The Seahawks get the chance to play what most people consider the best team in football right now. These two teams played a wild game in Seattle earlier in the year that saw the Cardinals take a 19-0 lead, in part due to five Seahawks offensive penalties in their first four possessions, before Seattle stormed back to take a 29-25 lead in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals went on to win 39-32, all but clinching the division crown. The teams meet again with Arizona coming off a resounding 38-8 thumping of the Packers and the Seahawks licking their wounds after the sorcery of Jeff Fisher. Most will expect a Cardinals win. Let’s take a look at their strengths and weaknesses to see where Seattle may attack them. The way this works: Each offense will be pitted against the opposing defense and compared on an array of key statistical attributes based on their respective rank in the NFL. The charts that follow show the rank of each unit for each of these categories. What you want to look for is where there is a big disparity between the height of one bar and another. Keep in mind that since these are rankings, lower numbers are better, so tall bars are bad.
Seahawks Offense vs Cardinals Defense
You likely will not read this anywhere else: the Cardinals defense is overrated, especially after the injury to Tyrann Mathieu. They just hammered Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, gathering nine sacks. The critical bits of information missing there are that the Packers were without three starting offensive lineman and that the vaunted Green Bay offense is also overrated, ranking a whopping 24th in yards.
Even with those nine sacks, Arizona still ranks 17th in sacks per game and 18th in sack rate. This is not a good pass rushing team. They managed just two sacks the last time they played Seattle.
Arizona has barely faced any quality offenses. They played, and lost to, the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger. The only other Top 10 offense to face this defense besides the Seahawks was the Saints way back in week one, who totalled over 400 yards. Cincinnati is a quality offense, despite ranking just 13th in yards, and they finished with 31 points against Arizona. Seattle finished with a gaudy 6.6 yards per play in the first game despite a dreadful start and Russell Wilson’s worst game of the year.
That is not to say the Cardinals have a bad defense because they do not. Calais Campbell, Deone Bucannon, and guys like Frostee Rucker are talented players who cause problems. Patrick Peterson has talent as well, but the jury is still out on him as an impact player in games that matter against top-flight talent. He has played one game against a top receiver and quality quarterback this season, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, and it was easily his worst game of the year.
Seahawks offensive weaknesses vs Cardinals defensive strengths
Arizona will do everything possible to stop the Seahawks running game. That did not go well in the first game. Every Seahawks rusher except for Will Tukuafu averaged over five yards per tote. That included 52 yards on 6 carries for Wilson. The Seahawks could very well be without Marshawn Lynch again, so there are some unknowns. Pete Carroll spoke about some “cool stuff that we never got to” in the running game after the earlier matchup.
Campbell is a load on the line, and will be a handful no matter who is blocking him. The Cardinals rank 4th in rush yards allowed, but have faced the third-fewest rush attempts. They have held Adrian Peterson and the Vikings rush offense to 72 yards and just 3.0 yards per rush, which is enough to know they are legit.
Seattle may be without Russell Okung and Lynch, which would give the Cardinals an edge in the running game. This is a defense that lives off of turnovers. Seattle is one of the best at avoiding them. This game will be close if Arizona cannot create a turnover or two.
Cardinals defensive weaknesses vs Seahawks offensive strengths
Arizona does not rush the passer well. They will try to send extra players to create communication problems for the Seahawks line. Patrick Lewis and Alvin Bailey started the game here last year when the Seahawks put up 596 yards of offense. Garry Gilliam will be getting his first Arizona start, and it is a loud venue. His poise and pass protection will have a lot to do with how the Seahawks offense will function.
Wilson got his first NFL start in Arizona. He has played a Super Bowl in Arizona. Some of his best games have come in this venue, as well as some of his most frustrating losses. The Cardinals have not faced this rejuvenated Seahawks offense that features quicker passes. Tyler Lockett got all of one target in the first matchup. Jermaine Kearse got two. Chris Matthews got more targets than Lockett in that game.
Jimmy Graham played his worst game as a Seahawk against the Cardinals, dropping three crucial passes. Luke Willson had one of his best games last year in Arizona. They were able to get Willson isolated on slower linebackers last year, and may try that again against Kevin Minter. Doug Baldwin had 7 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown the last time these teams met, and that was with Mathieu available to defend him.
