Division games are tough. Usually. Road games are tough. Always. Thursday night games are unpredictable. Commonly. Of course it would have been preferable to get the Cardinals at home early and on the road late, when hope will likely have left their side. Instead, the Seahawks face a team that knows a win puts them in the middle of the division race and a loss puts them three games out with 11 left to play, and five home games remaining for the Seahawks, including one against the Cardinals.
This is a game that should not be judged on style points, but on result. Seattle will have 10 ten days to get healthy and make mid-season adjustments after today. That is why players like Chris Clemons, who are borderline ready to play, will likely be held out. Carroll has erred on the side of caution all year with injuries, and is staring a long rest period in the face. He is fond of saying every week is a championship opportunity, but he has been managing injuries like the championship opportunity is in January and February.
It also is why I have this sneaking suspicion that Christine Michael might see his first action today during a meaningful part of a game. His speed and shiftiness could be just what the doctor ordered, especially fully rested.
ProFootballFocus.com gives the Cardinals offensive line the worst pass blocking grade in the NFL, but Arizona is 10th-best in the NFL in sacks allowed per game and 8th in opponent sack percentage per pass attempt. Maybe Carson Palmer is getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid more sacks. There is some evidence to support that theory, as the team is 18th in the NFL in yards per completion (10.8) and tied for 31st in the NFL in interceptions thrown.
They have faced some powerful defenses in San Francisco, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Detroit. The Rams defense has struggled, but they are no pushover either. Carolina is a much better team than most realize, and the Cardinals hammered them at home 22-6 two weeks ago, even though the Panthers out-gained the Cardinals 353-250 in total yards and the Cardinals had three turnovers. They did it by sacking Cam Newton seven times and forcing four turnovers themselves.
If the Cardinals can manage to hold onto the ball, this will be a very close game. That will be a tough assignment against one of the best ball-hawking teams in the NFL.
The sunny outlook on this game is there for those that want it as well. Seattle lost in the closing seconds to the Cardinals last year in Arizona in a game that featured Russell Wilson and J.R. Sweezy playing in their first pro game. The Seahawks offensive line in that game resembled what we saw in Houston a few weeks back. It would be a surprise to see the same level of ineptitude this year. It is hard to find a part of these teams where the talent gap has narrowed, let alone a group where Arizona is clearly better than Seattle.
I could paint this as a game Seattle has to win if they want to have a clear path to home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it would be disingenuous. The truth is, the Seahawks could win eight of their next nine, or even all nine, if they dropped this game. It just would be a lot less stressful for all of us if they could take care of business tonight.
This is a team that has a bad taste in their mouths after their last road trip. Let’s hope they come out with revenge on their minds tonight.