“Sometimes, you’ve got to learn the hard way.” Then there is the uncertain status of NFL MVP Shaun Alexander. Seattle expects him back from the concussion he sustained Saturday, but doctors have not yet cleared him to practice. The Panthers don’t need to hear about running back injuries. DeShaun Foster broke his leg in the win over the Bears, leaving third-stringer Nick Goings Carolina’s sixth running option in training camp to start Sunday. Three-time Pro Bowler Stephen Davis had already been placed on the injured-reserve list Dec. 17 with a lingering knee problem. But that just highlights another Seahawks challenge: containing receiver Steve Smith. Against the Bears he had 12 catches for a career-high 218 yards, the fourth-most in NFL playoff history. He will test perhaps the weakest part of an improving Seattle defense. Starting cornerback Andre Dyson was just coming back after being out for a month with a high sprain of his left ankle when he missed 1 ½ quarters of Saturday’s win with a right ankle injury. The Seahawks’ best cover man is opposite corner Marcus Trufant. He played his first game in three weeks Saturday after bruising his lower back. Now those defensive backs must face what Holmgren calls a “special player.” “He’s one of those guys that when you prepare for them, you better have a plan … to make it a little more difficult for him,” Holmgren said. “Otherwise, he can take over a game by himself.” But even with a backup running the ball for the Panthers, Holmgren said interim defensive coordinator John Marshall is not going to stack his defense solely against Smith. “I think you have to be careful of saying, ‘Now we can relax and we can look over there,” ” Holmgren said. “Every defensive coordinator I have ever met really focuses in on defending the run first, usually because if you can’t do that, you’re in for a long, long, long day.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “Bless his heart,” Holmgren said. “So we did get a bit of a start on Carolina.” He’s glad they did. KIRKLAND, Wash. — Two weeks ago, Seahawks coach and former high school history teacher Mike Holmgren gave his assistants some homework for their playoff bye week start studying the other NFC postseason teams and compile preliminary scouting reports on each. Soon, the coaches were scribbling notes on large dry-erase boards in their offices. But when Washington became Seattle’s first-round foe, the assistants erased all of the other teams’ information. Thankfully for Holmgren, offensive quality-control coach Gary Reynolds copied the notes on the Panthers. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita What Seattle’s assistants saw during their extra studies and what Holmgren saw on television was an staunch Panthers defense led by athletic 6-foot-7 defensive end Julius Peppers and former Seahawk Ken Lucas in the defensive backfield. It’s a unit that is sure to provide a stern challenge for Seattle’s offense, which led the league in points scored (452) this season. “Defensively, they are very well coached. I know we always say that, but it is really true this time,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I think these guys are the best in the NFC.” Further complicating the Seahawks’ week: Starting right tackle Sean Locklear, who would be opposite Peppers for much of Sunday, was in jail into Tuesday on a charge of domestic violence stemming from an alleged altercation with a woman early Sunday in Seattle. His playing status is to be determined. Hasselbeck wasn’t thrilled that one of the men expected to keep Peppers from pounding him was locked up. “It’s really unfortunate,” he said. “Coach Holmgren is always talking to us about good decisions on and off the football field. I would say 99 percent of the time, we all listen.