With the biggest game of the year coming this Sunday night between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, Danny Kelly from Field Gulls and I exchanged questions. Here is what I asked and what Danny responded.
Jess Root: The Seattle O-line is banged up. What is the expectation as to who plays this weekend and how much of a concern is it, especially after the Cardinals sacked Russell Wilson 7 times last game?
Danny Kelly: Well, in short, it's going to be an adventure.
The longer answer is that right now it's looking like LT Russell Okung and C Max Unger will be out this weekend -- Okung with a bruised lung and Unger with knee and ankle injuries. Unger has been gone since the Seahawks played the Chiefs in Week 11, so that's not a big change, but losing the starting left tackle obviously hurts. That means that the Hawks will be starting 2nd year pro Alvin Bailey at left tackle, James Carpenter at left guard, Lemuel Jeanpierre at center, J.R. Sweezy at right guard, and rookie Justin Britt at right tackle. Britt's had his struggles in pass protection over the last few weeks so I would imagine the Seahawks are hoping to utilize a few more "heavy" packages this week with tight ends and even possibly a sixth offensive lineman to try and protect the quarterback.
The use of heavy packages means there are fewer receivers on the field, so I'd expect Seattle to try to run the ball a lot (duh). Of course, it's not easy to run on the Cardinals, so in the pass game, this means they'll have to targeting these tight ends if they're in the game to chip on the edges.
So, bottom line, the offensive line a concern, especially against a blitzing team like the Cards with a superb front line. Russell Wilson will likely be running for his life at times, and will need to really be on point to get the ball out quickly and to the right guy when a blitz comes unblocked.
JR: Arizona now has started running ball better with the insertion of Jonathan Cooper into the starting lineup and the addition of Kerwynn Williams. They were unable to do it in Seattle. San Fran did until everyone got hurt last week. Can the Cardinals run the ball this time around?
DK: The Seahawks are still one of the better run defenses in the NFL, but every once in a while they have a let down and allow some yards. But, as with every week, it will be a huge focus for them, and I'm guessing they'll work to correct a few of the mistakes they made against San Fran. The goal will obviously be to take away the Cardinals run game and make them one-dimensional on offense, then hope that they can force Ryan Lindley to make some mistakes.
Regardless of Seattle's run defense, though, I think that Arians will go to the run game and stick with it throughout as he tries to mitigate the disadvantage of having a third stringer at quarterback. So, the Seahawks are going to get a heavy dose of Kerwynn Williams, and will have to really be good in their run fits, pursue with speed, and tackle well. To answer your question, though, I am confident that Seattle will shore up their run defense and this will be a major key to the game. If the Cards can run, it will be bad news for Seattle.
JR: What is the confidence level of Seattle coming into this game, especially facing Ryan Lindley?
DK: I think people are confident that the Seahawks can play Lindley well but are still wary of the Cardinals because their defense is so damn good. It's easy to remember last year that the Cards beat the Seahawks in Seattle despite the four interceptions by Carson Palmer, and that serves as a nice reminder that the Hawks have won quite a few games using their defense to dictate things.
Overall, I think with most fans there's a healthy respect for the Cardinals but it feels like a winnable game for the Hawks because of the disadvantage Arizona has on offense right now. That said, there's a trail of beaten, bloodied, and defeated opponents in Arizona's wake that serve as a reality check for the overconfident. If Seattle can't get much going on the offensive side of the ball, this game might come down to who wins the turnover battle or who makes a big play or two on special teams.
JR: So...are the Cardinals the Seahawks' real rivals now and should we no longer talk to one another?
DK: When I look at both the current state of affairs and the longer-term trajectory of the Cardinals as a Seahawks fan, they are pretty scary to me. Great young secondary, amazing front seven, some exciting weapons on offense, and when Palmer gets back, a franchise level quarterback. That's not even mentioning the obviously great job that Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles have done in coaching Arizona up and the job they've done in getting the most out of their players even after sustaining an absurd amount of injuries this year. I'm not a scout of course, but I've really liked Arizona's drafts the past few seasons too, so it's annoying that there's someone seemingly very competent in Steve Keim running the show.
So, to answer your question, I think this is the start of a renewed rivalry that could reach sport-hate levels in the not too distant future. I'm just hoping that Bowles gets a head coaching job somewhere next year, not in the NFC West!
JR: If Seattle is to win, what will be the keys to the game?
DK: I think the offense has to play well for the Seahawks to win this game. That's not an easy proposition against Arizona's elite defense, but at this time of year, and with the stakes this high, I'm expecting that Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will have to have good games for the Seahawks to get a win in the desert. If Wilsons struggles, turns the ball over, or if Marshawn Lynch can't get much going on the ground, it could be a real painful game to watch.
I am going with the Seahawks pulling out a gut-check win, 16-13.
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