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Cardinals/Seahawks Preview

21 Dec
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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:05pm

At the beginning of the season a lot of casual fans probably would have overlooked this week’s game on the whole. However this week’s matchup has turned into a very important game for both the Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks enter this week at 12-2 and a win would clinch both the NFC West title and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Cardinals come to Seattle a rather surprising 9-5 and a win would keep them alive in the NFC wild-card hunt. The Cardinals lead the all-time series with the Seahawks 15-14 but Seattle has had Arizona’s number of late. In their last meeting the Seahawks defeated Arizona 34-22 back in week 7, however note that the last time they played in Seattle was last December when the Seahawks won 58-0 in the most lopsided win in team history. It is very important for the Seahawks to not get ahead of themselves this week because if we struggle the Cardinals are definitely capable of gaining and maintaining a lead. This is what I will be looking for from both the Seahawks and the Cardinals this week.

After shutting out the New York Giants last week, it will be important for the Seahawks defense to keep their momentum rolling this week. After dominating the Cardinals back in week 7 it may be understandable for Seahawks fans to think that we will be able to shut them down again on defense this week. What you may not realize is the offensive roll the Cardinals have been on since our last meeting. In the 7 games since our last meeting with Arizona, the Cardinals offense has averaged 30 points per game. This week my primary defensive focus is on the Legion of Boom and if they can keep up their dynamite production after intercepting 5 passes last week. Richard Sherman will line up against Larry Fitzgerald and Byron Maxwell will battle both Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. I will be interested to see how often Carson Palmer decides to throw downfield given that he has been the most efficient throwing slants and out routes in the short to intermediate passing game, and since he fully understands the potential danger of throwing into our secondary.

Running the ball with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin as well as controlling the game clock will be the most important thing for the Seahawks offense to do this week. The Seahawks were able to effectively run the ball and control the clock last week in a winning effort. This week I would like to see the Seahawks run the ball more on third down instead of having Russell Wilson look for a receiver and take the risk of losing yards or even getting hurt, something that I discussed briefly in my Giants game review. Although he has been running the ball well, Marshawn Lynch has only carried the ball 20 times or more in a single game once in his last four games. This week, even against a ferocious and talented defense like Arizona has, I think it is in the best interest of our offense to feed the beast and let him run at least 25 times this week, using Robert Turbin for a handful of carries as well. If the running game struggles early I believe we will see creative packages and different play calling from Darrell Bevell in order to catch the Cardinals off guard. In short, the running game needs to be the Seahawks primary focus on offense but do not be surprised to see Russell Wilson be willing to run and throw if the Cardinals shut Lynch down.

Over the second half of the season the Arizona Cardinals have developed one of the league’s most improved offenses. Quarterback Carson Palmer has averaged 307 yards passing in his last 5 games to his array of wide receivers including perennial pro bowler Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, as well as the younger, potential-filled talent of Michael Floyd. Over the years, regardless of who their quarterback has been, the Cardinals have continued to be a predominant passing team but the newfound effective running game has helped keep Arizona winning week after week as of late. Last week the Cardinals ran for 145 yards on the Tennessee Titans and they have implemented a running back rotation that is continuing to work due to head coach Bruce Arians’ faith in establishing and continuing to run the ball. My X-Factor player to watch for Arizona this week is one of their two running backs, Andre Ellington. Ellington sees roughly half the number of carries that starter Rashard Mendenhall sees but his statistical averages make him a player the Seahawks front 7 must focus on. Technically as a backup, Ellington has averaged 56 rushing yards over the past three weeks including 71 rushing yards on 10 carries last week. Although these numbers do not scream “feature back,” the truth to Ellington’s effectiveness shows in the yards per carry category, where he averages 5.6 yards per carry over the past three weeks (7.1 yards per carry last week). Eliminating Ellington and the running game as a whole will force Palmer to throw which, in my opinion, is high risk/high reward when you think about the talent he has to throw to and the defense he is throwing into.

