Over the past three weeks, the Seattle Seahawks have been tested by three of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks in Philip Rivers, Jared Goff, and Aaron Rodgers.
Seattle wasn’t quite able to defeat Rivers and Goff in close contests, but the team notably held Rodgers and the Packers to only three second half points last week thanks to a dominant pass rush that produced five sacks in the game. With the impressive defensive turnaround after giving up 21 first half points, the Seahawks climbed out of an early 11-point hole and eventually came all the way back for a 27-24 win.
While the Seahawks were able to find ways to get to Rodgers last Thursday and move to 5-5 on the season, coach Pete Carroll understands they’ll face a vastly different obstacle when they travel cross country to battle Cam Newton and the Panthers.
Carroll acknowledged that Rodgers has mastered the art of extending plays by moving the pocket, but Newton adds the threat of tucking the football and running every time he drops back to pass to the equation. The 245-pound signal caller can be a load to bring down in open field and trails only Mitch Trubisky of the Bears for rushing yards among quarterbacks this season.
“He’s rushed for 350 something yards already, so he’s involved with it as much as ever.” Carroll said on Tuesday. “I think that you can see that [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] has really watched the stuff they’ve done in the past and picked out the good things that they’ve done and done a nice job of blending it all together.”
Hampered by an ankle injury in last week’s 21-20 loss to the Lions, Newton only rushed two times for two yards but still nearly led his team back from a two-score deficit, passing for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he couldn’t connect with receiver Jarius Wright on a two-point conversion attempt in the closing moments, dropping the Panthers to 6-4 on the year.
Under the guidance of Turner, Newton has completed a career-high 68 percent of his passes, thrown 20 touchdowns, and only been picked off six times, showing tangible growth as a pocket passer in his eighth NFL season. After years of struggling to put dynamic skill players around him, Carolina has also upgraded their offensive talent across the board, landing running back Christian McCaffery as well as receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel during the last two drafts.
In his second season out of Stanford, McCaffery has rushed for 632 yards and four touchdowns, but he’s also developed into Newton’s favorite target in the passing game. Through 10 games, he’s already caught 60 passes for 496 yards and scored four touchdowns as a receiver.
The selection of Moore has arguably been Carolina’s best addition, however, as he’s given Newton a true number one receiver who can beat defenses vertically. The former Maryland standout boasts 4.42 speed and produced his finest game as a pro in Detroit, catching seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown.
With so many weapons at Newton’s disposal and one of the best rushing attacks in the league, Carroll has certainly taken notice and credited Turner with getting the most out of his players in the confines of his offensive scheme.
“They’re bombing the ball down the field, they’ve got great balance, they’re using everybody, they got a lot of receivers to use, the tight ends are good.” Carroll said while highlighting the impact Turner has had on the Panthers offense. “He’s got a great toy in Christian McCaffrey that they do all kinds of stuff with. It’s a difficult offense always when Cam [Newton] is back there because he runs the ball so well.”
Slowing down McCaffery will be imperative, but at the end of the day, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner believes the key to beating the Panthers still revolves around preventing Newton from “getting going” as a runner.
“You definitely got to tackle him – he’s a big dude…” Wagner said. “You don’t want to misread something, let him get 10, 15 yards and make a good pass because he seems to feed off of good plays. Once he has a good play and has energy, that kind of seems to ignite the team too. You’ve got to limit his big plays as much as you can.”
If Seattle can neutralize Newton and McCaffery on the ground, Carroll is banking on the pass rush impacting the game in a similar fashion to last week against Rodgers, which could make all the difference in a game between two teams heavily entrenched in the NFC Wild Card hunt.
“It was everybody working together with great intensity and feeding off one another. It wasn’t any one guy highlighted against a matchup or something like that.” Carroll said while reflecting on the Seahawks five sacks and now facing Newton. “That was everybody pushing and the sacks were really a combination of guys’ efforts. I’m hoping that that will be a part again because if you noticed, we broke the pocket down and that’s important to do with Cam as well because he can get out and really scorch you too.”