Tag Archives: Bruce Arians

Seahawks/Cardinals Preview

2 Jan
cardinals preview 2015 #2

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

Last week there was a possibility that this game would not matter to either the Seattle Seahawks or the Arizona Cardinals. However after losses by the Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers and wins by the Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, the regular season finale in the desert is now extremely important for both teams. The Seahawks head to Arizona for the first time since the disastrous ending to Super Bowl XLIX as they take on the NFC West champion Cardinals. The Seahawks are 9-6 and with a win they will have won 10 or more games in each of the last 4 seasons. The Cardinals are 13-2, winners of nine straight games, and arguably the best team in football. Arizona leads the all-time series against the Seahawks 17-16. In their previous meeting earlier this season the Cardinals beat the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football 39-32. Here is what both teams have to do in order to head into the playoffs on the right foot.

Against the Rams a week ago the Seahawks finished the day -3 in turnover differential. The only way the Seahawks can win this game from an offensive perspective is to take care of the ball. It will be a difficult challenge because the Cardinals have forced 33 turnovers this season, good for second-best in the league. What worries me is how panicked Russell Wilson may play if the running game cannot get going and the Seahawks face a deficit late in the game, much like how last week’s game played out. Note though that Wilson has thrown only one interception since these two teams last played on November 15th. If the Seahawks can also control time of possession it will put us in a comfortable position for later on in the game. If the Seahawks can keep their offense on the field and if they win the turnover battle, this game will absolutely be winnable.

Much like how time of possession is an area of importance on offense, the same can be said of defense. The way to win T.O.P. on defense is to force Arizona into punts, and in order to force punts you need to stop them on third down. The Cardinals are the best team in the league on third down this season, converting nearly half of their third down opportunities (47.3 percent). The only way the Seahawks will be successful in getting the Cardinals off the field on third down is to put constant pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer. Over the course of this season the Seahawks have been very hot and cold when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Bruce Irvin will have to have a big impact from the outside linebacker spot and he will be a dark horse player in the game if he can successfully penetrate Arizona’s stout offensive line.

All season long the Arizona Cardinals have done an incredible job creating explosive plays. With the Cardinals still using a running back by committee since the injury to Chris Johnson, the game will be won through the air. I expect to see Carson Palmer target wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald more than any other receiver since he is the best short and intermediate threat Arizona has on the offensive side of the ball. If Kam Chancellor remains sidelined I expect head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator James Bettcher to dial up several long passes down the field. If this is the case the speedy John Brown could be primed for a big game, as he will likely line up across from either DeShawn Shead or Jeremy Lane. Also keep an eye on Michael Floyd who could also have the opportunity to get loose with Richard Sherman likely covering Fitzgerald.

My number one focus on defense for the Cardinals is how the secondary will fare for the second straight week without safety Tyrann Mathieu. With Deone Bucannon likely moving from linebacker back to safety to fill in for Mathieu more will be required of the other three starters in Arizona’s secondary. Specifically I will be watching how the middle of the field will covered without the “honey badger” on the field. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Cardinals is their other starting safety, Rashad Johnson. Although he missed last week’s game against Green Bay Johnson has recorded 48 tackles this season, sixth among all Arizona defenders. The scariest number that jumps out on Johnson’s stat sheet is his team-high 5 interceptions. If the Seahawks throw the ball in the middle of the field look for Johnson to be in on each play. If the Cardinals can record multiple turnovers they will have an excellent chance to come away with the victory.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will break out the wolf grey uniforms for the second time this season. We are 6-0 all-time in this look. The Cardinals are eligible to wear their black alternate jerseys but I would not be surprised to see them wear all red instead… This week’s game has been picked to be “America’s Game of the Week” on FOX. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews have the call… This week’s referee is second-year white hat Brad Allen… I hope the field is in good shape. University of Phoenix Stadium hosted the Fiesta Bowl on Friday afternoon so it is possible the field will be beat up. Luckily the Cardinals are one of the best teams in terms of getting their field prepared for a game. They’ll probably roll the field outside, work on it and let it sit in the sun tomorrow, then wheel it back into the building early Sunday morning… It feels a little strange to have regular season football being played after the new year. This is the first Seahawks regular season game played in January in 4 years (2011 season finale in Arizona)… If the Seahawks win I will be cheering like crazy for Green Bay in the Sunday night game. If Seattle loses I’ll be cheering like crazy for Minnesota instead. This is going to be a fun and wild ending to the regular season.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are 4 different possible scenarios that can play out on Sunday, one of which will determine who the Seahawks will play in next week’s wild-card playoff game. It will depend on who wins this game AND who wins the Sunday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. Here are the possibilities for next week’s wild-card game:

