Carolina’s defense is bad, ranking 23rd in DVOA, but they are actually 8th against the pass. What torpedoes their DVOA is the fact that their run defense is dead last by a significant margin.
As of Football Outsiders’ Week 14 update, the Panthers sit at a whopping 19.2% DVOA, which is way worse than even the rancid Jacksonville Jaguars, who are 31st at 11.7% and would probably be last in any other season. Based on DVOA tracking, Carolina is on pace for the worst run defense the NFL has seen since 1996, and quite frankly this is one area where advanced stats aren’t even needed to explain what has happened to the Panthers.
Carolina allows a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry and have allowed a league-high 24 touchdowns on the ground, which is five more than the next worst team (the Jaguars). They’ve allowed touchdowns or first downs on 29.1% of all rushing plays (31st in the league), and have given up the second-most rushing plays of 10+ yards. Washington, one of the worst running teams in the NFL, got Ron Rivera fired after gashing them for 248 yards in their own stadium.
The 2019 Panthers are an express lane to Touchdown City.
Getting back to my opening statement, the Seahawks ground game was largely shut down by Carolina defenses of yesteryear. They’ve failed to exceed 100 yards in five of the previous eight meetings and have been held below 3.0 yards per attempt in three games, including last year’s win in Charlotte. Marshawn Lynch had just 323 yards on 89 carries, and Russell Wilson inflates the rushing numbers a bit with 205 yards on 30 attempts, of which I assume most were scrambles. If you took Wilson out, Thomas Rawls’ dominant 1st half in 2016 is essentially the only time the Seahawks have ever beaten down the Panthers run defense.
This is not to say Carolina’s defensive line is bad; they lead the NFC in sacks and have five players — Bruce Irvin included — with at least five sacks on the season. Perhaps Carolina’s switch to a 3-4 has had some unintended consequences, but we do know that their biggest weakness plays right into the hands of the Seahawks offense.
Frankly, I would be shocked if Russell Wilson threw more than 25 times on Sunday. If he does, that either means they’ll have made even THIS game way closer than it needs to be and thus requiring Wilson to throw more, or the Panthers will have naturally picked this weekend to fix the run defense. The offensive gameplan could not be any clearer or simpler to execute given the strengths and weaknesses we know on both sides of the ball.