Three Key Players on the Panthers Defense Against the Seahawks

The Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks are built very similarly in the fact that they both rely on exceptional defenses. Both defenses currently rank in the top 10 in yards against per game with Seattle 5th (306.8 yards) and Carolina 10th (339 yards) so it is expected this will be a low-scoring affair. These are three players on the Panthers' defense that will be key to their success against the Seahawks.

Luke Kuechly

Certainly all eyes will be on the return of Luke Kuechly to the middle of this Carolina Panthers defense. The Panthers have been able to get by the past three weeks and are still a Top 10 defense as noted above.

However the return of arguably the best middle linebacker in the game is only going to make this group better. Ron Rivera has already said that the team hopes to keep Kuechly on a snap count however that may not be possible with his replacement, A.J. Klein, in the concussion protocol. The team tried to do this earlier in the year with center Ryan Kalil coming back from injury but he ended up playing the entire game against the Jacksonville Jaguars

If the team is without Klein, they can find ways to give Kuechly a break by using two linebacker formations with Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. This is going to be fluid and it depends on how Kuechly feels over the course of the game. No matter how much he plays, the return of Kuechly will be a big boost as the Panthers' try to shut down the Seahawks run game.

Ryan Delaire

The team could be without defensive end Jared Allen as he deals with a pinched nerve in his back. This means the Panthers could turn to Kony Ealy and Wes Horton as their starting defensive ends however neither are really feared pass rushers. This is where Delaire comes in.

In his first NFL game, the undrafted rookie registered two sacks on Bucs' quarterback Jameis Winston and showed a burst that has been lacking from the position. Through the first four games, the Panthers' defensive ends, other than Delaire, have only accounted for three sacks which all came in the first week of the season.

Seahawks' Russell Wilson has been hit numerous times this season and has been sacked the most of any quarterback in the NFL at 22 times. This presents a great opportunity for Delaire to follow up his strong game in Tampa Bay with another one in Seattle.

Shaq Thompson

When the Panthers' defense lines up against the the Seahawks they will see a familar face at tight end in Jimmy Graham. The former New Orleans Saints has not had the same success in Seattle over the first five weeks with only 21 receptions for 204 yards and two touchdowns. While he may not be putting up the same numbers this year, he is still a dangerous threat for this offense.

This is why first-round rookie Shaq Thompson is going to be important in this game as he should be the guy who covers Graham in pass coverage. Thompson is an athletic linebacker, who played some safety in college, who has the speed and agility to stay with Graham when he is out running his routes. 

This week Seahawks' head coach Pete Carroll said he hopes to get Graham more involved in this offense. According to ESPN's Sheil Kapadia, Carroll said "I’d love to get the ball in [Graham's] hands more. He did well in this game, but we could use more."

It would not be surprising to see Graham heavily involved early in this game and Thompson should be the guy responsible covering the athletic tight end.

Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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