At Minnesota: Seahawks loss + Vikings win OR Seahawks win + Vikings win

At Washington: Seahawks win + Packers win

At Green Bay: Seahawks loss + Packers win

Prediction: If the NFL hadn’t flexed the Carolina Panthers game to 1:25pm I think there would be a better chance the Seahawks would come away victorious. However since Carolina and Arizona now play at the same time both teams will play at full strength to try to earn the number one seed in the NFC. Carson Palmer will throw for three touchdowns and the Arizona defense will force three turnovers. The Seahawks running game will be extremely inefficient for the second straight week. The Seahawks will finish the season 9-7, stumbling into the playoffs, and we will get ready for our wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers next week.

Cardinals 31, Seahawks 17

Advertisements

Commentary: Who Will it Be?

1 Jan
From L-R: Panthers QB Cam Newton, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, Lions WR Calvin Johnson

From L-R: Panthers QB Cam Newton, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, Lions WR Calvin Johnson

The Seahawks and the 12th Man will not know until late Sunday afternoon who we will play in our NFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday, January 10th. One of three teams will be traveling to Seattle for that playoff game. If the Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions this Sunday, the winner of Saturday’s game between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers will play the Seahawks. If Detroit beats Dallas, the Lions will play the Seahawks on January 10th. Here is a brief breakdown of all three potential opponents including who I personally would like to play, and who I think the Seahawks will probably face in their first playoff game.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers became the second team in modern NFL history to win their division and enter the playoffs with a losing record. Unlike the 2010 Seahawks who went into their Wild-Card playoff game double digit underdogs to the New Orleans Saints, the 7-8-1 Panthers are 5.5 point favorites over the Arizona Cardinals this week. The Panthers are the team I believe the Seahawks will face next Saturday night. Carolina has won 4 straight games and getting to play at home against a backup quarterback gives them an advantage. With a win, the Panthers will record their first playoff win since defeating the Chicago Bears in the 2005 NFC Divisional playoffs.

The Pros: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the only quarterback of the Seahawks potential opposing quarterbacks to have never played at CenturyLink Field. The fact that he would be playing in front of a playoff revved 12th Man makes the idea of the Seahawks advancing to the NFC Championship Game highly likely. The Seahawks are 3-0 against Carolina all-time at CenturyLink Field.

The Cons: I do not know how Bears fans felt when they hosted the 2010 Seahawks in the NFC Divisional playoffs but I would be a little worried that the 12’s would not treat this game like a true playoff game because of the Panthers record. The fact of the matter is that the Panthers were good enough to get into the playoffs. It shouldn’t matter what their regular season record says. At the end of the day, it’s still win or go home.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are making their first playoff appearance since 2009 but they are stumbling into the playoffs, having lost their last two regular season games with Ryan Lindley at quarterback. I think it is possible that if they can beat Carolina this week, Drew Stanton will be back as the starting quarterback by the time they would play Seattle. The Seahawks have beaten both Stanton and Lindley this season. Stanton played the game in Seattle and went 14/26 for 149 yards and one interception. The Cardinals defense is arguably the best of these three potential opponents and could give the Seahawks the closest game.

The Pros: Now that Jim Harbaugh has left the NFC West, the coach the Seahawks should now love to hate the most is Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. Arians has stated that he believes the Cardinals can with the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton, but that was when the Cardinals controlled the division by 3 games over the Seahawks. Things have fallen on hard times in Arizona since and it would be awesome to beat this team and the likely NFL coach of the year for a third time this season. This is likely the beginning of an intense rivalry with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cons: This may be the future of our division rivalries but it simply does not have as “hateful” of a feel that playing the San Francisco 49ers three times last year had. I think we would beat Arizona in this playoff game handedly, possibly making the later parts of the game kind of boring.

