5 players to watch in Seahawks vs. Panthers game on Sunday

SEATTLE -- The last couple weeks have been hard, 12s. But it's not time to press the panic button.

I know, I know. A 28-26 loss to the 1-4 St. Louis Rams would instill panic under normal circumstances. Last year, a loss to a losing team may have been inconceivable.

The Hawks had plenty stacked against them by the time the game rolled around. Injuries have mounted up, and Center Max Unger, Cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Bobby Wagner and Tight end Zach Miller were all out. Both the offensive and defensive lines have struggled mightily.  The defense as a whole has allowed almost 10 more points a game than the squad averaged last year, allowing an average of 14.4 points per game in 2013, and 23.5 this year.

To top it off, the Hawks and the media were embroiled in last Friday's Percy Harvin trade. The dust hadn't settled and questions still remained as to why the Hawks would give up their top ranked receiver for a mid-round draft pick in 2015.

And for the first half against the Rams, all the distractions and injuries took hold. But the Hawks quickly regained footing and dominated the last 30 minutes of the game. If it wasn't for sub-par special teams play and a last-minute fake punt -- called for by an always maverick Jeff Fischer -- the Hawks would have won the game and left St. Louis with a 4-2 record.

But they didn't. So it's gut-check time as the team rolls into Carolina, to face a Panthers (3-3-1) team led by a strong Cam Newton. While it's not a must-win game, the Hawks need to stack up wins in October in December before a string of divisional games.

5 Players to Watch in Sunday's Seahawks vs. Panthers game

5. Kelvin Benjamin -- The one-on-one match-up this week between Richard Sherman and Rookie Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin may be the most dynamic. At 6'5, 240-pounds, Benjamin is a physical specimen. Perhaps Cam Newton's favorite wide receiver, Benjamin has put up stellar numbers in his first year in the league, with 34 catches for 477 yards. Benjamin told ESPN  he looks forward to challenging one of the best corners in the game, saying he respects Sherman because he "loves the game." Sunday's match-up could either be a way for the Seahawks to reassert their dominance as a secondary, or a way for one of the league's youngest stars to shine.

4. Russell Okung -- A year ago, the Seattle Times published an article titled "Injuries aren't an excuse for Seahawks' offensive-line issues." The same could be said about the offensive line one year later. The Hawks have gotten by without Max Unger and tight-end Zach Millers; whose importance as a blocker can't be overstated.  Though the Hawks have allowed only 14 sacks, Wilson has run for his life more often than we'd like to see, and forced to throw the ball away even more times than that. Russell Okung could be the key to salvaging this year's offensive line. A Pro-Bowl tackle, Okung has been forced to battle his own injuries (shoulder and foot). If he can stay away from false start and holding penalties and give Wilson a half-second longer a hanful of times each game, it will mean the difference between 3rd and 3 and 3rd and long.

3. Michael Bennett -- The talk of week was problems on the Seahawks defense. Specifically, the pass rush. The Seahawks have managed to stop 68 percent of first downs with the play is third-and-7 or longer, according to the Seattle Times. The problem is, they've allowed opposing teams to face third and shorts 25 times. In order to stop Newton and his passing game, you have to be able to get to him. Michael Bennett, Chris Avril and Brandon Mebane are four established players that need to step on the line.

2. Cam Newton -- For some reason, Cam Newton takes a lot of heat. But most of it is undeserved. He's passed for 1,472 yards so far this season, with only 3 interceptions to eight sacks. Incredibly, he's done it all with an injured ankle. As Newton's ankle heals, his speed will pick up, and if he gets out of the pocket: Watch out.

1. Marshawn Lynch -- We already know Beast Mode can make a HUGE difference for the Hawks. Even though Seattle couldn't get the win last week against the Rams, you could see the difference when Marshawn gets more carries. Lynch has had two games with ten or fewer carries this season -- and the Hawks lost both of those games. Also, watch for the matchup between Lynch and Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly. He is the reigning defensive Player of the Year and leads the league with 82 tackles this season.

Come back to Q13FOX.com Sunday morning and follow the game on our live blog. Kickoff is at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Then watch Seahawks Gameday after the World Series on Q13 FOX for complete postgame coverage.