Max Henson Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE – The Panthers linebackers knew the Week 5 challenge would be great even before captain and starting middle linebacker Jon Beason was ruled out with a knee injury.
Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch entered the game as the NFL’s leading rusher and Carolina ranked 25th in the league against the run.
With Beason sidelined, rookie Luke Kuechly moved from weakside to middle linebacker for the first time in his professional career (Kuechly played in the middle throughout his collegiate career at Boston College). Thomas Davis, who had previously been used in select sub packages, filled Kuechly’s vacated outside linebacker role and started his first game of the season. Strongside linebacker James Anderson was the only linebacker playing in his usual spot.
But the new-look linebacking unit made it work.
Lynch was held to 85 yards on 21 attempts, and as a team, the Seahawks averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.
“To step up defensively and hold Lynch to (85 yards) – I know a lot of people coming in expected him to have a big game against us,” Davis said. “But I think we did a great job against the run as whole.”
Head coach Ron Rivera thought each of his linebackers, and his entire front seven, performed admirably.
“Thomas Davis, getting his first opportunity to start again, looked very well. James Anderson was solid,” Rivera said. “Luke Kuechly did some things that were exciting.”
Kuechly settled in nicely as the man in the middle of the defense, finishing with a game-high 11 tackles. He also recorded his first career interception by hauling in a pass Lynch bobbled.
“Luke did a great job with his first time playing in the middle,” Anderson said.
Kuechly said it took some time to adjust to the new position, but the team’s top 2012 draft choice eventually found a comfort zone.
“When the game started I was trying to get adjusted to the speed,” Kuechly said in reference to his first start at middle linebacker. “I think I got it rolling a little bit once a couple series were in.”
“I started realizing sets, started realizing where they were trying to go and who was trying to block (me),” Kuechly added.
It was a solid all-around performance from Carolina’s defense, especially considering the offense’s inability to sustain drives. Seattle owned an 11:32 advantage in time of possession; but the Panthers allowed just one touchdown, stiffened to force two red-zone field goals and accounted for six points of their own thanks to Captain Munnerlyn‘s pick-six.
“You are going to have these kind of games,” Davis said. “We did a great job as a defense of staying in and fighting till the end.”
If that continues, the Panthers will give themselves a chance to get back on track.
“The good news is if we keep fighting like this,” Anderson said, “sooner or later things will turn around.”