Let's take a look at what went right and what went wrong in this NFC West showdown.
1) David Johnson
I'm pretty sure I have started off every single one of these articles this season with David Johnson. I'll continue the tradition again this week. I think David Johnson is arguably the best player in the NFL today. He's at least up there with the greats. His versatility was on full display against the stout Seattle defense. Not only did he rush for 95 yards off 28 carries, he also caught 4 passes for 41 yards (his last catch was a beautiful jump ball over Kam Chancellor to get the Cardinals closer to FG range). He also tallied three touchdowns, all at the goal-line.
DJ now has over 100 scrimmage yards in every single game this season, tying a record held by Barry Sanders (15 straight games). If he accomplishes this again next week, he'll hold the record all on his own. If the Cardinals were a playoff team this year, he very likely would be a front-runner for MVP. At the very least, he should be in serious contention for Offensive Player of the Year. This season has been disappointing, but DJ has been one of the lone bright spots. In DJ We Trust.
2) Pressure on Wilson
The defensive line did a phenomenal job of exploiting the weak Seattle O-line. Russell Wilson was sacked six total times, losing 37 yards in the process. He also lost a fumble on a bad handoff, which DE Calais Campbell promptly grabbed. All day, Campbell, LB Chandler Jones, LB Alex Okafor, LB Markus Golden, and DE Rodney Gunter abused the Seahawks O-line. It was one of the main reasons the Cardinals were able to stop the Seahawks from putting up more points than they did.
It's games like this that raise questions regarding who to pay in the off-season. Campbell, Jones, and co. have really picked it up towards the end of the season. They'll all be looking for lucrative pay-days.
3) Special Teams
If you had told me just a couple days ago that the Special Teams unit would actually contribute to a win, I would have laughed. But no, the impossible happened: Our Special Teams was actually decent. K Chandler Catanzaro was 2-3 on field goals, including the game-winner as time expired. When Catanzaro missed his first FG attempt, I was pretty angry. It was a long attempt of 55 yards, so looking back I should have cut him more slack than I did. When the team needed Catanzaro, he came through. He nailed both of his attempts in the 4th quarter, including a hurry-up kick at the end. His problems really are mental. He has the talent to thrive in this league.
Perhaps the bigger story is our new punter, Matt Wile, who averaged 44 yards on punts, with a long of 59 yards. Which raises the question, we couldn't have found this guy earlier in the season? And the Special Teams even blocked a punt AND an extra point attempt. What a day.
4) Offensive Line
They weren't perfect. Far from it. But this patchwork line of starters, backups, and third-stringers wasn't awful, and that's a win. Palmer was only sacked once all day, which is astounding given how talented the Seahawks defensive front is. He was definitely hit far more than anyone would have liked, and that's a problem, but giving up only one sack is commendable. In addition, the line cleared holes for DJ all day, contributing to his three scores and 95 yards.
The line is missing three starters. Revamp it in the off-season, and we're right back in it.
5) Carson Palmer
Palmer was the unsung hero of Saturday afternoon. All season he has had to deal with talk of regression, age concerns, and even retirement. But against the Seahawks, Palmer proved that when given the chance, he can play at a level close to 2015. He was 16-26 for 284 yards and one TD. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over once. Yes, there were a few times he got lucky (admittedly, he has gotten lucky on turnovers quite a lot this season), but he was clutch all game when needed, and played extremely well against one of the top defenses in the league.
I'm not saying Palmer isn't to blame for some of this season's woes. But Palmer has proven he's not completely over the hill just yet. Give him a line that can protect him, receivers that don't drop balls, and of course the God-emperor David Johnson, and he can run this offense well.
6) J.J. Nelson
Man, Nelson is fast. He was also the Cardinals leading receiver, with 132 yards. Not only did he bring in an 80 yard touchdown, reminiscent of the long-ball successes of last year, he also had a fantastic 41 yard catch-and-run off a slant pass to set up DJ at the one-yard line.
Honorable mention: Fitz had an incredible diving catch in the 4th quarter to also set up DJ at the one-yard line. And none of the receivers had any terrible drops.
1) The secondary
CB Patrick Peterson had one of his worst games of recent memory, allowing WR Doug Baldwin to walk all over him. Baldwin ended the day with 13 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown. Rookie CB Brandon Williams had yet another rough outing, as Wilson targeted him left and right all throughout the game. Williams also allowed a touchdown to Baldwin in the 4th quarter. And while CB Justin Bethel had one of the better games of his season, he too gave up a couple touchdowns. The secondary has to be a priority this off-season.
2) 4th quarter defense
The Seahawks scored three touchdowns in the 4th quarter alone. While the D-line was able to keep up the pressure on Wilson to an extent, they did allow him more time than they had in the other three quarters. And the secondary absolutely collapsed, giving up big plays to Baldwin and TE Jimmy Graham. The Seahawks are definitely a different team in the second half than they are in the first, so we can excuse it to an extent. But with the game on the line, they almost handed the win to Wilson.
3) Tony Jefferson was injured
The third year safety was having a Pro Bowl worthy season, and had to leave the game on crutches. This team is beat up enough as it is. I hate seeing guys go down like that, especially given that we're not even going to the Playoffs.
1) Third down efficiency
1-9 on third downs. Not good. This has been a concern all year; this isn't the first time I've written about it in the "Ugly" section.
The team committed 7 penalties for a total of 85 yards. That's potentially game-changing. Playing at CenturyLink Field is no doubt a challenge, so there is some leeway there. However, one penalty that comes to mind is when TE Jermaine Gresham was called on taunting. It cost the team 15 yards, and took them out of FG range. This isn't his first taunting penalty of the year either.
3) Draft Position
For those of you who have checked out of this season, and are looking to the draft, you won't be happy with what this win did to the Cardinals draft slot. It knocked the team out of the top 10 to #11, behind the Eagles. I'm a member of the camp who'd rather see a win in Seattle than a loss that helps our draft positioning, but there is definitely an argument behind the sentiment that ultimately, we need that higher draft pick over a moral victory against the Seahawks.
Regardless, this was one of the most exciting games of the season. I'm looking forward to next week to see if DJ can get his 16th straight game of 100+ scrimmage yards, and then I'll be eagerly awaiting all the moves Keim and co. have planned this off-season. This game has made me a believer again. I think this team can make another deep playoff run if the right adjustments are made.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone on ROTB. The Cardinals have definitely done their part to make it a happy holiday season!