Detroit Lions: The Lions have not played in Seattle since 2009. They have a talented defense that is capable of stopping Marshawn Lynch. The Lions boast the most explosive offense of any of these three teams and would provide the best and most exciting challenge for the Seahawks defense and the Legion of Boom. I for one would love to see Richard Sherman go up against Calvin Johnson, and to see the return of former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. This is the matchup that I would most like to see.

The Pros: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has played in Seattle before but that was when the Seahawks were not very good. He has only played in one playoff game and he lost. The playoff inexperience of the Lions could give the Seahawks a significant leg up in this matchup.

The Cons: None.

Seahawks/Cardinals Preview

20 Dec
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 5:30pm

The Seattle Seahawks have the opportunity this week to prove one of head coach Pete Carroll’s most well-known mantras right; it’s  not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Arizona Cardinals have been the top dogs in the NFC West all season long and the Seahawks have the chance to knock them off their throne and take full control of the division. In front of a nationally televised audience on NBC’s Sunday Night Football the Seahawks will take on the Arizona Cardinals in what some people are calling the biggest regular season game in Cardinals history. Arizona is 11-3 and Seattle is 10-4. A Seahawks win would give both teams an 11-4 record with Seattle taking the division lead based on the head-to-head tiebreaker they would have over Arizona. A Cardinals win clinches the NFC West and home-field advantage for themselves. This is without a doubt the biggest game of the season and many of the matchups definitely favor the Seahawks. In a game that should be filled with dominant defense, this game will likely be won and lost and the hands of the offenses, which is where I put my primary focus for both teams this week. Here is what must happen on Sunday for the Seahawks to take over first place in the NFC West.

There are two things I am looking for out of the Seahawks offense on Sunday. First is we need to get off to a fast start by scoring early points. Two of the top defenses in the league will be featured in this game and points may be at a premium all night long. The best way to do this is to try to establish the run with Marshawn Lynch. If Seattle is unsuccessful running the ball, the best option in the passing game may be to use all sorts of quick passes, screens and slants in particular. In his last 3 games against the Cardinals, quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 14 times. The Seahawks cannot afford to move backwards via sacks in this game. If the Cardinals front-seven does a good job penetrating the Seattle offensive line early on, my hope is to see Wilson use his legs more than usual to pick up yards and use quick passes to take the pressure off of himself.

If the Arizona Cardinals have any chance to win this game it will be up to their defense to play their best game of the season. I say this because of the potential anemic play of the Cardinals offense. Arizona will start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley on Sunday, who in 7 career games has not thrown a touchdown pass. This week I analyzed all of Lindley’s game film including 6 games from the 2012 season and the quarter and a half he played last week in St. Louis in place of Drew Stanton. Here are my thoughts on Ryan Lindley:

There a lot of negatives that I take out of Ryan Lindley’s game. He is a very inconsistent player who struggles doing the most fundamental aspects of the quarterback position. Lindley’s most glaring weakness is that he stares down his receivers, almost as if he predetermines which receiver he is going to throw to. Lindley also struggles reading the rest of the field, oftentimes unknowingly throwing into double or even triple coverage. This could mean big things for the Legion of Boom, as they thrive on reading the quarterback’s eyes to get in position to make a play. Lindley is a traditional pocket passer and he cannot throw on the run to save his life. He is very inaccurate outside of the pocket and even struggles mightily at times hitting receivers in stride from inside the pocket. If Lindley is going to have any success moving the ball the Cardinals will have to throw similarly to how I think the Seahawks should approach the passing game; with short passes and screens. In 7 games, Lindley is 2/27 on passes that travel 15 or more yards in the air (7.4% completion percentage on deep throws). There are two things the Seahawks defense can do that I think can shut Lindley down. If the Seahawks stack the box with 7, 8, or even 9 defenders and send heavy blitzes, Lindley will be flustered easily and may make horrible throws. This is the approach Rex Ryan’s Jets took in a game against Lindley in 2012 and he finished with a 32% completion percentage, 72 passing yards, and one interception. The Cardinals only scored 6 points in that game. The other thing the Seahawks can do is play press coverage on the outside all game long. If the defense plays zone, you are basically giving Arizona free yards and Lindley can take advantage on quick out routes and curls on the outside. Press coverage would eliminate the cushion Lindley would have to make throws to his receivers.

