(Sports Network) - Qwest Field hasn't been the advantage it once was for the Seattle Seahawks over the last few weeks, and their recent poor performance cost them sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
The Seahawks get a chance to rebound this weekend against the one-win Carolina Panthers, who hope to avoid a sixth straight defeat on Sunday.
Known as one of the loudest venues in the NFL, Qwest Field has become a house of boos over Seattle's last two home games, as the team has been outscored by an 83-31 margin over that span. That includes a 42-24 setback last week to the Kansas City Chiefs, who shredded the Seahawks defense for 270 rushing yards. Seattle responded with just 20 yards on the ground and was outgained by a 503-288 count in total yards.
The Seahawks lost a second straight game and for the fourth time in their last five, falling to 5-6 on the season and into a tie with the St. Louis Rams for the NFC West's top spot.
"We really need to take back our home-field advantage," defensive tackle Craig Terrill told Seattle's website. "Our fans deserve it, and it's just the way we've played over the years. These last couple of outings are uncharacteristic of the type of team we have."
Seattle will get a chance against the 1-10 Panthers, who are tying to avoid losing six straight for the first time since the 2004 season. Carolina began the year with five straight setbacks before a home win over the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 24. However, the Panthers matched that skid with a heart- breaking 24-23 loss in Cleveland last Sunday.
Facing a Browns club that was being guided by quarterback Jake Delhomme, who spent his previous seven seasons with Carolina before getting released in March, rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen drove the Panthers from their own five to the Browns 25-yard line in the game's final stages. The big play on the drive was a 28-yard pass from Clausen to fellow rookie Brandon LaFell that set up a 42-yard field goal attempt for John Kasay. However, the kicker's try went off the left upright as time expired.
Kasay had converted three field goal tries with one other miss prior to his game-winning attempt.
"I wish I would have made that kick," Kasay told Carolina's website. "It's a neat thing, seeing young guys stepping up and making plays. That's what it takes to win in this league, and those guys did that [Sunday].
"They got the job done. I was the one that failed."
In falling to 0-5 on the road this year, the Panthers did maintain their inside track at the top pick of the 2011 NFL draft. Carolina is the only one- win team in the league, while the Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals are all 2-9.
The Panthers and Seahawks have met three times during the regular season, with Carolina winning two of those matchups. The home team has prevailed in all three encounters, with the Panthers recording victories in Charlotte in both 2000 (26-3) and 2007 (13-10) and Seattle coming through with a 23-17 triumph at Qwest Field in 2004.
These teams also squared off in the 2005 NFC Championship, with Seattle taking a 34-14 home decision to advance to their first and only Super Bowl.
Panthers head coach John Fox is 1-2 all-time against the Seahawks, while Seattle's Pete Carroll will be opposing both Fox and Carolina for the first time in his career.
WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL
Carolina surpassed its NFL-low season average of 259.2 yards per game versus the Browns, notching 326. The bulk of that came on the ground, where Mike Goodson (325 rushing yards, 33 receptions) and Jonathan Stewart combined for 149 yards and a touchdown. Stewart (306 rushing yards, 2 total TD) had missed the previous two games with a concussion and had 12 carries to Goodson's 14. Goodson had run for 220 yards in the two games Stewart missed and figures to share carries with his teammate down the stretch after scoring his first career touchdown last week. Clausen (887 passing yards, 1 TD, 5 INT), returning to the lineup after missing a game with a concussion, threw for a career-best 195 yards, while completing 16-of-28 passes without a touchdown and one interception. Clausen was also sacked three times and his favorite target was Goodson, who had game highs of eight catches and 81 yards receiving. Leading receiver Steve Smith (36 receptions, 2 TD) was held to just two catches for 33 yards and has been limited to only 10 receptions over his last four games. He also hasn't found the end zone since Week 2 versus Tampa Bay. Goodson is now second on the team in receptions, while rookie receiver David Gettis has donated 25 catches and three touchdowns to Carolina's 32nd- ranked pass attack (157.8 ypg). The Panthers also rank last in points per game at 12.7.
