Seahawks fans should have no trouble reciting all the things that are concerning heading into this game against the 6-2 Arizona Cardinals. They have a powerful offense, that can run and pass and has a great quarterback with great weapons. The defense is stout and great at taking the ball away. Seattle has had trouble holding leads, especially against good offenses this season, and their offense has struggled to put up points. Even if all those things are true, there are things that would make me pretty nervous if I was Cardinals fan.
Seahawks pass rush
Carson Palmer has been sacked more than two times in only one game this season. They lost that matchup against the Rams. The Cardinals best pass protector is their left tackle. Their right tackle, Bobbie Massie, has struggled mightily in pass protection and will be going up against Cliff Avril in nickel situations.
Guards Jonathan Cooper and Mike Iupati, along with center Lyle Sendlein are not strong pass blockers either. Add to that, this line has committed ten false start penalties so far this year, 11th most in the NFL, per NFLPenalties.com
Michael Bennett and Avril could make life miserable for Palmer. It would not surprise me to see Frank Clark pick this game to get his first sack. Jordan Hill could be a factor as well. The Seahawks pass rush is among the best in the league, and it is not clear the Cardinals are equipped to slow it down.
Arizona has been one of the worst franchises in the NFL for decades. They have had moments of escaping their losing identity, but those have been rare. The Seahawks have been a powerhouse for years, who have beaten them regularly.
It is one thing to gain confidence from winning games against inferior opponents. It is quite another to beat a team like Seattle on their home field with this much on the line. They can feel totally ready for the challenge, but there is a very different feeling when you actually win a game like this. True confidence comes when accomplishment meets preparation. Seattle has that. Arizona does not.
Seahawks run game
The best way to keep Palmer and company from scoring is to keep them off the field. The two teams who have rushed for 110 yards or more have beat Arizona this year. Seattle, even with all their offensive line woes, have yet to rush for less than 110 yards in any game this season.
Arizona has a terrific run defender in Calais Campbell, but it is not clear the defense has strong run defenders on the other side of the line. Their nose tackle, Rodney Gunter, is not the player Dan Williams was, and the Seahawks had some good results rushing against that line last year even with a depleted offensive line.
Cardinals defensive strength wasted versus Seattle
Arizona has a lot of great playmaking talent in their seconday. That can be a great strength to bring into a game against a team that throws the ball a lot. Seattle is not one of those teams. The Seahawks will pound the ball on the ground until they no longer can. Passing will obviously be a component of their game plan, but it will not center on it. That puts a greater focus on the Cardinals front seven, which simply is not as talented as their secondary.
No element of surprise
The Cardinals gain at least some advantage when facing teams that do not play them as often as Seattle because of the unique blitz packages they bring. The Seahawks showed an ability to pick those up last season in a very loud Arizona environment. Those blitzes turned into a liability in that game for the Cardinals as the Seahawks exploited them for huge plays and a massive 596 total yards.
Jimmy Graham presents a unique challenge
Jimmy Graham has played one game in his career against Arizona. He caught 9 passes for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns back in 2013. The Cardinals come into this game ranked #1 defending against tight ends, per FootballOutsiders.com, but they have only faced one decent tight end. Martellus Bennett only got one half of the game against Arizona with Jay Cutler before he got hurt. He had 4 catches for 48 yards. Part of how the Seahawks trounced the Cardinals in the desert last year was isolating Luke Willson on veteran linebacker Larry Foote. Look for Seattle to target Kevin Minter this time around.
Pete Carroll, master of halftime adjustments
There has been a pretty consistent pattern since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle where his teams feel out their opponent in the first half, see what is—or is not—working, and then make adjustments that yield a very different result in the second half.
That is not to say Carroll has been infallible in the second half of games. We know his teams have not been. It is rare, though, for a team to be able to continue finding success using the same tactic through a full game. Carroll forces opponents to change tactics.
This game represents a halftime adjustment for the Seahawks. Carroll has had two weeks to analyze the first half of the season and make some changes to how the Seahawks are going to defend and attack opponents during the second half of the season. Arizona will be the first team to face those changes, and will have to adjust on the fly.
The Cardinals had a bye as well, but it is hard to imagine a 6-2 team with the success they have enjoyed so far making many changes. There may be a new play or two, but this will largely be the Arizona team we have seen so far.