I am curious to know how short Ryan Lindley’s leash is. If he struggles early will Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians pull the plug and replace him with rookie Logan Thomas? Arians stated early this week that they will implement a package of plays for Thomas but he did not go into details. If the Cardinals start ice cold on offense I think it is possible Arians will try to pull several tricks out of his hat, including using cornerback Patrick Peterson in wildcat formations. With Peterson already a dominating defender, the threat of his speed making an impact on the offensive side of the ball makes him my X-Factor player to watch for the Cardinals this week. I would not be surprised to see Peterson play both ways on Sunday and I do not think it is crazy to think he will see an expanded role on offense to get the running game going.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys on Sunday but it is unclear once again what color pants we will wear. I personally hope we wear blue pants… It is my opinion that the Cardinals will ditch their traditional red jerseys for this game and will instead wear their black alternate jerseys. They usually wear black twice per year (as NFL uniform rules permit) but they have only worn them once in 2014. With this being their last home game, I would not be surprised at all to see Arizona wear black jerseys and white pants this week… Al Michaels will provide the play-by-play and Cris Collinsworth will provide commentary for NBC this week. Michele Tafoya will report from the sidelines… This is the first Sunday Night Football game the Seahawks will play on the road since playing at Tampa Bay in 2008. (This season’s game on Thanksgiving does not count towards this stat)… Walt Anderson is the referee this week… Sunday is going to be a long and tense day leading up to kickoff. I don’t think I’ll be nervous, but I’ll just want the game to start already… Last December the Seahawks played the Giants at MetLife Stadium with the hopes that they would make a return trip for the Super Bowl in the coming weeks. The Same goes this week. You can’t tell me it won’t be discussed among the players and staff that the goal is to get back here [to Arizona] next month for Super Bowl XLIX… I was considering going down to Arizona for this week’s game over the summer. I should have made the investment. My hope was to have all of my Christmas shopping done and all my presents wrapped so I could head down to the valley of the sun and spend a nice relaxing weekend in the warm weather, down by the pool with a drink in hand, and watch the Seahawks play. Looking forward to doing all that is we make it to the Super Bowl!… It will be interesting to see what kind of home-field advantage the Cardinals have this week. Last season the 12th Man invaded University of Phoenix Stadium and made it their own. My hope is that the same thing happens this week. Are we going to see the biggest regular season game in Cardinals history and not have their own fans show up in full force and in full throat? Look at the second deck of the stadium, particularly the corners of the second deck and we’ll have the answer to that question.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: Things are getting simpler. If the Seahawks beat the Cardinals, we clinch a playoff spot, we take control of the NFC West, and we take control of the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs. We would then  be able to clinch the division with a win at home next week. If the Cardinals win, they clinch the division and home-field advantage and the Seahawks can finish no better than the #5 seed in the NFC Playoffs. Here are this week’s other games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

Philadelphia (9-5) at Washington (3-11)

Detroit (10-4) at Chicago (5-9)

Green Bay (10-4) at Tampa Bay (2-12)

Indianapolis (10-4) at Dallas (10-4)

Prediction: I was talking to one of my friends earlier this week about what it will take to give the Seahawks a win in this game. We agreed on two things; the first team to score 14 points wins and/or if the Seahawks return an interception for a touchdown at any point in this game we will win. Although I do not predict a pick-six, I do believe the Seahawks will intercept two Ryan Lindley passes and the Seahawks defense will allow less than 175 yards of offense to the Arizona Cardinals. Even though Arizona will do a good job shutting down and stalling Seattle’s offensive drives, Marshawn Lynch will run for a touchdown and three Steven Hauschka field goals later in the game will preserve the victory for the Seahawks. We will take first place in the NFC West and will be in prime position to clinch the division next week.

Seahawks 16, Cardinals 8

Check back late Sunday night or early Monday morning for my review of this game. Thanks for reading and enjoy this game everyone. Go Seahawks!

