The Arizona Cardinals are not playing the Seattle Seahawks in the conditions they had hoped, but they still have a chance to win the season series and make a statement.
Also, there is some weird stuff going on in Seattle, so Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls was kind enough to stop by and talk about it.
With the offense getting a healthy Thomas Rawls back and the offensive line seemingly coming together, is this offense ready to make a deep run in the playoffs?
Well, I don't want to imply that the offense can carry the Seahawks on a deep run in the playoffs, but it's certainly good enough for a deep run in the playoffs. And yeah, Rawls has a lot to do with that. The LA Rams jammed up Seattle's run game because of Aaron Donald, but they won't be facing Donald in the playoffs so there's a good chance they'll have as much success as they had in the previous four games with Rawls when they were a top-five running game once again. We also can't discount the health of Russell Wilson's legs as he's been more of a threat to run on both designed plays and scrambles, but I also wouldn't say that the offensive line is coming together.
Outside of the breakout season of center Justin Britt, the line is very horrid. They have good moments and they're young, but there's every chance that the Seahawks will get knocked out of the playoffs simply because the offensive line was having one of their bad days. When Wilson can't get time in the pocket, the offense is entirely capable of putting up a zero. There's plenty of blame to put on Wilson for a higher-than-usual amount of bad decisions as well this season, but Seattle's achilles heel is definitely the offensive line. I think Rawls is right there with the upper-echelon of running backs (don't get the pitchforks, David Johnson is clearly a better all-around player), definitely ahead of where Christine Michael was, and they've got Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, and Tyler Lockett, but they definitely need more good days from the offensive line.
If we're talking strictly the playoffs and not this weekend, then the return of rookie CJ Prosise could end up being the x-factor determining the Seahawks' ultimate success in the postseason this year. At least, offensively. He was incredible.
With Earl Thomas out, how does the Seahawks defense change?
I honestly think that for 95% of plays, it doesn't. Backup Steven Terrell is one of the fastest safeties in the NFL (like Earl) and can cover a lot of ground. So for 95% of plays, I think the Seahawks coaching staff has prepared the defense to make up for the loss of Earl, support Terrell, and hold teams out of the end zone. The problem is the other five percent of plays. Seattle's specialty and Carroll's total objective on defense is: limiting explosive plays. The Seahawks consistently are among the NFL leaders in limiting plays of 15+ yards. Guys like Earl are a huge part of that. But with Terrell the last couple weeks, and earlier when Earl was out for a different injury, you'd just see an explosive play you had so rarely seen before. Long bomb to Kelvin Benjamin. Back-to-back touchdowns by Mike Evans. 66 yards to Davante Adams. Even Jared Goff got off a couple passes longer than 20 yards.
Going against Palmer, Fitzgerald, Brown, Nelson, there has to be some concern about the explosive plays this week. Especially from David Johnson. You won't notice that Earl is missing for most of the game ... until you do.
The Seahawks have continued to be a dominant defensive unit, but it really feels like their defensive line with Bennett, Avril and Clark is just hitting another level. Is the pass rush the best it has been since Pete got to Seattle?
In a way yes, and in a way no. It's perhaps a better trio than when Bruce Irvin was the third exterior pass rusher, but the Seahawks lack an interior pass rush like they had in 2013-2014. In those years under Dan Quinn, they'd get 7 or 8 sacks from the inside of the defensive line from guys like Clinton McDonald or Jordan Hill. This year, they have 2.5 sacks from defensive tackles. I think that's important to note. Overall, Seattle has 36 sacks, which means maybe they finish with 40, which is par for them, but best it's been under Pete? I think 2013 was perhaps better.
You have to remember that even though Avril is a first-time Pro Bowler this year with a career-high 11.5 sacks, I don't think he's a better player than he used to be. He's always been this good, he just didn't convert quite as many QB hurries into sacks in the last few years, but that's a tiny, tiny difference. Perhaps one not even in his control. Bennett missed five games and doesn't have a sack since Week 4. Clark is probably a better overall player than Irvin, but still young and learning how to be a complete player. The fact that he has nine sacks in 13 games in only his second season is definitely very encouraging. But they just aren't getting any pressure on the QB up the middle and that's the exact thing that kills them on offense. They struck gold with second round pick Jarran Reed, but mostly from a run-stopping position. They need to get someone to pair with Reed as a pass-rushing nose tackle.
What the heck is going on with the defense and Darrell Bevell?
I don't have a good answer that. I don't think anyone does. I don't think Richard Sherman or Darrell Bevell do either. It's just been a weird season for the Seahawks. They got blown out for the first time since 2011. They scored 12 or less five times. I think Sherman probably believes that when the defense is once again on the verge of maybe leading the NFL in points allowed (they're in 2nd, three points behind the Patriots) that the team should do better than 9-4-1. To some extent, he has a point. The defense is better than the offense. The offense certainly has talent. Maybe Bevell's not having a good season. But Sherman has to find better ways to harness his frustrations because taking it out on coaches during games on the sidelines or voicing his distaste for playcalling to the media, or just calling out the media, is probably not the best way to go about it. It's like arguing with the refs over a penalty you know isn't right; is a ref literally ever going to pick up a flag because of what a player said? No.
At the end of the day maybe this has been better for the team. Maybe it's torn them apart. I guess we'll find out.
The Seahawks clearly need this game more than Arizona, but do you think Seattle takes this Cardinals team too lightly? Final Score?
I don't think a day is coming in which the Seahawks take the Cardinals "too lightly." They play the 49ers in Week 17, as San Francisco probably aims for their 15th loss, and I doubt Seattle is even taking San Francisco "too lightly." (Unless they've wrapped the bye week by then.) It's only been two months since the dreaded tie. I am sure that the players want to win the rubber match as much as Arizona does. Also, the Cards have won two of the last three games in Seattle, ruining the Seahawks' bid for a perfect home record in 2013 (which they are also 7-0 at home right now) and then dropping them to 4-5 last season with the 39-32 victory at CenturyLink. No, the team, Carroll, John Schneider, the fans -- nobody is taking the Cardinals lightly, no matter how down of a season it's been for them. This might as well be the game of the year, because a bye week is on the line. My final score prediction ... I think if you tend to believe a game will be low scoring because the last one featured zero touchdowns in five quarters, it always goes the opposite way of what you expect. Seahawks 30, Cardinals 26