Matchup: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)
The Seahawks are facing a situation that I did not expect us to be in with 6 weeks left in the regular season. With 6 games left, 3 of which coming at CenturyLink Field, we are now in a spot where the rest of our home games need to feel like playoff atmospheres. With the best team in the National Football League coming to town this week, what better motivation to fire up the 12th Man? Five of our final 6 games are against NFC West opponents and this week the Seahawks host the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks are 6-4 and are in danger of falling out of the division title race for good with a loss. The Cardinals on the other hand are sitting in the same position the Seahawks were in last season. Arizona has a 9-1 record, a 3-game lead over Seattle and San Francisco for the NFC West lead, and clinching a playoff berth is within striking distance. Arizona leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 16-14. Their last meeting came in December of 2013 when the Cardinals came into Seattle and stunned the Seahawks 17-10, snapping the Seahawks 16-game home winning streak. I believe this game will be the toughest game we play at home all season. This is what must happen for the Seahawks to come away victorious.
There are two things the Seahawks offense must focus on this week. The first is to continue to effectively run the ball. This will be a challenge as the Cardinals boast the league’s third best run defense, allowing an average of 81 rushing yards per game. This week Seattle needs to get creative in the running game, using some sort of running back rotation as well as allowing Russell Wilson to use his legs to pick up yards. Last season the Cardinals did an incredible job of shutting down our offense and holding us to only 10 points. Arizona has a secondary with incredible talent and I believe that cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie will do a good job of stopping our receivers, especially on the deep ball. I would not be surprised to see Russell Wilson have one of his worst days throwing the ball in recent memory. Our offense will only excel as much as our running game allows it to. A successful game in my eyes would be to run for between 100-125 yards. If we can get to three figures, I believe we can put ourselves in position to win the game.
The second thing the Seahawks offense must do is protect the ball. Points may come at a premium this week and the worst thing the Seahawks can have happen is to give the ball away, which would subtract the number of possible scoring opportunities we get. The Seahawks average just over one turnover per game at home this season, and they have played only one home game where they turned the ball over multiple times. If we can run the ball effectively our chances of turning the ball over on the ground are small. I believe any turnovers this week will be interceptions on forced throws made from Russell Wilson. There is a direct link between pass protection and turnovers. If we can keep Wilson clean, we will not turn the ball over.
Just like how I am putting an emphasis on preventing turnovers on offense, the number one priority on defense this week is to force Arizona turnovers. The Seahawks will be facing a quarterback in Drew Stanton who has never played a game in Seattle. The Cardinals have struggled all season long in the running game, averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. It is this number which leads me to believe our run defense can hold Arizona running back Andre Ellington to limited yards. The difference in this game will come in the Arizona passing game, which in turn puts the spotlight on the Seahawks pass defense. Stanton has only thrown 2 interceptions in 5 games this season, both coming against Detroit last week. It is crucial for the Seahawks to put pressure on Stanton to force him into bad throws. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Bruce Irvin must work cohesively this week to penetrate the Arizona offensive line. If we can force Stanton into hurried decisions or sacks consistently, it will be extremely difficult for the Cardinals to get anything going on offense.
The Arizona Cardinals sit at 9-1 without several notable defensive players including defensive end Darnell Dockett and linebacker Daryl Washington. It is the Cardinals defense that has me more worried about this home game than any other home game in recent memory. This week however I am focusing on the Cardinals offense. Arizona has several playmakers at the receiver position which will make for great matchups to watch on the outside. Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell will have their hands full with Cardinals receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd but I am most interested in seeing what happens out of the slot. My X-Factor player to watch for the Cardinals this week is their #3 receiver, rookie John Brown. If the Seahawks play a good game on defense it could come down on which team can make a big play on offense. The Cardinals definitely have a big-play guy in Brown. So far this season Brown has made 9 catches that have gone for 20 yards or more including three deep touchdown catches. If Brown lines up in the slot he will likely go up against Jeremy Lane. Brown’s speed however could set up an interesting matchup down the field between him and Earl Thomas. I would not be surprised to see Drew Stanton try to bomb it downfield for Brown at least once on Sunday.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will go with all-navy uniforms this week while the Cardinals will likely dress in all-white… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch have the call for FOX with Pam Oliver reporting from the sidelines. This is the first Seahawks game Burkhardt and Lynch have done all season. Since they are FOX’s #2 broadcasting crew I believe this means there will be a skycam at this week’s game, even though this is not the Sunday afternoon national game of the week… Gene Steratore is the referee this week… A reminder to everyone attending this week’s game. The game starts at 1:05 NOT 1:25. Make sure you are in your seats before kickoff. We need everyone to be ready to be loud… My guess as to who will raise the 12th Man flag is Randy Johnson. I know nothing that leads me to believe I am right. It is a completely random guess… The halftime show this week is the annual wiener dog races. This is the only halftime show that is consistently entertaining. There is always at least one dog that gets away and is hard to chase down… If we lose this game we will be 4 games out of first place in the NFC West with 5 games to play. In other words, we will have no chance to win the division if we lose this week. A win is crucial to our entire playoff push. We have little room for error. If we lose, this entire city will go into panic mode.
Prediction: In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I think this is going to be a low scoring game with neither team able to score 20 points. I think the Seahawks will have yet another goal-to-go opportunity this week and unlike last week, this time we will take advantage, giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch and having him punch it in for a touchdown. Larry Fitzgerald and John Carlson will catch touchdowns for the Cardinals but the difference will come in the kicking game. Three Steven Hauschka field goals, two of which coming off of Arizona turnovers will give Seattle a narrow victory, improving our record to 7-4.
Seahawks 16, Cardinals 14
The next week few days on the blog will be very busy. Check back late Sunday night for my review of this game. Go Seahawks!