles Tillman (31). Matthews has been used for deeper routes to this point, so Tillman gives him a little space. But this time Matthews stops a half yard past the marker and turns for the easy grab.

Wilson's throw is ideal. Matthews has just turned to the inside, and Wilson sends the ball slightly outside, giving nobody in the field a chance at it except Matthews. Wilson understands that Matthews has isolated himself to make the grab, but he also puts it where the Seattle receiver can pick up extra yards.

If Matthews isn't open on this play -- for instance, if Tillman steps up in anticipation -- Wilson has both Kearse on the other side and Lynch coming out of the backfield. Both of those are viable targets made by the play design.

Why This Play? Chris Matthews saw minimal use before being cut, and he's not the only guy on the team who could have been the target here. But it shows how the team uses all its weapons, which is one of the reasons for the team's offensive success. It's easy to envision Kevin Smith getting this pass in the rematch. The number of receivers who get open quickly on this play is encouraging, and Wilson's quick decision and excellent throw make this about the most successful play it could be.

3rd Quarter, 12:21 left, 3rd and 14, SEA 33, SEA ball

Result: R. Wilson pass deep middle to J. Graham to CAR 40 for 27 yards.


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The Seahawks come out with 3 wide left, 2 wide right, Graham lined up on the left hash. The Panthers show cover-2 with containment for the long 3rd down: only one defensive back within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. They expect to get some pressure on Wilson and hope to hold any throws in front of them. Carolina rushes 4. If you look at the initial setup, Carolina is almost balanced, with only Luke Kuechly helping in the center for coverage; Graham is his responsibility. The deep coverage of Kurt Coleman (20) is shallower than his opposite-side counterpart, so Graham knows he can slant across a little and gain some advantage.

But let's start with the pocket at the snap. Ye gods, it forms well, with the center Patrick Lewis not blocking anyone but having the presence of mind to collapse in with the pocket. Right before Wilson's pass, you can see Carolina's Mario Addison (97) apply some pressure, but Lewis bashes him out of the play with a late double-team. Wilson gets the ball away cleanly, and the rest is on Graham.

To the left, Matthews is far outside, Baldwin is inside of him; on the right, Lockette is outside, Lockett inside. The play is a symmetric pivot route that forms a pyramid. Lockett and Baldwin run mirrored hitches about 8 yards upfield (well short of the first down), and on the outside, Lockette and Matthews each slant in behind, settling into the second level near the first down marker just outside the hashes. It's here that Graham comes open, as Kuechly has to make a choice: help near the marker or stick with Graham, who's coming over the top into the deep cover.

Graham identifies where he needs to go, and Wilson has spotted this as well early in the play. Graham stutters near the marker while Wilson looks outside left to Matthews, and Keuchly bites on the head motion. Once it's clear the linebacker level is neutralized, Wilson is free to put the ball right over for the completion. Again, Wilson's placement is perfect, putting the ball in Graham's hands alone.

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Why This Play? Not many teams pull of this kind of balancing act well, but this is a mismatch based on wide receiver parity. Seattle has four receivers who can make a catch, but no one guy that Wilson keys in on all the time. All he has to do, then, is give his outside receivers -- who have seen plenty of action -- a little look, and Graham gets open. This is a great way to free up a good receiving tight end for a big gain; I could see Luke Willson running the same route with similar results.

4th Quarter, 1:29 left, 1st and 10, SEA 40, CAR ball

Result: Newton sacked at SEA 49 by B. Irvin for -9 yards.

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This is a simple modification of the defensive strategy from the interception discussed above. Here, it's 1st and 10, but Seattle needs a hard stop. Tedd Ginn lines up left, Corey Brown right, and both will run deep patterns: Ginn a post, Brown a deep in. Olsen runs a mid-level cross that's easily picked up by K.J. Wright, while Anthony Dixon and Fozzy Whittaker give bonus protection and are supposed to run mirrored dig routes.

At the snap, Dixon brutally gets his shoulder into Frank Clark's Cliff Avril's face, but the falling corpse of Avril delays his break into the open middle of the field. Whittaker is again engaged by Bruce Irvin -- but this time Irvin releases him quickly and stunts to the middle. The Seahawks are only rushing 4, and since there are 7 guys to handle them, it seems like a ridiculous disadvantage. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that little delay by Irvin forced the linemen to make choices: two double on Bennett, while the right end was poised to pick up Avril but now has nothing to do. The center Ryan Kalil immediately moves left to help double Demarcus Dobbs under the assumption that Irvin will go with Fozzy into the flat; he doesn't bite, and the gaping center in front of Newton is Irvin's to blow through.

Kalil tries to re-engage, but because the receivers are going deep and the short routes have been stopped up, Cam has no choice but to take the sack. Newton had a play to his running back here, but the speed with which Irvin hit the center and got to Newton made it almost impossible for Cam to do anything.

Why This Play? Seattle's defense is extremely flexible. Concepts that look pretty simple early in the game and lead to one result are shifted and tweaked to disrupt the offense later on. This is a simple coverage concept and a pretty basic up-front look that Carolina had seen before, but every level does its job to make a sack possible. Carolina is trying to be aggressive, and the Seahawks neutralize it at a critical time. Yes, this was followed a few plays later by the game-winner to Olsen, but this play worked, and it worked well.

Takeaways

The Panthers are a tough team to beat, but Seattle matches up against them well. We all know Newton is hard to bring down, and if Jonathan Stewart is in, he's got a capable running back to augment his game. The Seahawks did an admirable job containing the run in the first game (though Jonathan Stewart did show well at times). It's important for Seattle to remember that Newton will hold the ball for a long time during zone reads, so staying focused during these plays and not committing until the ball has moved is critical.

Where I think the Seahawks will see the most improvement is in the return game. As fun as Tyler Lockett has been overall to watch this year, the Panthers game was clearly his worst. He had made one good return; the rest looked like he wasn't focusing on the right players and just made the wrong first move. Here are some stats to back that up:


KR KR yds KR avg PR PR yds PR avg
vs Carolina 2 27 13.5 4 28 7
All others 31 823 26.5 36 352 9.8
Without TDs 30 718 23.9 35 286 8.2
Last 8 19 496 26.1 16 184 11.5


Against Carolina, he simply didn't look himself, and it wasn't anything the Panthers seemed to be doing. Lately he's been far more consistent, and short of a Carolina Kryptonite, he should slice his way through their punt return team for a solid gain at least once during this contest.

On offense, Seattle's Baldwin-Lockett-Kearse combo should give them a leg up in the passing game. This was the game where Wilson targeted Lockett about 60 yards downfield and overthrew him by a couple yards, and it was also the game of the famous trick play for the Ricardo Lockette touchdown. After a slow start, the receivers finally came alive and Jimmy Graham showed up, at which point the Seahawks started piling on the points. But it bears noting that Carolina's defensive line and linebackers are used to practicing against a running quarterback, and it showed in the first meeting; Wilson had a brief burst of success, but he was otherwise hounded by a strong push up front in the second half and had trouble pulling his little spin move to get out of trouble. Seattle will need to be aggressive passing, and Russ will need to choose his freelance runs carefully.

Also, for the love of all things unholy, they better not pull the run-run-pass lead preservation strategy late in the game, or totally fail at clock management like they did in the first contest. Though a T-Jax victory cigar is as much a way to advance as an opponent's missed 27-yard field goal, fans prefer the former to keep health care expenses down.