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The Last Word: Panthers vs. Seahawks

Luke Kuechly and Russell Wilson before the snap

Bill Voth

Offensive key: The Clarks. That should be the Panthers' biggest concern offensively Sunday. Left tackle Chris Clark has done a fine job since coming to Carolina in Week 2, but this week he'll line up across from a matchup nightmare. Seattle defensive end Frank Clark has terrorized offenses with 10.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. The Panthers will likely need to give their Clark some help via double teams or chips if they're going to consistently contain the other Clark, who's racked up seven of his sacks since Week 6.

Defensive key: The Panthers have been inconsistent tacklers this season, and in last week's first half at Detroit, they were just plain bad. Now they have to shore that up in time to face the league's No. 1 rushing team. The Seahawks aren't only averaging the most yards on the ground per game; they're also running more than anyone else with a three-headed attack of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and first-round pick Rashaad Penny. By the way, in their six wins, the Panthers have allowed 75.2 rushing yards per game. In their four losses, they've allowed an average of 133.5. 

Gutsy guess: We thought DJ Moore's breakout game was when he totaled 129 yards on seven touches against the Ravens. Then, with a 157-yard day in Detroit, he had the biggest game for a Panthers' wideout since Steve Smith put up 181 at Chicago in 2011. Well, Moore still doesn't have a multi-touchdown game. In fact, he only has two scores this season. He'll double that total with one in the air and one on the ground versus Seattle.

Max Henson

Offensive key: Quarterback Cam Newton always harps on the importance of staying on rhythm, and Carolina has been struggling to do that. A scoring drive to open the game can't be followed up by a bunch of three-and-outs. And those lulls are keeping this team from playing complementary football. Especially in this matchup, the Panthers need to control the clock some and show more consistency on the offensive side.

Defensive key: Last time out against the Lions, quarterback Matthew Stafford avoided the rush to create some plays. We know that's what Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is known for. Carolina's defensive line has to be disciplined with their rush angles and the defensive backs have to have their heads on a swivel when plays are extended. It's not easy, but that's always part of the challenge against the dual-threat Wilson.

Gutsy guess: Newton has just four rushes for 12 yards over the last two games. With the outcome of Sunday's game so important, and with it being played on Newton's turf, I expect him to take matters into his own hands more frequently – to the tune of two rushing touchdowns.

Bryan Strickland

Offensive key: A couple of weeks back I wrote about how the Panthers had started getting off to good starts offensively but that they were still struggling to get started in the second half. That clearly hurt them last week when, down 10-7 at the half, a potential momentum-altering drive in the third quarter ended with a missed field goal and began turning the game the wrong way. Games are won in the second half, and the Panthers can't continue this way - scoring a league-low 13 points in the third quarter - if they want to wrestle control away from the opposition.

Defensive key: Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin looks like he's ready to break out; the Panthers have to make sure that doesn't happen for at least another week. Baldwin was slowed by a knee injury for much of the first half of the season, but the No. 1 receiver with slot skills to boot appeared to be finally rounding into shape in Seattle's last game. A groin injury slowed him in practice this past week, and the Panthers secondary needs to slow the potential game-changer come Sunday.

Gutsy guess: Defensive tackle Kawann Short sacked elusive Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott twice in the season opener, but Short hasn't sacked anyone since. Wilson on paper isn't the best quarterback to snap a sack drought against, but Short did sack Wilson twice in Carolina's monstrous victory in Seattle in 2015. In a game that looms large as far as the 2018 season is concerned, Short will again get to Wilson a couple of times.