CHARLOTTE – Russell Wilson is still running around and making plays, Pete Carroll is still his energetic self on the sideline, and the Seahawks (5-5) remain in the playoff hunt.
But a lot has changed around Seattle’s quarterback and head coach since the Panthers-Seahawks rivalry was at its peak a few years back.
“A (Seattle) team that is a little different personnel wise than we’ve played over the years,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “A lot of new faces, but the same style, same culture. They’re used to winning, used to playing well.”
"It’s culture, and that’s important," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Coach Carroll has done a great job. They have been competitive for a long time."
The Seahawks won hard-fought regular season battles against the Panthers in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Seattle also pulled away from Carolina in a 2014 Divisional Playoff.
“They were a group that really gave us a hard time,” Rivera said.
In 2015, the Panthers flipped the script, taking down their nemesis – Rivera’s word – with a dramatic comeback victory early in the regular season and later edging Seattle in the Divisional Round.
The last time they faced off was a Sunday night contest in 2016 that the Seahawks won easily.
But this 2018 Seattle team looks quite a bit different. Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable changes.
OUT: Marshawn Lynch, Thomas Rawls
IN: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Mike Davis
The Panthers had to battle “Beast Mode” from 2012-15, and they did a commendable job containing the current Oakland Raider. Rawls, who is now a free agent, ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers in 2016.
Carson, Davis and the first-round pick Penny combine to form Seattle’s current three-headed attack in the backfield. After ranking 23rd in rushing a season ago, the Seahawks are back at the top of the league in rushing, averaging 154.3 yards per game.
“We went through a couple of years with guys banged up like crazy, and we weren’t able to find any continuity,” said Carroll, who like Rivera has always prioritized a consistent ground game. “That’s the first thing that has helped us. Offensive line play has really taken a jump too, and we’ve become a little more diverse in how we’re doing things.”
OUT: Jermaine Kearse, Luke Willson
IN: David Moore, Nick Vannett
Kearse was a dependable target who now plays for the Jets. Willson, now a Lion, was a thorn in Carolina’s side with a couple touchdown grabs.
Moore is another example of Seattle unearthing a late-round gem. The former seventh-round pick has 310 yards and four touchdowns on the year. Vannett is the top tight end after being drafted in the third round in 2016. Former Panther Ed Dickson is behind him on the Seattle depth chart but scored the game-winning touchdown in last week's Thursday Night Football victory over the Packers.
OUT: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin
IN: Frank Clark, Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo
Bennett (traded to Philly), Avril (retired) and Irvin (signed by Raiders and then Falcons) wreaked a lot of havoc together.
But Seattle has remade its front. Clark is a disruptive defensive end the Panthers have seen before, and he already had 10 sacks on the year. Jordan and Mingo are former first-round picks of the Dolphins and Browns respectively, and they’ve settled in with the Seahawks.
OUT: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor
IN: Tre Flowers, Shaquill Griffin, Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson
The famed “Legion of Boom” featured some of the best defensive backs in the game, and the Panthers had to deal with all three at their best.
But Sherman joined the 49ers as a free agent, Thomas suffered a season-ending injury in what was much-publicized contract year and Chancellor has been on the physically unable to perform list all year (he’s suggested he might be done with football).
So that group in the back end now looks more like the “Legion of Whom?” but they continue to challenge opposing offenses. Seattle ranks 11th in total defense (348.1 yards per game) and pass defense (236.6 yards per game).
“They may not have the ‘Legion of Boom’ or the players that were faces of the team,” quarterback Cam Newton said, “but this team still is capable of playing at a high level.”
Carolina has played Seattle seven times since 2013. The Seahawks lead the all-time series 8-4.