Cardinals/Seahawks Preview

21 Dec
Image

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!

Seahawks/Cardinals Preview

16 Oct

Image

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 5:25pm

In week 7 last season the Seahawks came off a close win the previous week and played a division rival on Thursday Night Football. The Seahawks are now set for their déjà vu moment this season. On Thursday night, the Seahawks will face their division rivals the Arizona Cardinals for the first time this season. The Seahawks are 5-1 and are coming off a 20-13 win last week over the Tennessee Titans. The Cardinals are tied for third place in the NFC West as they hold a 3-3 record. They are coming off a 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 15-13 but in their last meeting in December 2012, the Seahawks demolished Arizona 58-0 in the Seahawks most lopsided victory of all-time. Although the Cardinals currently hold a worse record than at this point last season, many including myself believe Arizona is a much improved team this year and this could be a significant challenge and this could potentially be a trap game for the Seahawks. Here is what I think we need to see out of the Seahawks this week in order to have a good chance of coming home victorious.

There were a lot of things on offense last week that frustrated me. Upon reviewing the game film however, there were some aspects that are encouraging and are showing signs that our offense is indeed improving. Quarterback Russell Wilson did not have a flashy performance against the Titans but did manage to throw for 257 yards and record a passer rating of 98.5. He himself made no fundamental or mental mistakes including no turnovers. Over the past few weeks it seems to me that Wilson has not been as accurate on longer throws and because of that he has played more conservatively. This week I think it will be necessary for Wilson to get back to his 2012 self by confidently stretching the field. Facing a Cardinals defense that will try to take advantage of weakened offensive line, Wilson will be forced to make hurried throws. If the Seahawks offensive line can effective manage Arizona’s pass rush, Wilson could exploit the coverage of the Cardinals secondary. Look for Golden Tate to make a big impact and I think Jermaine Kearse’s height could make him a key contributor as well. Wilson has hit Kearse deep for touchdowns in two of the Seahawks first three road games.

The biggest key to an all-around good game from the offense could be the return of tight end Zach Miller. Miller has been a valuable asset in both the passing game and the running game as a blocker. Miller has been sidelined the past two games with a hamstring injury. Surprisingly, without Miller this season the Seahawks average 45 more yards rushing per game than with him. The Seahawks offense also average about 1.5 sacks less without Miller than with him. Given these numbers the Seahawks are averaging 3.3 more points more with Miller than without him. Adding Miller back into the mix could definitely help the Seahawks move the ball better and Miller’s presence could lead to more scoring opportunities. If we can take advantage and score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals the Seahawks will be in great shape.

There are three things on to keep an eye out for on defense this week. The first two are individual players. Defensive end Chris Clemons is unlikely to play this week after suffering a hyperextended elbow against Tennessee. If Clemons is out we are down to only three primary pass rushers. Bobby Wagner’s absence was also noticeable last week as the Seahawks used many different linebacker packages. Heath Farwell was who I expected to step in primarily for Wagner last week and he only recorded one tackle. Wagner was missed tremendously last week and I think it would be beneficial to limit the linebacker rotation to a small handful of players instead of the cornucopia of linebackers the Seahawks used against the Titans. With a smart veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer, the Cardinals may know how to exploit the Seahawks in the middle of the field more effectively than a Ryan Fitzpatrick if Wagner is not there to balance out our defense.

Most importantly in my opinion, I will be looking at the Seahawks fourth quarter defense. After shutting the Houston Texans down in the fourth quarter and overtime three weeks ago the Seahawks have given up a long game-winning drive to the Indianapolis Colts and a 96-yard drive to the Titans last week which resulted in a field goal. Both of these drives came in the final 15 minutes of the game. If the game is close entering the final quarter of the game I will be extremely worried. The Cardinals were able to go down the field for a long game-winning scoring drive against us last year in Arizona and this year could spell the same fate with an improved Cardinals offense. The perfect way to avoid this is to run away with the game in the first three quarters. But what if the game is close? The Seahawks need to take it one play at a time and don’t panic every time Arizona moves the chains. Third downs will be very important and smart tackling could prevent disappointment. Do not go for the turnover, just focus on wrapping up the ball carrier. If we can force an Arizona turnover late in the game we will most likely win. Fundamental defense will be our biggest ally in these situations. Do not get fancy and play smart. Smart play and good fundamental execution will put us in good shape.

