CHARLOTTE – To have success defending the Seattle offense, the Panthers knew they had to stand tall against the run.
The Seahawks came to Carolina with the league's top-ranked rushing attack, and they were limited to just 75 rush yards on 28 attempts (2.7 per carry).
Mission accomplished, at least in that regard.
"Seattle had done a nice job all season running the football," defensive coordinator Eric Washington said. "Our guys were determined, they did an excellent job in practice preparing. They carried that over to the game field."
Carolina's stinginess against the run created optimal third-and-long situations. But quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense weren't fazed. In fact, some of their biggest plays came on third-and-long.
Take this sequence in the middle of the third quarter, for instance.
On first down, running back Chris Carson gained two yards on the ground. On the next play, Carson was stuffed by linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Kawann Short for a 4-yard loss.
Then, on third-and-12, Seattle picked up the blitz and Wilson found wide receiver David Moore down the sideline for a 54-yard completion.
The Panthers defense responded by limiting rookie running back Rashaad Penny to one yard on two carries. Then, on third-and-9, Wilson took advantage of a clean pocket (Carolina rushed four) to connect with wide receiver Tyler Lockett for an 11-yard touchdown.
"Our rush and coverage just have to complement one another," Washington said. "Any time the quarterback drops back to pass, whether it's a third down situation, two-minute, what have you, those things have to work together. It's an 11-man operation, it's not one person, it's not one person up front, it's all 11 guys doing what they're supposed to do on that play so that we can have the outcome that we need."
On Sunday, Wilson again showed how much stress he can put on a defense. He finished with with 339 passing yards and a 128.3 passer rating.
With his ability to scramble and extend plays, defensive linemen are forced to rush with the idea of keeping him contained in the pocket. Because when Wilson escapes contain, is when he's often most dangerous – as we all were reminded.
"Russell Wilson can execute from the pocket and he can really break down your coverage if he's in a position where he can extend the play," Washington said. "You want to try to keep (a QB like him) in the pocket. That forces them to throw from a well and it eliminates the opportunity for them to extend the play which really stresses the coverage concept."