Seahawks hoping for big things from Bennett, Avril vs. Panthers

For the Seahawks to continue their Super Bowl push, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and the rest of Seattle's pass rushers have to be just as disruptive against Carolina as they were last week in the win over the Vikings... albeit in an entirely different way.

According to the official stat-sheet, Seahawks Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett recorded just three tackles in Sunday's victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Anyone watching his performance in the wildcard round win, however, knows that Bennett was much more disruptive than these numbers indicate.

If the Seahawks are going to continue their pursuit of an unprecedented (in the salary cap era) third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, Bennett and his pass-rushing cohort, Cliff Avril, are going to have to be just as effective this upcoming Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

The Seahawks shuffled Bennett all over the defensive line against Minnesota, starting him at right defensive end (against the left tackle), before sliding him inside to defensive tackle and later back outside, but at left defensive end.

Regardless of where he lined up, Bennett was disruptive - something Pete Carroll noted this week after reviewing the Vikings' film.

"Just that he's such a problem," Carroll said when asked what stood out about Bennett's performance against Minnesota. "He was in the backfield all day long. He didn't really have the numbers, the big tackles and sacks and stuff like that, but he was a big factor. They couldn't block him. Mike gets himself in position sometimes where he gets handled a little bit, but for the most part he's really a problem. He's just, like we keep talking about, he's so quick to react to things, and he can take advantage of his awareness, and the preparation, and really the initial quicks that he has to penetrate and get in the backfield. He's just really a special football player."  

Avril didn't get as much of the attention as Bennett during Sunday's telecast but he was the much more productive player, recording six tackles, including three for loss and a sack.

Each - along with fellow edge rushers Bruce IrvinFrank Clark and Cassius Marsh - will be critically important against Cam Newton and the Panthers, though in an altogether different way.

Whereas Bennett, Avril and Co. essentially had free reign to rush upfield against Teddy Bridgewater (a traditional pocket passer), Seattle's pass rushers can't lose contain and creating easy scrambling opportunities for Newton.

While Newton's accuracy this season has been vastly improved, his athleticism and raw power as a runner remain the x-factor which has helped him enjoy an MVP-caliber campaign.

Carolina's offensive tackles - Michael Oher and Mike Remmers - are the relative weak spots up front for the Panthers but the poor grades they have been assigned by some scouting organizations fail to take into account that some of the pressures allowed this year are very nearly by design. The Panthers want Newton to run when he's flushed from the pocket because, quite simply, he's that dangerous with the ball.

Minnesota effectively penned Russell Wilson in the pocket last week by keeping its defensive ends rushing straight upfield to get behind Seattle's quarterback, forcing him into the waiting arms of its defensive tackles and linebackers.

The Seahawks would be wise to follow a similar strategy against Newton, especially if the rest of the defense swarmed to the ball with the ferocity and intensity it did a week ago against Adrian Peterson.


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