Seattle will put up a lot of points if Wilson and his offensive line return to form this week.
Cardinals Offense vs Seahawks Defense
The Cardinals offense is anything but overrated. They are the best unit in the NFL. Better than the Panthers or Broncos defense. Better than the Patriots offense. As far as strengths go, this is the strongest muscle in football.
Carson Palmer combines with Bruce Arians to create the most aggressive downfield passing team around. They will follow up one deep pass with another. They will throw deep in unusual downs and distances. Interceptions do not deter them Neither do sacks or the back-to-back fumbles the Seahawks forced in the last game. It is a group full of weapons. Three of their receivers are Pro Bowl quality, with a fourth, J.J. Nelson averaging 27.2 yards per catch, not far behind.
They score on everyone. A lot. Only two teams, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, have held them under 20 points. Only four times have they scored less than 26 points. They are 2-2 in those games. This is a team accustomed to bludgeoning their opponents with physical running and big play passing.
Seattle found some success in slowing this juggernaut down. That may sound ludicrous when you see they scored 39 points, but the details reveal some important nuance.
The Cardinals averaged 6.0 yards per play and scored on four straight possessions to close the first half. The Seahawks held them to 4.8 yards per play in the second half, even with a 48-yard run by Andre Ellington.
Arizona averaged just 3.7 yards per play in the 38 second half plays outside of Ellington’s game-clincher. Palmer completed just 52% of his passes after halftime for a pedestrian 6.1 yards per pass. Kam Chancellor played a huge role, collecting a career-high 17 tackles. His health could be a major factor. Cary Williams was victimized again in this game, and is no longer with the team. John Brown was held without a catch, which will not happen again.
Cardinals offensive strengths vs Seahawks defensive weaknesses
That’s a pretty quartet of #1 rankings at the left of that chart, and they add a fifth in yards per attempt. It is incredibly hard to get this Cardinals offense off the field. They gain yards in bunches. Their quarterback is smart and talented. No team is better equipped to pick up a 3rd and long than this one.
Arizona’s biggest strength by far is the depth of their receiver corps, and that will challenge a Seattle weakness, which is cornerback depth. Marcus Burley, DeShawn Shead, and Jeremy Lane will all play larger roles than they did in the first game. Lane was not even available for that game, and Burley played just one snap.
Jeremy Lane was not available in the first game and Marcus Burley played just one snap
Richard Sherman missed a chance at a game-changing interception late on the go-ahead drive. The corners will have to play their best game of the year, and the linebackers will need to be solid in zone coverage for Seattle to keep Arizona under 25 points.
Cardinals offensive weaknesses vs Seahawks defensive strengths
There are not many weaknesses. The biggest one is the pass protection of this offensive line. Yes, they rank highly in preventing sacks, but Bobbie Massie has had terrible trouble against the Seahawks. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have taken turns torturing him at right tackle. It used to be double trouble on the right side when right guard Jonathan Cooper was in there, but the Cardinals have been playing Ted Larsen more there lately. Larsen started at left guard against the Seahawks last year and was not a whole lot better than Cooper in pass protection.
David Johnson and the Cardinals run game is getting some well-deserved attention, but Arizona struggled mightily to run the ball against Seattle in the first game. Mike Iupati went out with injury, which clearly had some effect, but the Cardinals had been struggling to run before he left. Holding Arizona under 100 yards rushing can go a long way toward slowing this offense down.
Three of the four lowest scoring games of the year for Arizona came when they were held under 100 yards rushing
Seattle chose not to shadow Larry Fitzgerald with Richard Sherman in the first game, and that did not work out well. Fitzgerald finished with 10 catches in 14 targets. They may want to reconsider their approach there.
Seahawks kicking vs Cardinals returning
Cardinals kicking vs Seahawks returning
The Cardinals special teams group is pretty weak overall. Their punter and punt coverage is just about the worst in the NFL, which could give Lockett a chance to impact the game with a return. Seattle is not much better punting, as Jon Ryan is quietly having one of his worst seasons, and is coming off a particularly poor effort against the Rams. Peterson has not been the dynamic weapon in the return game as he had been in earlier years. He is still always a threat.