Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril could determine outcome of Seattle-Carolina

Seattle's edge rushers against Carolina's penetrable offensive line could dictate which team makes it to the NFC title game.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril could determine outcome of Seattle-Carolina

The Seattle  defensive line was a major factor against the Vikings and will need to be again this Sunday if they are to take down the mighty Carolina Panthers.

Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril combined for 11 total pressures against the Vikings on 47 pass-rushing snaps, while Bennett also chipped in a batted pass. The pair also made major contributions in the run game, bottling up Adrian Peterson (-2.2) and giving the Vikings offense nowhere to go with the ball and no time to throw it, either.

Cam Newton and the Carolina offense pose tougher questions than the Vikings did, and they will do so in better weather conditions and with a better pass-protection group. But this extremely high level of play from Bennett and Avril is not a new revelation. How this matchup goes upfront will go a long way in determining the victor in the game.

As much as people like to make the argument that Newton has nothing around him in Carolina, that simply isn’t true in terms of the offensive line he has played with this season. The group is made up of some relatively unknown players, but they have blocked well as a unit. Only right tackle Mike Remmers has a negative pass-blocking grade for the season (six sacks allowed, 46 total pressures surrendered and 11 penalties).

Even Michael Oher, who has been little short of disastrous in the run game, has been adequate as a pass-blocker, surrendering 31 total pressures in his 1,111 snaps of action. Oher is actually the only Panther with a negative run blocking grade, and a large part of Carolina’s success this season has to do with the way they successfully run the football behind their offensive line.

What is interesting, though, is that the weaker spots to target on the Panthers’ O-line are around the fringes, where both Bennett and Avril prowl, routinely making significant noise.

Against Minnesota, Bennett made Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil (-0.9) look ridiculous multiple times. And while Oher has been better as a pass-blocker this season than Kalil has, he has been far worse as a run-blocker. As dynamic as Greg Olsen has been as a receiving weapon from his tight end spot, he has been one of the worst run-blockers in the NFL.

The combination of Oher and Olsen trying to block Bennett seems like a recipe for a 247-pound man bearing down on Newton or Jonathan Stewart shortly after the ball is snapped. For Avril’s part, he will be largely going up against Remmers in the pass game. The last time the two met, Remmers had the worst pass-blocking grade of his season, surrendering five pressures.

When you look back to the previous matchup in Week 6, Avril certainly got the better of Remmers, but Bennett was relatively quiet, posting an average pass-rushing grade but poor markings in run defense.

Bennett is the key both for the Seahawks defense and for this very matchup against the Panthers. He was too much for the Vikings to handle and destroyed Minnesota drives all by himself in Seattle’s first postseason victory of 2016. The Panthers did a pretty good job of keeping him under wraps the first time they met, but which team was able to take more from the film of that encounter?

If Bennett gets loose the way he did against the Vikings, it’ll make Newton’s day a whole lot tougher.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • awe;lkf

    When Newton carries, I think that Seattle’s DT’s abilities (Like Rubin and Hill) to get sideways and pursue will play a factor. Won’t be as much space between the edge player and the interior gaps as there normally is.

    • ‍ ‍‍‍‍

      frank clark

  • Matthew Mullen

    Cam’s willingness to run Powers or Draws up the gut will be interesting for Seattle, especially on 3rd-and-medium to long. The Seahawks speed rush package is fairly light, and lines up very wide with the “inside” guys often on the outside shoulders of the guards. This leaves a big gap in the middle which has been exploited for QB rush yards by guys like Jimmy Clausen and Andy Dalton. It’s not exactly a big weakness, but it feels like something that will have to be accounted for and could force Seattle to play a little differently on obvious passing downs. Wagner and Wright will have to be on their A game looking for Cam taking off if that space presents itself in the middle.

  • Carolina pete

    The thumbnail shown is why Seattle will get destroyed, Keep pounding Panters #CAROWNSSEATTLE