Revenge of the Birds: After a fantastic rookie campaign, how is Russell Wilson faring in Year 2?
Field Gulls: Wilson has been solid to start his sophomore campaign. Teams have schemed away some of the bread and butter stuff he went to last year, namely the deep bombs off of play-action, so he's been forced elsewhere, including an increase in scrambling. In the past two games, Wilson has rushed for 164 yards, largely due to teams' decisions to play their safeties deep to take away some 'explosive' ability of the Seahawks' offense.
Not helping matters, Wilson has been playing behind a tattered line which is missing three starters, including Pro Bowl LT Russell Okung and All Pro C Max Unger. The protection has been a big factor, and the effect has been a less rhythm based offense, replaced with something a little more fractured and chaotic. Nonetheless, Seattle has managed to average 26.2 points per game (with some help from ST and defense, of course), which is good for 7th in the NFL. Their yards per play is respectable at 5.7 (10th) and Football Outsiders rates them as the 8th overall offense thus far, 6th in passing and 8th in running.
Wilson certainly has areas to improve on - I'd like to see his completion percentage creep up as the year goes on (61.4% right now) and he'd tell you that the biggest thing for him would be to improve on 3rd downs, where Seattle has struggled pretty mightily thus far. Either way, there's no reason to be anything but happy with how the 2nd year QB is playing, and the sky is still the limit with him, particularly with even a little bit better protection.
ROTB: How is O'Brien Schofield doing for you all this season?
FG: Schofield's snaps have dropped with the return of Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin the past few weeks, but he's still a pretty important depth player and member of the defensive rotation. He's got fantastic get off on the edge and his athleticism allows him to play the stand-up rush end position in Seattle's defense. I'd say that Seattle fans are very grateful to the Cardinals for deciding to drop him, because he's become a pretty good piece of depth in our defensive end/linebacker corps.
It will be interesting to see how many snaps he gets this week against his former team. He only got six last week, but Chris Clemons injured his elbow and will likely miss the game on Thursday. This means Schofield could be in a position to exact some retribution on his old team for releasing him.
ROTB: Seattle has been pretty stinking good this season. What is the state of the fanbase in terms of satisfaction and expectations for the season?
FG: It's funny. The expectations and hype around the team got so great toward the end of the year last season with all the blowouts and the Playoff run, then again during the offseason when Seattle signed a few big-time free agents, that at this point, anything less than a blowout and it seems like people are mad. With great expectations, you can expect great pressure to succeed, of course, and I think so far people expect more from the offense. (The defense has been pretty stellar, for the most part).
Things haven't been as smooth as they were late last year in the passing game, and there have been some atrocious mistakes here and there that have kept teams in games - fumbles, picks, miscues, missed connections, etc. Not helping things, Seattle has also had two blocked field goals returned for touchdowns in the past two games, so I think in general people are getting a little uneasy with how stressful and close games have been. I find myself in this position, constantly reminding myself that it's damn hard to win in the NFL, and that I should be happy to be in a good position thus far even despite some of the sloppy play.
Of course, Seattle has had some major injury issues and are still 5-1, so there's not a lot of room to gripe, obviously. I think the general thought is that this team is not close to their ceiling yet, there's still a ton of room to improve, and we're all just waiting for a 'breakout' game where things on offense click. That might not be this week though, because it's incredibly tough to play in Arizona (especially for Seattle, who is 1-6 in the last seven down there), and the short week doesn't help.
ROTB: How can they be beaten?
FG: The biggest thing that might turn this game in the Cardinals favor is to generate some turnovers. I'm thinking Seattle's defense will remain pretty stout in this one, so getting Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch to turn the ball over will be a huge deal for Arizona. Make Russell Wilson one-dimensional, keep him in the pocket, and force him to hit his receivers over the middle (his weak area). Take Lynch out of the game on early downs and get Seattle into third down situations. Right now, Seattle's Achilles heel(s) have been third down conversions on offense and too many turnovers. I'd probably try to design some sort of pass rush that keeps Wilson in the pocket and stepping up into it rather than forcing him outside. He's had some shaky protection thus far, but has been able to make things happen with his legs. I'd try to take this away.
ROTB: Who should Cardinals fans look out for on Thursday, outside of the regular guys that make plays?
FG: Look for TE Luke Willson to feature in the game plan. Starter Zach Miller has been hampered by a hamstring injury the past few weeks so he may be eased in and given limited snaps. I have heard that Arizona is somewhat susceptible to passing to the tight end, so I'll be looking for Seattle to draw up some plays that gets the rookie up the seam or open in the redzone.
On defense, Bruce Irvin was quiet last week, but I'll be looking for him to make a little more noise this week. Look for Seattle to send him in on blitzes at Carson Palmer, hoping to take away any time for the veteran quarterback to throw the ball downfield to Arizona's excellent receiving corps. Also, keep an eye on Malcolm Smith, who should get the opportunity to chase down the elusive Andre Ellington at the weak side linebacker spot. Smith's biggest strength is his speed.
As always, thanks to Danny for taking the time to answer my questions.
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- Cardinals vs. 49ers: Defensive formations and snap counts
- Cardinals vs. 49ers: Offensive snap counts and formations
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- Arizona Cardinals injury report: Calais Campbell does not practice, hopeful to play on Thursday
- NFL Power Rankings Week 7: Texans Falling, Rams Climbing