The Arizona Cardinals feature a rather improved offense this year. A lot of this has to do with their new starting quarterback Carson Palmer. After 3 seasons with a rotating quarterback carousel, Palmer adds stability to a position and a team that has not made the playoffs since Kurt Warner led the Cardinals to back-to-back division titles in 2008 and 2009. The Cardinals do not boast an overly-impressive running game and it will be very tough to run on the Seahawks run defense. This makes the passing game my focus of the Arizona offense. Usually I like to pick an X-Factor player that flies under the radar but this week how can you not pick Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald is the Cardinals leading receiver with 405 yards and 4 touchdowns. Fitzgerald will line up across from Richard Sherman this week and if there is one receiver who could give Sherman trouble it’s Fitzgerald. I expect Carson Palmer to test Sherman a lot on Thursday night by trying to get the ball to Fitzgerald. Look for the head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin to build a game plan that will feature creative ways to get Fitzgerald open.

Even though the Cardinals have gone 8-14 dating back to the start of last season, they feature one of the best defenses in the league. I think their defense is very underrated and they play extremely well at home. Patrick Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the league and the return of linebacker Karlos Dansby has added a dynamic tackler to the Cardinals linebacking corps. The Cardinals held Russell Wilson to 139 yards passing and also sacked Wilson 3 times in week one last season. There are two players on the Cardinals defense that are worthy of being X-Factor players to watch. Rookie cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has the second highest number of tackles on the Cardinals defense with 40 and his speed could present a problem for the Seahawks receivers. The best pass rusher the Cardinals have is defensive end Darnell Dockett who has 4 sacks this season. Dockett had a big impact when the Seahawks played in Arizona last season and it will be crucial to double team Dockett to prevent Russell Wilson from getting knocked down.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will most likely wear white jerseys this week. No word on pant color yet… Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock have the call for NFL Network this week. After discussing broadcasters and analysts with a couple of friends last week, I came to the conclusion that Mayock is my favorite analyst on any network. He knows the game of football very well, knows the talent on the field being an NFL Draft expert, and can be critical of players; something you oftentimes do not see on a television broadcast. *Cough, Jon Gruden, cough.*… NFL Network features a 2-hour pregame show as well as live look-ins all day on their weekday shows. I look forward to Rich Eisen’s comedy, Kurt Warner’s Arizona bias, and Deion Sanders’ ridiculousness on TV this week… For those of you who do not know who Priyanka Chopra is you are going to find out right before Thursday’s game. Her single “In My City” is the theme song for Thursday Night Football and not only is it a catchy song, she is also a stone-cold fox… Why does it seem like the Seahawks never get to play at home for Thursday Night Football? Since TNF started in 2006 the Seahawks have only played a TNF game at home twice… The crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium is the loudest I have heard on any of my road trips. Add in the fact that Thursday’s game has been announced a sellout and that it is in primetime, the Seahawks may have trouble at the line of scrimmage this week. Hopefully not though… If the Seahawks can pull out a victory they will head into a mini-bye week before week 8 against the St. Louis Rams with a 6-1 record!… To anyone who is going to Thursday’s game and Saturday’s UW game at Arizona State, I am extremely jealous (that means you, Dad).

Prediction: Rushing yards will come at a premium this week for both teams. I think the Seahawks will struggle mightily at times on Thursday night. The Seahawks will ride a roller coaster consisting of solid plays and frustrating plays. The Cardinals will be able to move the ball effectively but I think Carson Palmer will throw at least two interceptions this week. After giving up a field goal to make it 21-19 Arizona, the Seahawks will successfully drive down the field and Steven Hauschka will kick a game-winning field goal with mere seconds remaining. The Seahawks will barely escape with a 6-1 record and will hold a 1.5 game lead on the rest of the NFC West heading into Sunday’s games.

Seahawks 22, Cardinals 21

Check back on Friday for my review of Thursday Night Football. Go Seahawks!