Will Marshawn Lynch make an immediate impact for Seahawks?

Marshawn Lynchwill be active for Sunday's Divisional Round playoff contest against the Carolina Panthers, but that doesn't mean Pete Carroll and Co. won't be monitoring his abdomen injury closely.

"He's gotta feel right," Carroll said. "He's gotta be confident he can do all that crazy stuff that he does. And so we pushed him at practice and we're doing things that give him enough information so that he can be confident that his injury is behind him. He's worked hard, he's busted his ass and he cares and wants to do it. But he has to feel it.

"We can see it, see what he's doing and all that. But it's never gonna be the same as a game. He plays with such reckless abandon that he needs to be freed up and confident and ready to go. He's trying to prove that through the process of the week, and get that feeling."

As for the difference Lynch will make, if he holds up, Carroll didn't mince words: "He's been here for a long time, and he's been a really big factor here for a long time. And our style of play, he's always been a big part of our style of play, because we run the ball with such dedication. So he's given us a lot of that. We've won a lot of games, over the last six or seven games, and I'm hoping he'll help us be better. When he's right, he's really special.

Combating Cam

This will be the Seahawks' sixth game against Carolina over the last four seasons, and the second-straight year the clubs have met in the playoffs. The team's first loss in that stretch came in October, and Cam Newton has just four touchdown passes against five interceptions, and passer ratings of 56.8, 97.2, 61.0, 79.2 and 65.6 in his five career games against Seattle.

I asked linebacker Bruce Irvin what works against Newton.

"He's having an MVP type season, he can hurt you with his legs or his arm. We don't want to give him a choice," Irvin said. "If you give him a choice, whether he can run or throw, and it'll be a long day. We're gonna try to make him one-dimensional, make him beat us throwing the ball. That's the biggest thing. ... If you can make him one-dimensional -- he has a really strong arm, and normally passers with really strong arms, they seem to think they can make throws into tight windows, they have a lot of confidence in their arm. If we get him like that, rushing him and making him fit stuff in, I think we'll be very successful."

Within all that, the Seahawks' defensive players say playing disciplined, in tackling and taking care of assignments, is of heightened importance against the king of the broken play.

"Just playing sound football, I think it's not trying to do so much within our scheme, doing everything the way it's supposed to be run," Cliff Avril said. "And just being disciplined. And then, tackling is big. He's a big dude, you try not to have any missed tackles when you get to him. Try and make sure he's not getting any extra yards."

Never the underdog

Many teams that come in as the No. 5 or 6 seed embrace the idea of being doubted or being an underdog, but the Seahawks don't and won't.

Carroll explained why: "We don't mess with that. We've never talked about stuff like that. We don't use any of those bulletin-board types of things. None of that stuff. We're motivated to play great -- to play great football. And that doesn't have anything to do with who you're playing, that's why every game to us is a championship game.

"We've been talking that way for a long time, 15 years, we've been talking that way," Carroll continued. "No matter who you're playing or where you are, you're working to generate your very best you have to give no matter what. That's not the way you're used to hearing it, the way you may think it should be, but that's the discipline. It's a discipline to try and find everything you possible have to prepare right, to practice right, to travel right, to play right and to finish right.

"I never care whether we're the favorite or the underdog. I'd actually rather always be the favorite, because that means you're doing better."

Carroll's players clearly get that message. "We approach each game the same -- it's a championship game," middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "That's how we view this game, it's another opportunity to play a game we love and come away with a win."

Defense pulling together

After the Seahawks blew a 24-7 lead in Cincinnati, the defense held a blunt meeting led by coordinator Kris Richard, safety Kam Chancellor and Wagner. The message -- stop playing as individuals, start playing as a group.

Seattle lost to Carolina the next week. But after that, over the last 10 games of the regular season, the Seahawks ranked first in the NFL in total defense (291.3 yards/game) and second in scoring defense (15.2 points/game allowed).

"It took us a little longer to find our identity this year, to really play together as a team," Irvin said. "When we played Carolina the first time, I don't think this was the same defense as it is right now. There's a lot of stuff we hadn't gone through on or off the field yet, as far as relationships and guys with personal goals. We had to put all that stuff aside and get back to playing for one another. That was the biggest thing."

Carroll added: "It took us a while after that for things to come together, after Carolina, I think, before we really got going. But that's always what you're trying to find, that connection that's so important for a team. We've been there, we know when it's not right.

"It's just getting guys connecting. All of that stuff has something to do with it. It takes time."

And eventually, the whole team took off.

"We've been doing that for a long time. I don't think it's slow starts," Carroll said. "The level that we're operating on when we're really doing things right is such a high level. The players and their connections, you gotta earn your way to it, you gotta work at it, you gotta get dug in and leave the last season behind, win, lose or whatever. You gotta get in the new year, and everyone has to fight it. "It's very finely-tuned chemistry and connection, our guys have been able to find it over the years," Carroll continued. "And we finish. We've learned how to finish."

Russell Wilson's resurgence

When I asked Richard Sherman how this year's team is different than the last couple seasons, the Pro Bowl corner kept it simple.

"The offense is ranked in the top four," he said.

Last week's performance, in ridiculous conditions, wasn't a vintage one. But Sherman's correct, and much of it has been the evolution of Russell Wilson, who posted quarterback ratings of 120 or higher in six of the regular season's last seven games.

One reason why? As the offensive players see it, everyone's been forced to raise their level in dealing with injuries to Lynch and Thomas Rawls, that made running the ball more of a chore.

That comes down to us passing the ball pretty well this past little stretch, doing some different stuff, because we couldn't always lean on the run game," said veteran guard J.R. Sweezy. "We had a good mix of everything, we just kept punching away and had good game plans. For the most part, we've played pretty well as a unit. So yeah, it's made people grow up a little faster. "C-Mike, he's done a great job coming in and stepping up and really running the ball well."

Veteran Fred Jackson added, on Wilson, "He's definitely taken his game to another level. When you have key weapons like Marshawn, Jimmy (Graham) getting hurt, you feel like you have to make yourself better. I think you can say that for everybody. Jermaine (Kearse) has stepped his game up, Doug (Baldwin) has done some phenomenal things, Luke (Willson) is stepping up. So I think makes not only him, but everybody on this team have to get better and bring their game to another level."

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