NFL Week 6 Preview: Newton Must Be Patient Against Seattle’s Defense

When the Seattle Seahawks meet the Carolina Panthers in NFL Week 6, it will be a rematch of last season’s divisional round matchup, won by the Seahawks. Mark Schofield looks at how Panthers quarterback Cam Newton must be patient against Seattle’s defense.

Seattle’s Best Safety: No, Not Him, The Other Guy

While Kam Chancellor has grabbed headlines early this season with his holdout, and return to Seattle, Earl Thomas is the spine of the Seahawks defense. The safety handles the deep middle responsibility in Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme, as well as the free safety spot when they roll with Cover 1 coverage. Thomas excels in both schemes, eliminating inside seam routes and post routes with impunity. Consider this quote from his head coach Pete Carroll:

“When you gain the notoriety and the respect, it’s demonstrated by the fact the ball doesn’t go your way. He doesn’t see much but that’s a big, big plus for us. That means that post routes and seam routes don’t happen. That’s huge because that’s how people score the most in the league with the throwing game.”

With seam and post routes tightly covered by Seattle, offenses instead try to make plays along the sidelines. But Thomas is a factor there as well. The safety has great recognition and speed, which enables him to make plays on deep vertical routes along the boundary, like this play from last season’s Divisional round game with Carolina.

On this play Cam Newton is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field with trips right. Kelvin Benjamin is matched up on the outside against cornerback Richard Sherman. Seattle has a nickel package on the field and show Cover 1. Thomas fourteen yards off the line of scrimmage, playing free safety:SeahawksPatriotsSnapPreviewStill

Benjamin uses a double-move after releasing vertically down the sideline. Watch Thomas read Newton’s eyes and break on the ball:

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Thomas nearly pulls down the interception, killing the Carolina drive and any momentum for the Panthers heading into halftime.

Better Decision Making

The Panthers quarterback struggled in the two previous regular seasons meetings, completing 16 of 23 passes for just 125 yards and a touchdown in the 2013 game, and connecting on only 12 of 22 attempts for 171 yards and one interception in the 2014 tilt. In the divisional round game, Newton connected on 23 of 36 attempts, for 246 yards and two touchdowns. However, his two interceptions were decisive, and a primary reason the Seahawks won the contest.

For the Carolina passing game to be successful, the QB must show more patience against the talented Seattle secondary and let plays develop. On this play from their 2013 meeting, Newton sets up in the shotgun with 11 personnel. Tight end Greg Olsen is the inside receiver in an inverted slot to Newton’s left, while WR Brandon LaFell (now with the Patriots) is the inside receiver in an inverted slot to the quarterback’s right. Seattle has its nickel defense on the field showing Cover 2 in the secondary:

Both sets of receivers execute an out route/deep route combination: The outside WRs run short out routes,  Olsen runs a seam route on the left while LaFell executes a deep post pattern on the right. Using a quick outside cut to set up his break inside, LaFell is looking for inside leverage on the man coverage. In the secondary, the Seahawks roll their coverage late, with strong safety Chancellor (#31) flying forward to cover the outside flat.

Here is a still from the moment Newton releases the football:

From a clean pocket, Newton forces a throw to Olson, who is double-covered. On the other side of the field, LaFell is breaking wide open on his post pattern. If Newton works his progressions, he has a shot at a huge play down the middle. Instead, he delivers a ball to Olsen that is broken up, and exposes his tight end to a heavy hit.

In their 2014 regular season clash, Newton is again in the shotgun with 11 personnel, with a single-receiver split left and trips to the right. Seattle’s nickel defense is in the game showing Cover 3 in the secondary:

The tight end Olsen runs a short curl route over the middle from his inside alignment in the trips. The Panthers then execute a simple out/slant combination to each side of the field: On the left, the middle receiver runs an out, while the outside receiver runs a slant. To the right, the split receiver runs a slant, while the running back executes an out route from the backfield. Both crossing routes are looking to rub, or pick, a defender. At the snap, Newton reads this play to the trips-side of the formation and makes a quick throw, shown in this next still:

However, the QB chooses the wrong target. Both Olsen and the out route are open (circled in white). But Newton tries to squeeze a throw into the slant route, which at the moment is at least double-covered with the free safety crashing down. The pass falls harmlessly incomplete; indeed, Carolina is lucky this throw is not intercepted.

Opportunities exist to make plays against this Seattle secondary. But Newton needs to be patient in the pocket, let the routes develop, and make the correct reads. On each of these plays his offensive line kept a clean pocket, so neither throw was made under duress. Some more patient play and better execution will go a long way toward Carolina earning the victory.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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