I have held the belief that the Arizona defense is one of the most underrated units in the league for a long time and they are maintaining and building on their quiet production leading into this week’s game. Believe it or not, the Arizona Cardinals currently have the number one ranked rushing defense in the league. As important as it is for the Seahawks to get Marshawn Lynch going early, the Cardinals are going to do everything they can to force Russell Wilson to throw. The Cardinals have a dynamic mix of pass rushers and tacklers loaded in their front 7. In the running game I look for leading tackler Karlos Dansby and linebacker Daryl Washington to make it hard for Marshawn Lynch to break through the first level of the defense and to fight for yards after contact. Outside linebacker John Abraham leads the Cardinals in sacks with 11.5 and along with Dansby and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, life will be made tough for Russell Wilson in the passing game, especially on passing downs. The Cardinals like to send maximum pressure using these three pass rushers and it could be even tougher for the Seahawks if the Cardinals are leading, or if the score is close late in the game. Something that also cannot go unnoticed is how the Cardinals try to force turnovers. The Cardinals average almost one forced fumble per game and John Abraham has forced 4 fumbles on his own this season. Due to the multiple ways Abraham can disrupt an opposing offense, it will be crucial (and perhaps necessary) to double team him along the outside. I recommend looking at how James Carpenter and Breno Giacomini do controlling Abraham on the line this week.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear all-blue once again at home this week. I’m curious if the Cardinals will wear red pants this week, something they only do on rare occasions especially on the road… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan have the call for FOX this week… Scott Green will be the referee this week… I am taking my friend Josh to this weekend’s game and he is a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan first, Seahawks fan second. The Eagles play the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football so we will probably head to a bar after the game for him to watch the Eagles game. It will be interesting to see which jersey he wears on Sunday… It’s funny that Josh is an Eagles fan because this will be the 4th time he goes to the annual Cardinals/Seahawks game with me and we have gone to one game per year together for 7 years… Hopefully the Seahawks Pro Shop will have division champions gear for sale following the game if we win. I would love to be one of the first ones to get their hands on a division champions t-shirt and hat… This is the first Seahawks afternoon home game in 5 weeks. I’m going to have to get down to the bars early again this week… The Seahawks are giving out “#LOUDER” cheer cards this week to the first 20,000 fans. I don’t understand why they can’t make enough for everyone. All it is basically is a piece of stock paper… Remember, kickoff is at 1:05 not 1:25. Get to your seats with plenty of time to spare if you are going to the game… I am hoping that the before the game, either before team introductions or before kickoff, they announce to the 12th Man what is at stake in terms of winning the division and clinching home field advantage with a win. I distinctly remember them doing that before we played the Cardinals in December 2007 and we won the game and the division.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title and home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs with a win. Regardless of whether we win or lose, Seattle can also clinch the division and home field advantage with a 49ers loss on Monday Night Football. Here are this week’s games that can affect the NFC playoff picture. Teams to note are bolded.

Arizona (9-5) at Seattle (12-2)

New Orleans (10-4) at Carolina (10-4)

Dallas (7-7) at Washington (3-11)

New York Giants (5-9) at Detroit (7-7)

Pittsburgh (6-8) at Green Bay (7-6-1)

Chicago (8-6) at Philadelphia (8-6)

Atlanta (4-10) at San Francisco (10-4)

Prediction: The Cardinals and Seahawks will combine for 5 interceptions and 7 sacks. Although the game will include strong defensive play there is no way you can doubt the Seahawks at home. Russell Wilson will throw for three touchdowns and the Seahawks will clinch the 2013 NFC West title and will make sure that the road to Super Bowl XLVIII will go through Seattle.

Seahawks 30, Cardinals 10

Check back for my Cardinals/Seahawks review late Sunday night or early Monday morning. Enjoy the game folks. Go Hawks!

Cardinals/Seahawks Preview

8 Dec

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Matchup: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

The Seahawks are back at home for the first time in four weeks. After their thrilling win in Chicago last weekend, the Seahawks are looking to gain momentum and trying to further strengthen their playoff chances. This week, the Seahawks host the Arizona Cardinals. After getting off to a strong 4-0 start, the Cardinals have lost their last 8 games in a row. At 4-8, the Cardinals are now looking towards the 2013 NFL draft but are also looking to play spoiler for the rest of this season. The Cardinals franchise leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 15-12. In their last meeting in week one of this season, the Cardinals beat the Seahawks 20-16 after the Seahawks offense was unable to get into the endzone after four attempts inside the 5-yard line. Here is what I’m looking for in this week’s game.

After his best performance of the season against Chicago last week, Russell Wilson is primed to have another big game this week. However, the reason why I think this is because he will have a big game on the ground rather than through the air. The Arizona Cardinals have the third best pass defense in the league, giving up an average of 196 yards per game. The Seahawks perfected the zone-read option last week so I would expect to see a lot of it ran this week as well. Through 5 home games this season, Wilson has yet to throw an interception. He is going up against a very talented secondary this week and I think the key to limiting potential turnovers is throwing a lot of short to moderate throws. It would not surprise me to see Wilson test Patrick Peterson and Kerry Rhodes, but to be safe it may be in the Seahawks and Wilson’s best interest to keep passing plays short and simple, thus eating away clock when we convert. Marshawn Lynch will be a big factor in chewing clock this week. I hope to see Beast Mode run for over 100 yards and have a touchdown this week.

Also, this is the first time in Russell Wilson’s career that he has played the same team twice in the same season. His preparation for this game matched with the analysis of the previous game against the Cardinals makes me feel very comfortable that he will know how to play them much better this time around.

