Slowing down Panthers' Cam Newton, Greg Olsen should be top priority for Seahawks, says PantherInsider.com

Previewing Sunday's matchup with the undefeated Carolina Panthers by posing five questions to PantherInsider.com's Brandon Croce.

When the opportunity to converse with insightful editors of other team-oriented sites arises, SeahawkFootball.com will take full advantage. As crazy as it might sound, fans of other NFL teams are just as passionate for their club as the 12s are for the Seahawks. In a new feature we’ll call Speaking with the Enemy, we’ll share five Questions and Answers with the editors from this week’s opponent.

This week, we exchanged questions and answers with Brandon Croce, a lead writer for PantherInsider.com, Carolina’s affiliate on the Scout network.  

Here are my questions and his answers:

1. For so long the Carolina Panthers were known mostly for Cam Newton, the running game and the fearsome defensive line. Now, cornerback Josh Norman has established himself as a star. What's changed this year with Norman and just how good has he been so far in 2015?

It is hard to imagine how Josh Norman could play any better than he has in the early stages of 2015. He has had key plays in three of the Panthers' four victories with two interceptions returned for touchdowns and another interception in the final two minutes of the New Orleans Saints game that sealed the victory. This level of play dates all the way back to the middle of last season and he has only given up two touchdown reception in the past 22 games he has played according to Pro Football Focus. The only big difference this year is that Norman is forcing turnovers. When he gets a chance to intercepted passes he is capitalizing on those opportunities.

2. Speaking of Newton, from afar it would appear that he's taken another step in his development. From your perspective, is he a legitimate franchise quarterback that can take the Panthers to the Super Bowl?

This is a tricky question because I don't believe the Panthers get to the Super Bowl because of Cam Newton. There have been a number of examples of team's able to win the Lombardi Trophy with strong defenses and strong run games. A perfect example would be the Seattle Seahawks from a few seasons ago. This is what I believe the Panthers are hoping to do. 

Now Newton has looked vastly improved this year but I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that he is healthy. Last year, he dealt with a number of injuries that didn't allow him to utilize his full skill set, in particular his ability to scramble. He has looked much stronger when he is running with the ball and this part of his game has really kept defenses off balance and allowing him to control the game.

3. The Seahawks are hopeful that Marshawn Lynch will be back this week and the Panthers likely feel the same excitement about Luke Kuechly returning from a concussion. Based on what you've seen so far, how have the Panthers' linebacker corps fared with Kuechly being flanked by Thomas Davis and rookie Shaq Thompson?

The Panthers know what they get with Kuechly and Davis as they are two of the better players at their positions. Both are veterans who don't make many mistakes or miss many tackles.

However, this team hasn't really had an opportunity to see what exactly this group can do with the addition of Thompson as Kuechly has only played one half of football and during that half Thompson really wasn't involved. Thompson though has become a much bigger part of this defense since Week 1 and is incredibly athletic that adds a much needed dynamic to this team. The team has been able to match up with opposing offensive sets much better because of Thompson's ability to defend against the pass.

Thompson was one of those hybrid safety/linebackers who has struggled a bit against the run and I expect with Kuechly back that he will work out of a timeshare with A.J. Klein at outside linebacker, who is much better against the run.

4. The Seahawks have struggled to protect QB Russell Wilson. How have recently addition Jared Allen and second-year pro Kony Ealy fared as a replacement for Greg Hardy (and injured standout Charles Johnson), thus far?

The jury is still out on Jared Allen has he hasn't been healthy since joining the Panthers suffering a pinched nerve in his back during his first game with Carolina. As for Kony Ealy, he has been a disappointment so far and hasn't developed as quickly as some may have hoped. He finished the regular season last year with three straight games with a sack but hasn't been able to get much pressure this year.

One player that could be a boost for the Panthers' pass rush is undrafted rookie Ryan Delaire, who the Panthers signed before the Week 4 game against the Bucs. He showed incredibly burst off the edge and finished the game with two sacks in his first career game. If Allen is not able to go Sunday, this is the player Seahawks' fans should be concerned about.

5. The Seahawks have surrendered multiple touchdowns to tight ends already this season, including two last week to Tyler Eifert and the Bengals. Is Greg Olsen still Newton's favorite target? Who else is stepping up, given the injury to Kelvin Benjamin?

Greg Olsen is far and away the Panthers' number one option in the passing game. Olsen leads the Panthers in receptions (17), targets (34) and receiving yards (243). Meanwhile, the Panthers' wide receivers have been rather quiet with Ted Ginn Jr. emerging as the team's number one option. However, he is not on the level of a Kelvin Benjamin and Newton doesn't have a consistent threat on the outside. The team is hoping that second round rookie Devin Funchess can become more involved with this offense and he may get more opportunities coming out of the bye.


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