Panthers say they’re ready for NFL trendy favorite Seattle Seahawks in next Sunday’s opener

jperson@charlotteobserver.comAugust 31, 2013 

Seattle is the new “it” team in the NFL, with an energetic, music playlist-tweeting coach, a young, dual-threat quarterback and a stacked roster that has made the Seahawks a trendy Super Bowl pick.

Seattle put two players – the aforementioned Russell Wilson and cornerback Richard Sherman – on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a six-week span. And Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s feel-good philosophy – featuring sports psychology, meditation sessions and team-wide yoga classes – is the cover subject of ESPN the Magazine’s NFL preview issue.

The Panthers, who play host to Seattle in the Sept. 8 opener, don’t care how many magazine covers the Seahawks have graced or how many Downward Facing Dog yoga poses they’ve struck.

Carolina will be looking for a little old-school payback against the new-age Seahawks – and a rare Week 1 victory – when the teams kick it off at Bank of America Stadium next weekend.

“I guess they’re the poster boy of the NFL right now,” Panthers second-year corner Josh Norman said. “They’re doing a lot of really good things. But so are we. ... It’s going to be a great matchup.”

“I’m glad they’ve got a buzz. I’m glad they’re feeling good about themselves,” Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy added. “But if they don’t block, they don’t run, they don’t score – they don’t win. It’s as simple as that.”

There’s little buzz surrounding the Panthers despite a strong finish in 2012, when they won five of their last six games after a 2-8 start.

Sports Illustrated ranked the Panthers the NFC’s worst team, predicting them to finish with a 6-10 record. Such a scenario would hasten the end of the Ron Rivera era.

Seattle went 11-5 last season. Only a 49-yard field goal by Atlanta’s Matt Bryant kept the Seahawks out of the NFC championship game.

Carroll beefed up an inconsistent pass rush by signing defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. The Seahawks gave Wilson another weapon by trading for wideout Percy Harvin, although the former Viking is out a minimum of three months following hip surgery.

Harvin is not the only missing Seahawk. Three of Seattle’s defensive ends are either injured or suspended.

Avril is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury, Chris Clemons is coming off ACL surgery and Bruce Irvin will sit the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance.

But plenty of talent remains on both sides of the ball. Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are part of a physical secondary, while running back Marshawn Lynch and wideouts Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are among the playmakers at Wilson’s disposal.

“They’re stacked,” Panthers corner Captain Munnerlyn said. “And I feel like we’re pretty good ourselves.”

Wilson is the straw that stirs the Seahawks’ double-shot macchiato. At 5-11, the former N.C. State and Wisconsin standout was thought to be too small to see over the hulking linemen in the NFL.

The Panthers eyed Wilson as a possible late-round pick who could serve as a mini-Cam Newton in their zone read packages. But the Seahawks took him in the third round, and he started all 16 games, throwing for 3,000 yards and running for nearly 500.

“I think Russell Wilson rejuvenated that team,” said Panthers’ radio analyst Eugene Robinson, who played 11 of his 16 NFL seasons in Seattle. “That team has always been a good, solid team. But having the quarterback that they have – probably one of the most sensational quarterbacks they’ve had.

“I remember Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn, not to mention (Matt) Hasselbeck. But with the advent of the read option, I think Russell Wilson and his calm demeanor have probably taken that city by storm.”

Norman trained with Wilson before last year’s draft at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where Wilson was the smallest big man on IMG’s 450-acre campus.

“I knew he was going to be special because his accuracy is off the chain. I’ve never met another quarterback who’s accurate the way he is, as (short) as he is,” Norman said. “He can do a lot of things and create a lot of mismatches. He can scramble out of the pocket and try to create something. And when he throws it, it’s on point.”

Wilson outplayed Newton in the Seahawks’ 16-12 win in Charlotte in Week 5 last year. Wilson completed 19 of 25 passes for 221 yards, while Newton connected on just 12-of-29 passes for a career-low 141 yards. The Panthers faced a fourth-and-goal at the 1 with less than four minutes left, but Newton bounced a pass at the feet of an open Ben Hartsock in the end zone.

The Panthers sacked Wilson twice and also intercepted him twice – including a pick that Munnerlyn returned 33 yards for a score on Carolina’s longest play of the game.

Hardy, who had one of the two sacks on Wilson, aims to bring the heat on him again.

“He’s a great quarterback. He’s got some good blockers. But you know how we get down,” Hardy said. “We’re bringing it for four quarters. We’re going to tire him out. He can run all he wants. Eventually we’re going to catch him.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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