On defense this week, I am very confident we can shut the explicitly inept Arizona offense down but there are two big things to note. First, Brandon Browner will not be available this week and for the rest of the regular season as he is serving his 4-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall. Walter Thurmond is expected to start this week at cornerback and will most likely line up against Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts. I believe Thurmond will do an adequate job holding down Browner’s spot this week. Also, the Seahawks need to make sure they do not come out overconfident this week. The last thing we need is a letdown this week coming off the Chicago win last week. A similar set of games to look at is the Packers game in week 3 and the Rams game in week 4. After beating Green Bay, the Seahawks I think may have felt overconfident against St. Louis the next week. They did not perform like they could and it cost us a game. This week at home, I think the Seahawks will make sure there will be no letdown.

The biggest key on defense this week is the pass rush. On paper, this should be no problem as Arizona boasts one of the worst offensive lines in the league and have given up 48 sacks this season, an average of 4 per game. The pass rush has been a big problem the last couple of weeks but since we are back at home this weekend, I would not be surprised to see Chris Clemons, and Bobby Wagner go to town this week. If we can put increased pressure on John Skelton this week, the Seahawks will be in great shape.

The Arizona Cardinals come into this week’s game on a real slide. The Cardinals have not won since September 30th, losing their last 8 games. This week on offense, Arizona will start John Skelton at quarterback. The Cardinals started rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley the last two weeks but after last week’s 7-6 loss to the New York Jets, head coach Ken Whisenhunt believes Skelton gives the Cardinals the best chance to win in a hostile environment like CenturyLink Field. Skelton has experience playing in Seattle but has never won here. In their first meeting, Skelton looked good before getting hurt in the fourth quarter. He only threw for 149 yards in week one, but he only committed one turnover, an interception to Richard Sherman along the sideline. Larry Fitzgerald needs to attract the attention of the Seahawks secondary. No matter how good or bad Arizona seems to play, Fitzgerald always has an impact, especially in Seattle. Fitzgerald has not been putting up good numbers recently; something that hopefully continues this week.

On defense, the Arizona Cardinals have some of the best secondary talent in the league. Patrick Peterson, Kerry Rhodes, and Adrian Wilson are all having decent seasons and all are tremendous ball hawks. This is the reason why I discussed how it might be in Russell Wilson’s favor to keep passes short this week. The Cardinals have forced 11 total turnovers in their last 3 games but because of their offense they have been unable to close out those games. The Seahawks must protect the ball this week because this Cardinals secondary will make you pay for it. Another emerging storyline is the role defensive tackle Darnell Dockett will play for Arizona this week. After getting into a scuffle with Kerry Rhodes last week in New York, Dockett has been fined a “six-figure” amount by the Cardinals organization and his playing status is up in the air. Dockett may be only used this week in a limited role. If this is the case this would be a huge blow for Arizona’s front three. If Dockett does not start expect to see Vonnie Holliday or Nick Eason step in at defensive tackle.

Random Thoughts: It will be nice to get back to CenturyLink Field this week. It’s been too long… I will be tailgating in Pioneer Square this week. Once again, it’s been too long… The Seahawks will wear blue jerseys this week. Both teams will also be wearing a special “50 years of the Pro Football Hall of Fame” patch on their jerseys this week. There will also be Hall of Fame related festivities throughout this weekend’s game as well… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan have the call for FOX this week again. They called a good game last week but I’m glad I won’t have to listen to them this week… I will be praying that the Miami Dolphins will somehow beat the San Francisco 49ers this week. It would be nice to be ½ game out of first place after this week… The temperature at kickoff is supposed to be in the mid-40’s. Now I have a decision to make, blue season-ticket holder beanie or grey beanie?… The pregame giveaway this week is Seahawks cheer cards. Better than the alternative I guess… I am taking my friend Josh to the game this weekend. He is an Eagles fan by heart but a Seahawks fan by head. He is always a blast to go to games with because he is pretty passionate… The offense will most likely be introduced this week before the game. If they are not it may be because they will want to do the offense against San Francisco in 2 weeks in the event that game gets flexed into Sunday Night Football.

Prediction: The Seahawks will come out overconfident to start but will settle down in a hurry. The defense will record 4 sacks and pick off John Skelton twice, one of which will be returned for a touchdown. Russell Wilson will run for more yards than in any other game and will lead the Seahawks to a victory and an 8-5 record.

Seahawks 27, Cardinals 13

I’ll be back on Monday with my review of the Cardinals game. Also, I am now out of school for the quarter so my hope is to get on more frequently during the week over the next 4 weeks. Stay tuned for that. Thanks for reading. Go Seahawks!