Friday, January 20, 2006

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW!

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS:

The 'Hawks are NOT a flighty bunch! Last week, without the skills of RB Shaun Alexander, Seattle handily whupped a decent Washington Redskin squad by 10 points.
QB Matt Hasselbeck is such an under-rated talent. In a recent Blog and even in my Pre-Season fantasy rankings, I listed 'Beck as the ultimate "Steady-Eddie" Signal Caller. Hasselbeck has great poise and pocket presence, he's agile enough to avoid the rush, and nimble enough to scramble for a first or to simply buy time. Capable of making every throw in the book, when the team lost RB Shaun Alexander to a concussion early in the 1st Quarter of last week's game and the team was reduced to a 1-dimensional offense, Hasselbeck and his corps of capable pass catchers kept the solid Redskin Defense moving backwards.
With WR Darrell Jackson healthy and complemented by a nifty and dangerous Bobby Engram and a savvy veteran in Joe Jurevicius, the passing game is capable of spreading the Panther Secondary T...H...I...N (thin). Further, big TE Jerramy Stevens can catch the ball... and I have a sneaky suspicion that Holmgren is waiting for just the right time to dust him off and use him.

This past season... which team do you think racked the most Sacks. Chicago? Nope', though Chi-Town brought opposing QBs crashing to Earth 41 times. Indianapolis, you venture? Uh-uh, though the Colts garnered even more Sacks than the Bears with 46. Okay, gotta be the formidable Steeler squad, right? Wrong. The Steelers certainly haunted opposing Qubes' dreams... but they recorded 47 QB crunches. Obviously you see where I'm going with this. The Seahawks no-name group of 'Backers and line recorded a league-leading 50 Sacks. In addition, a D-Unit that's as tight as 1970's Afro recorded the 5th best Run D ceding a scant 94 YPG, and they allowed a measly 271 TOTAL points to be scored against 'em. That assured the team of a league-wide 7th ranking.
Look for rookie LB Lofa Tatupu, a guy who notched 85 Solo stops, 4 Sacks, 3 INTs, and 1 defensive TD to play a key role in Seattle's win! CBs Jordan Babineaux (62 Tackles, 3 INTs, 8 PD) and Marcus Trufant (55 Stops, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 14 PD), and Ss Michael Boulware (58 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 4 picks, 9 PD) and Marquand Manuel (59 Tackles) will have to bottle up the irrepressible Panther Wideout, Steve Smith. Smith WILL be the Seahawk defenses' greatest challenge
Lastly, can't discount the strength and advantage Kicker Josh Brown brings to the table. The heavy-footed Kicker converted 18 of 25 FG attempts, and 56 of 57 XP's. Keep in mind, though, that 5 of his FG attempts were 50+ yarders, and another 4 were of the 45-49 yard variety.

Look for RB Shaun Alexander to disregard his concussion and go full-bore from the get-go. Should "Alexander the Great" still be suffering lingering concussion effects, than QB Matt Hasselbeck is MORE than capable of carrying the scoring load. It will, however, be up to the stout Seattle D to keep the score close.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers have exceeded all expecations and have made it to the NFC Title game. Road-Warriors are they those Carolina cats'; they seek to become the first team in NFL history to reel off 5 straight ROAD Playoff W's. Indeed, the Panthers are looking to earn their 2nd 'Bowl berth inside of 3 seasons. In '04, 'Lina crept into Philly' and... surprise surprise, beat D-Nabb and his flock of Eagles 14-3. They then had the ignominious honor of losing "Big Game 38" to Tom Terrific and his merry band o' Patriots by the score of 32-29.
Are "Jake and his Del-Homeys" THAT good? Actually, they are. In much the same way that opposing Seattle Field General Matt Hasselbeck commands a mostly faceless band of pass catchers, the Panthers are an anonymous group... with the exception of slinky-slick pass catcher Steve Smith. Opposite Smith: 2nd year man Keary Colbert and the most venerable Ricky Proehl.
The Panthers have been over-looked and under-rated all season long. For their "Opening Act," the "Wild-Card" round, the Panthers took the G-Men out behind the shed and administered a 23-0 whipping. Next, for their encore performance, 'Lina handed a 29-21 loss to the Defensive-minded Bears in the "Divisional Game"... a game whose score was closer than the game itself.
QB Jake Delhomme enjoyed a solid statistical season, notching 24 TDs to 16 INTs. However, a sneaky stat' are his incredible 12 fumbles... 6 of which were lost. That's a HUGE number for a QB. Keep an eye on that, for the Seahawks are an opportunistic D.
Delhomme seemingly has 1 pass catcher of consequence; WR Steve Smith. Other teams KNOW Smith is coming... they prepare for Smith... they scheme for Smith... yet they can't STOP Steve Smith! If the Cat pass catcher's 103 grabs for almost 1,600 yards and 12 receiving TDs served as the extent of his offensive contributions.... it'd be more than sufficient. HOWEVER, Smith is a rare, once-in-a-decade kind of playmaker. Carolina's top-Cat can serve as a Running Back, return man, and is, in general, a weapon "par excellence." Once inside the Red-Zone the "Human Highlight" can take an "end-around," pitch or reverse, and dart 10-15 yards to the "6-Point Promised Land." In addition Smith will catch a little "hitch" or Slant, and with his speed... once he finds the open field he's virtually impossible to corral. Several Bear players were forced to dash back to Chicago's Training Room for new Jock-straps as Smith's faked them loose!
The problem that I see, though it hasn't been an issue yet, is that Carolina really lacks a complementary receiver. RB DeShaun Foster was a very good runner, but his receiving skills are what set him apart from Carolina's other backs. Now, out with a broken ankle, it'll be up to RB Nick Goings to keep the 'Hawk D honest. Goings has proven himself capable of 3-Down duty... nad he'll need to help keep the chains moving. At 6'/225, Goings is a load and in 22 post-season totes, the dude averaged over 4 YPC. As I see it, his performance will be pivotal to the outcome of the game.
The 'Hawks will pressure Delhomme and give up all the underneath stuff... but Smith will be double and even triple-covered, in an effort to prevent him from getting into open space.

As for the ''Lina D, DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, DT Brentson Buckner, and LBs Will Witherspoon and Dan Morgan constitute a formidable and relentless pass rush!
The D-Backfield is a strong, ball-hawking bunch. CBs Ken Lucas (69 stops / 6 picks / 15 PD) and Chris Gamble (66 Tackles/ 7 INTs/ 12 PD), along with SS Mike Minter (43 stops / 1 INT / 9 PD) are skilled enuff' to limit the considerable damage a skilled Seahawk receiving corps can do. Keeping the "slickery" pass catchers sandwiched between DBs will prevent them from finding the 'Zone. Allowing them yardage but not scores will be an effective strategy.

We shall see!

I see the 'Hawks winning this tilt 31-20

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