The second half of the 2015 season starts off with what can be described as a must-win for the Seattle Seahawks, as they host the division-leading Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football. Arizona comes in with a record of 6-2, two games better than Seattle, and has had this game circled “for some time,” per quarterback Carson Palmer.
If the Seahawks win this game, they actually can be considered to be in control of their own divisional destiny, as they play the Cardinals again in late December. If Seattle loses this one, not only is the division title realistically lost but a wild card appearance would be unlikely, as well.
It’s that big of a game. Win and every team goal on the board is still viable, even after the stumbling start. Lose and the conference is extremely likely to have a new team representing it in seedy Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50.
So who are the Arizona Cardinals and why are they so good? You could describe them as Seattle’s brother from another mother.
Like the Seahawks, they are led organizationally by a sharp GM with a good eye for talent, Steve Keim. Their head coach, Bruce Arians, is wildly popular with his players and seems to know just how to get them to maximize their talents, much like Pete Carroll. The difference between the two teams lies in the two coaches’ backgrounds.
Carroll is, of course, an ex-defensive back and a top-shelf defensive coach. Arians is an offensive-minded, play-calling maestro who has enjoyed decades of success on that side of the ball as a coordinator and has now successfully transitioned to the head coaching position – a feat many before him have been unable to accomplish under similar circumstances.
Arizona wins with a blitz-happy, attacking defense supplementing an exciting aerial show of an offense. Seattle prefers to suffocate opponents with a fast, aggressive, smart (and sometimes predictable) defense buoyed by a run-oriented, ball-control offense that is intended to impose its will on a physically-whipped opponent in the last quarter of a game.
To this point, one of these styles is performing far better than the other. But that was in the first half of the season. Will the change in weather equal a change in each team’s fortunes, beginning on Sunday? Let’s discuss.
More from Seattle Seahawks
- Seattle Seahawks: To rest or not to rest, that is the question
- Seattle Seahawks: 12s still waiting to exhale
- Seattle Seahawks: 4 Takeaways from 26-23 Loss to the 49ers
- Seattle Seahawks: Four Takeaways from Week 14 21-7 victory
- Seattle Seahawks: Three Takeaways from the Week 13 43-16 victory
Carson Palmer is enjoying a renaissance season at age 35 thanks to Arians’ aggressive playcalling and, most importantly, good health. Palmer, who has 20 passing touchdowns already, still has enough arm to make every throw his coach asks of him, and it’s easy to like the way they attack opponents downfield.
Arizona is a team that has figured out how to take advantage of league rules slanted steeply toward offensive production. They chuck the ball around and benefit from all the interference and illegal contact calls that inevitably come with it when they occasionally fail to hook up on their own. Smart.
The run game is led by Chr- wait, this has to be a mistake- Chris Johnson? Really? CJ has 676 yards at a 4.8 YPC clip after being signed off the street in the preseason. The offseason addition of Mike Iupati at left guard seems to have given the team life in the ground game. Iupati and 2014 free agent steal LT Jared Veldheer (thanks, Raiders) have turned what was once one of the league’s worst offensive lines into a formidable unit. So there is hope, Seattle…
Where the Cardinals inflict the most damage is through the air, and Palmer has seemingly limitless options when he drops back to pass. With the return of competent quarterbacking in Arizona has been a revival of the career of the great wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Once thought to be on the 18th hole of his playing days, Fitz is enjoying his finest year in a long time. His 706 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns put him on pace to have his most yards since ’08 and most touchdowns ever in a season.
Michael Floyd continues to be a nice option as a big WR on the outside, and we are witnessing the blossoming of home-run threat John Brown, who is on pace for his first 1,000 yard output, assuming his hamstrings oblige. Toss in rookie RB David Johnson, who is adept at catching passes out of the backfield, and it’s no wonder this offense is humming right now. Exciting options abound for Palmer and Arians on any given play.
Seattle needs to make Palmer uncomfortable and disrupt his rhythm with pressure that gets home. Chris Johnson has lost 2 fumbles this year, and I feel there’s an opportunity to increase that number this week. Defenses that get physical with Johnson can render him ineffective. Some glorious Seattle rain combined with a Wagner/Chancellor/Thomas rip at the ball has potential to cause turnovers on Sunday.
Defensively, these Cardinals are aggressive, fast and hungry. Sound familiar? Though they don’t excel at pressuring quarterbacks with standard looks, it is the blitz and its many variations that are used to force quarterbacks into mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Consider this – Seattle has only three defensive interceptions on the year. Arizona has 13 so far, with most coming as a result of chaos brought on by the blitz, and three have been returned to the house.
The game of field position is winnable if the Seahawks D can hold their ground, as Arizona punter Drew Butler only averages 41 yds per punt with a 36-yd net. Both numbers stink. K Chandler Catanzaro is good, so let’s not put him in a position to win the game.
The line on this contest is currently Seattle -3. Essentially, Las Vegas considers these teams to be even after the home field advantage is accounted for.
I’ve gone back and forth on this game. I think it’ll be a highly entertaining affair. Arizona has had one eye on this game all year because they know they’re good and they know they have to conquer Seattle to get to where they want to be, just as Seattle had to solve Jim Harbaugh (miss you, buddy) and the 49ers . The Cardinal offense is in overdrive, and the defense is turning the opposition over at an amazing clip.
On the other hand, some regression toward the mean seems likely for AZ in the second half of the schedule and the weather forecast for Sunday night is not one conducive to a pinpoint passing offense. Though the Seahawks offensive line is in for a tough, tough night against a myriad of blitzes that are coming to town, they held up well in their last game against Dallas and allowed zero sacks. However, Dallas didn’t blitz that much, either, so it was a game plan tailor-made for the Seahawks to handle.
Ultimately, you have to decide whether Pete Carroll’s undefeated home record at night (9-0) is too high of a wall for a road team to scale, or have we reached a point with this Seahawks team that its flaws are too glaring to overcome, even with the help of the 12’s?
Having watched a few of Arizona’s performances thus far, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by their relentlessness on both sides of the ball. They don’t sit on leads they get and just try to spin the clock to zero. They try to gut people. They throw when conventional wisdom says they’ll run clock and they blitz when others fall into a prevent defense. They believe in their philosophies, which are ultra-aggressive. I like ultra-aggressive play-calling.
It is this difference that leads me to believe the time has come for Arizona to seize the divisional crown, if only for a year. In a game that I think will be a back-and-forth slugfest between two very good rosters, I’m putting my credits on the team that plays to win as opposed to not lose.
Too many times we’ve seen the Seahawks run into walls when they get inside the opponent’s 20 yard line because the plays called lack for ingenuity and don’t threaten the defense. Most times they get away with it by winning the game anyway. Not this time. Not against a team willing to pull out all stops to get what it wants. This is Clubber Lang vs Rocky Balboa 1, and I’m Mickey getting sore at all the deodorant commercials, photo ops and bubbles.
Unless there is a significant change in red zone play calls that emphasizes scoring touchdowns as opposed to being satisfied with field goal attempts, Seattle (currently last in the league in red zone TD% per chance) will falter in this game. I hope I’m wrong, but until I see things change, I can’t bet on it.
Prediction: Arizona 27, Seattle 16.
Wager: 100 credits on Arizona +3
Season: -150 credits