Coming off a Week 13 bye, the Panthers (4-8) will be well-rested when they travel to face off against the Seahawks, who are putting together an impressive season in the wake of quarterback Russell Wilson’s departure. Former high draft pick Geno Smith has put together a career year as he’s led the Seahawks to late-season playoff contention.
The Seahawks (7-5) are coming off a coming off a 27-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Here are five things to know about the Panthers’ Week 14 opponent:
Geno Smith has changed his career narrative
When the Seahawks traded Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a treasure trove of draft picks and role players in March, Drew Lock appeared to be Seattle’s likely replacement at QB. However, Smith consistently outperformed Lock in training camp and the preseason, and he’s never looked back. Through 12 games, Smith has thrown for a career-high 3,169 yards and 22 touchdowns (tied for fourth-best mark in the league).
Smith was considered a journeyman backup as recently as this summer. But he has flourished under the stewardship of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, leading Seattle to the cusp of a playoff berth.
Smith has consistently made big plays. He has also protected the football, with only six interceptions through 12 weeks.
The Panthers defended Wilson well in Week 12 and will need to follow that same script against Smith, who has above-average mobility. Smith has strong pocket mobility, which could burn the Panthers’ defensive front.
Beware of the rookie DB
Seahawks rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen has been a standout through the first dozen games of his career. Entering Week 14, Woolen has six interceptions, which is tied for tops in the NFL.
At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Woolen has the size and length to overshadow receivers in coverage.
With D.J. Moore looking to continue to build chemistry with Sam Darnold, the Panthers will need to account for where Woolen is at all times. If Darnold makes a mistake in the area of Woolen, a turnover could be the result.
Woolen should also be viewed as a pass breakup threat. While his interceptions have been impressive, his 12 pass breakups indicate he can make plays even when he’s not creating turnovers.
The kicker is automatic
Seahawks kicker Jason Myers is putting together a strong season.
Through 12 games, he has converted on 23 of his 24 field goal attempts (95.8%) and 33 of his 34 extra-point attempts (97.1%). Myers has a huge leg and he’s made all five of his attempts beyond 50 yards this season. He has a career long of 61 yards.
The Panthers need to be aware that Myers is a threat and a weapon once the Seahawks get into enemy territory. That outlook makes Carolina’s task that much harder, as they won’t be able to bend regularly to the Seahawks, or they’ll face consequences on the scoreboard.
Carolina can run on Seattle
The Panthers have created a gritty, run-first offense under interim head coach Steve Wilks. Against the Seahawks, Carolina’s rough-and-tumble approach should pay off.
The Seahawks own the league’s 29th-ranked run defense. The group has allowed 155.3 rushing yards per game and 4.9 rushing yards per carry. The unit has also given up 16 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in the league.
The Panthers have been riding running back D’Onta Foreman’s coattails on offense for two months. The running back has averaged 87.7 yards per game and 4.6 rushing yards per carry since Week 7.
Foreman will look to continue to his progress on the ground on the road against Seattle.
Kenneth Walker III’s status is worth monitoring
Walker — the Seahawks’ rookie starting running back — left Sunday’s win over the Rams in the first half with an ankle injury. His status for this week’s matchup will be worth monitoring, as the rookie has been excellent during his first NFL season.
Walker has picked up 649 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games (seven starts). He has averaged 4.7 yards per carry, which has helped the Seahawks pick up big chunks of yardage on early downs.
Walker has also been a threat for Smith in the passing game. The two have connected on 19 completions for 116 yards. The Panthers will need to figure out how to stop Walker if he is cleared to play in Week 14.
The other running backs on the Seahawks’ roster are DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer and Tony Jones Jr. Dallas has picked up 104 yards on 24 carries, while Homer has 43 yards on nine carries. Jones has produced 14 yards on seven carries.
If Walker can’t play, the Seahawks’ offense could be pretty limited on the ground.