The Seahawks figure to face a lot of Stewart and Goodson on Sunday after they gave up nearly 300 yards on the ground last weekend and rank 22nd against the run (120.4 ypg. Seattle is also 23rd in the NFL with an average of 25.0 points per game allowed and is yielding nearly 400 yards of offense per week. One player that continues to impress, though, is rookie safety Earl Thomas (63 tackles, 5 INT), who has already tied Michael Boulware's record for the most interceptions as a rookie in team history and made eight tackles versus the Chiefs while also taking teammate Kennard Cox's blocked punt 10 yards for a score. That heads-up touchdown was the only one of the first half for the Seahawks a week ago. Linebacker David Hawthorne (66 tackles, 1 INT) led Seattle with 13 tackles against Kansas City, while safety Lawyer Milloy (63 tackles, 4 sacks) had 11. Though they didn't have a sack last weekend and are without defensive end Red Bryant (18 tackles, 1 sack) for the season due to a knee injury, Carolina's offensive line needs to keep an eye on end Chris Clemons (36 tackles), who has 7 1/2 sacks over his last nine games. Seahawks tackle Colin Cole (29 tackles, 1 sack) is likely to miss a fifth straight game with an ankle injury and cornerback Marcus Trufant (55 tackles, 1 INT) left in the first quarter of last Sunday's loss, but returned to action in the second period despite an ankle injury.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
While Seattle's defense failed to stop the Chiefs last weekend, the offense could not keep up. The Seahawks' season average dipped below 300 yards per game after the 288-yard effort versus Kansas City, and the club is last in the NFL with just 77.9 yards per game on the ground. Running back Marshawn Lynch (273 rushing yards, 2 TD) led the way last week with 20 yards on seven carries. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (2392 passing yards, 10 TD, 9 INT) threw for 282 yards and had a pair of touchdown passes in the loss, including an 87- yarder to wide receiver Ben Obomanu early in the fourth quarter, but was also picked off twice. Obomanu (20 receptions, 4 TD) set a career high with 159 yards on five catches, while Brandon Stokley (22 receptions) added five receptions for 51 yards. In all, nine different players caught passes, with tight end Chris Baker finishing with the other touchdown catch, but it was too late as Seattle had just 71 yards of offense in the first half. Left guard Chester Pitts missed the Kansas City game due to an ankle injury and was replaced by Mike Gibson, while wideout Mike Williams (654 receiving yards, 1 TD) also sat out the contest with a foot ailment. Williams leads the team with 52 receptions, with wide receiver Deon Butler (3 TD) coming in second with 27 catches.
Fox made a couple of switches to his defense versus the Browns and both moves paid off. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (19 tackles, 2 INT) got the start over the pricey Chris Gamble (35 tackles) and returned an interception 37 yards for a score, while linebacker Jason Williams (9 tackles) forced and recovered a fumble in his first career start. Gamble had started in 42 straight games before this past weekend, but still saw time on the field. It is unknown if he will return to the starting lineup for this game. Carolina and its 25th-ranked run defense (130.5 ypg) struggled up front last week, allowing Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis to run for 131 yards in addition to three first- half touchdowns. Defensive ends Charles Johnson (45 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Tyler Brayton (15 tackles, 1 sack) each came away with a sack versus Cleveland, with Johnson getting to the quarterback for a second straight week. Linebacker James Anderson (99 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) led the club with 10 tackles against Cleveland, while safety Sherrod Martin (57 tackles) had nine and strong-side safety Charles Godfrey (64 tackles, 4 INT) eight. Linebacker Jon Beason (84 tackles, 1 INT) had an interception in the loss, while Gamble remains one pick shy of matching Eric Davis (25) for the most in team history.
One wouldn't figure to find a host of fantasy options on the 32nd-ranked offense, and that sure is the case with Carolina here. Clausen's growing pains have hindered Smith's production, and don't expect him to come close to matching the eight catches and 72 yards he had in his last meeting with the Seahawks. The return of Stewart also hinders the run game as he shares carries with Goodson, who is probably the better play of the two as the hot hand. Still, expect his numbers to continue on a downward slope. Avoid Carolina's defense. Kasay has attempted 17 kicks of 40 yards or more this year, making 13 of them with a long of 55 yards.
Seattle's lack of a run game should keep Lynch and Justin Forsett on fantasy benches, though Carolina's struggles versus the run could open the door for Lynch to be a sleeper play. Hasselbeck also isn't a terrible play given the matchup, while Obomanu earns sleeper status again as the top passing threat if Mike Williams can't go. Like Carolina, Seattle's defense isn't worth a look, while kicker Olindo Mare has missed just three of his 23 field goal tries this year. Two of those have come inside 30 yards, though.
Though unlikely to quit on the field, the Panthers are still playing for the top pick in the upcoming draft and it's hard to see them getting too excited for his cross-country trip. Four of Carolina's last five losses have come by double digits with the exception of last weekend's heart-breaker. While Seattle has struggled at home lately, a quick start will help get the "12th Man" back into the game and rattle the inexperienced Clausen. Seattle will also get a chance to get its run game going versus the Panthers and pick up a much-needed home win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 23, Panthers 13