PFF Preview: Panthers @ Seahawks, Divisional Round
The late Saturday night Divisional Round Playoff game features two of the hottest teams to finish the season as the defending world champion Seattle Seahawks (12-4) and CenturyLink Field will host the Carolina Panthers (8-8-1). The Seahawks are blessed with arguably the loudest fans and best home field advantage in all of sports, losing just two home games in the past three seasons. The Panthers will look to quiet the noise and hope to continue an improbable six-game winning streak.
This game is a rematch of a low-scoring, sloppy Week 8 game which Seattle won 13-9. Dropped passes and fumbles rained down in Charlotte as the Seahawks and Panthers were both struggling to find their rhythm. The difference in that game was the pass rush threats of Seattle wreaking havoc on Carolina’s offensive line. Highlighted by defensive ends Cliff Avril (+2.9 pass rush) and Michael Bennett (+2.0 pass rush), and linebacker Bruce Irvin (+3.8 pass rush), tackles Byron Bell (-5.5 pass blocking) and Nate Chandler (-2.9 pass blocking) were simply outmatched. Bell and Chandler combined to give up seven hurries and a sack, while the pass rushing trio for Seattle combined for 10 hurries and two sacks. The stats don’t truly illustrate how overpowered the Panthers’ tackles were as they were continually tossed aside and bullrushed.
The Panthers still deploy Bell at left tackle, but have a new face at right tackle in Mike Remmers. Remmers has had some ups and downs but overall shows vast improvement and stability as he has given up just six hurries and one hit in six games this season and his +3.2 pass blocking grade is encouraging for Carolina. Bell also has improved in the second half of 2014 but still shows unimpressive grades. His first eight games (-16.6 pass blocking) and second eight games, including last week’s Wild Card game (-6.1 pass blocking) show the improvement, but more will be needed in order to slow the avalanche of rushers that Seattle can send.
Kelvin Benjamin – Of the rookie wide receivers, Benjamin logged the second-most snaps with 948, was third in receiving yards at 1,008, and third with 1.86 Yards per Route Run. He had one of his better games this year in Week 8, save for a dropped touchdown pass against Richard Sherman.
Jonathon Stewart – Stewart is in the midst of a hot streak grading in the green in five of the past six games. His +7.1 ranks second in that time frame and his 610 yards and 323 yards after contact are both tops in the league.
Tre Boston – Boston was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 14 and has rewarded his coaches with excellent play. The fourth-round rookie safety has a +4.9 since Week 14, with an absurd 13.9 QB Rating allowed, while also having just one negative game all year (backup role against Seattle).
Luke Kuechly – Yes, Kuechly is the most talked about Panther outside of Cam Newton, but his elite play backs it up. Fans and coaches want to see their star players perform their best in the playoffs and Kuechly, a finalist for PFF Defensive Player of the Year, did just that last week. His interception and pass defense helped the linebacker allow just a 35.1 QB Rating and a +3.5 in coverage.
Kawann Short – The second-year defensive tackle has turned it on for the Panthers during their winning streak, recording four sacks in the past five games after notching just one in the first 12 games. His 10 hurries during that time almost doubled his season total giving him a Pass Rush Productivity of 8.9 which ranks 5th in the league.
Doug Baldwin – Baldwin has been very consistent all year with his grade sheet littered with small pluses and small minuses resulting in a +6.3. His 103.2 WR Rating is 15th in the NFL ahead of Pro-Bowlers Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas.
Offensive Line – Not a single starter in this game will have a positive grade for the Seahawks if Max Unger does not return. The right side of tackle Justin Britt and guard J.R. Sweezy combined for a -28.3 pass block grade.
Marshawn Lynch – Lynch’s +19.6 rush grade is even more impressive when looking at all the red grades that his offensive line has. No one is better than Lynch, a second-team PFF All-Pro, at making tacklers miss as he tops the league in our Elusive Rating at 94.3 and his 88 missed tackles as a runner betters the next closest running back by 22.
Bruce Irvin – When Irvin was drafted 15th overall in 2012, many experts called it a reach because he was just a glorified pass rusher. After a shaky rookie year, Irvin has graded positively in his sophomore and junior seasons including a +12.3 run defense grade this season.
Richard Sherman – Sherman will be highly motivated to rip off an enormous game because in Week 8, he served up his only red grade (-2.1) of the year when covering Kelvin Benjamin. Week 9 Sherman bounced back with a monstrous +5.3. Another nugget; since Seattle’s Week 11 loss to Kansas City, Sherman has given up a total of 93 yards, allowing a 15.2 QB Rating.
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