The Seahawks added tight end Jimmy Graham this off-season to hopefully jump start their passing game. Through the first five weeks, it doesn't look like that is happening. Why has Graham struggled so far this season? Has he just not had the opportunity to make an impact?
RR: As you might expect, there are a lot of factors behind Graham's disappointing production. While no expected Graham to match the production he had as the focal point of a Drew Brees directed passing attack, Graham has caught 21 for just 204 yards (and two scores) through the first five games -- third behind wideouts Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse among Seattle's pass-catchers. It is clear that Russell Wilson has not yet developed the trust to simply force the ball into Graham when he's covered and allow the 6-7, 265 pounder with 4.5 speed to simply make a play. Wilson tried doing precisely that a week ago in the red zone against the Cincinnati Bengals and it backfired with an interception.
Frankly, with Marshawn Lynch out of the lineup opposing defensive coordinators have schemed to take Graham away. With Lynch expected to return Sunday against the Panthers, it will be interesting to see if Graham becomes more of an asset in the passing game soon.
The Seahawks' offensive line has struggled for a majority of the season but seemed to click against the Bengals. Do you think this a fluke or a sign of things to come?
RR: The Seahawks are fortunate to have one of the NFL's better offensive line coaches in former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable. His zone-blocking scheme is a proven winner, as is his ability to teach technique. That's why Seattle has been so willing to use converted defensive linemen along the offensive line, taking advantage of the raw athleticism, strength and size of players like starting right guard J.R. Sweezy and this year's starting center Drew Nowak -- each of whom were defensive tackles in college.
Of course, those former defensive linemen take time to acclimate to the other side of the football. The Seahawks expect steady progress from their young line. There will certainly be hiccups along the way but the feeling inside the building is that last week's 200 net rushing yards on the road in Cincinnati is a sign of good things to come. The Seahawks have struggled protecting Wilson but lead the NFL in rushing (averaging 142.4 yards per game) -- just as it did last year.
This is probably one of the most anticipated games for the Panthers' fans as they view the Seahawks as the team to beat. Many question the legitimacy of the 4-0 start for this team but a win over Seattle should erase some of those questions. Do you get the impression that this is a marquee game for the Seahawks?
RR: The Seahawks are saying both publicly and privately that the Panthers are a legitimate contender in the NFC. Cam Newton is playing very well and the defense is making big plays. There is no denying that the Seahawks have had the Panthers number in recent years, winning the past five matchups. However, three of those were by a margin of five points or less and last year's NFC Divisional Playoff at CenturyLink Field was a lot closer than the 31-17 final margin.
Most opponents are going to view the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks as a marquee matchup and there is no doubt that Seattle views this game as critical to righting the ship after last week's 17 point fourth quarter collapse against the Bengals. The Panthers are one of the few teams talented enough to beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
Kam Chancellor recently ended his holdout and re-joined the Seahawks. How much of an impact has he had and is the Legion of Boom back?
RR: Though Chancellor was singled out by Fox analyst Troy Aikman on two touchdowns the Seahawks allowed last week to Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, Seattle's All-Pro strong safety has played shockingly well over the past three games given his long holdout. Chancellor is the unquestioned leader in the secondary, providing not only the physical presence in the Legion of Boom but the recognition to identify the offense's pre-snap plans.
Fellow All-Pros Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are also performing well and newcomer Cary Williams has flashed. Depth, however, is a concern with former nickel corners Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon both out for the foreseeable future.
Seattle's secondary is playing well (especially at home) but it hasn't played up to the Legion of Boom standards of recent years -- at least not yet.
Who is one player on the Seahawks that Panthers' fans may not know a lot about but could have a major impact on the outcome of the game on Sunday?
RR: Whether they wind up making a major impact remains to be seen but it appears increasingly likely that the Seahawks will be without star middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who suffered a strained pectoral last week against the Bengals. His injury could push Brock Coyle back into the starting lineup (he started two games Wagner missed a year ago) at middle linebacker or perhaps push outside linebacker K.J. Wright inside to fill Wagner's position, which could give speedy (but undersized) OLB Kevin Pierre-Louis into a starting role for the first time in his NFL career.
Coyle and Pierre-Louis each are surprisingly athletic but lack Wagner's power. Given the size of Newton and Carolina's running backs, they'll be matchups to watch in this game.