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Arizona Cardinals Opponent Preview: Seattle Seahawks

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The Seahawks are the team Arizona always needs to beat in the NFC West, what can they expect in 2016?

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

There is no team that Arizona Cardinals fans care more about than the Seattle Seahawks. They loathe their existence and want to see them not only play bad, but look bad doing it. The blowout to the Panthers in the playoffs was a great point, until, well… you know.

This season figures to be another strong one for the Seahawks, who the Arizona Cardinals will play twice, as always.

What does Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls expect for the Seahawks this year?

The offensive line was one of Seattle’s biggest weak spots last year and underwent a lot of turnover in the offseason. What is the starting five going to look like this year, and is there any hope for improvement?

There is nothing but hope for improvement. The Seahawks offensive line was considered to be among the worst in the NFL, if not just the outright pits of the pits. To be honest though, I think that’s a little unfair. The line improved as the season went on, specifically with the change at center from Drew Nowak to Patrick Lewis midseason, and by the end of the year Seattle had an incredibly efficient passing game and a business-as-usual great running game. Can you have the worst offensive line in football if you lead the NFL in rushing since 2012? I know that Marshawn Lynch has a lot to do with that, and I know Russell Wilson is one of only a few QBs who has the agility to survive the constant barrage of pressure, but I think the guys they have had in place are good for what they were asked to do, for the most part. However, they are basically changing everything on the line this season, so we really don’t have any idea what to expect.

The left tackle was set to be Garry Gilliam, a former UDFA tight end who was the starting right tackle last year, but as camp went on, free agent signee Bradley Sowell started to win reps on the left side and push Gilliam back to the right. Sowell hasn’t played in a game since 2013, which of course gives everyone pause to the effectiveness of their tackles, which also includes free agent signee J’Marcus Webb, who had been described as an “open door” for the Chicago Bears. Webb signed a fully-guaranteed deal for 2016 at over $2 million, so they’re going to give him every opportunity to win a job, but he missed a lot of camp with a knee injury. The starting right guard appears to be first round pick Germain Ifedi out of Texas A&M, and despite ongoing fights in camp with defensive lineman like Michael Bennett, Ifedi is more than holding his own as a guard. He might be the best offensive lineman on the team right now. The left guard is set to be Mark Glowinski, a fourth round pick in 2015 who has one career start, but the team also recently signed Jahri Evans, who went to six Pro Bowls with the New Orleans Saints. Finally, the new center is Justin Britt, their second round pick in 2014 who has gone from right tackle to left guard to center in the span of three years. Surprisingly enough, Britt may be the most improved player of the offseason and seems to have a stranglehold on the position now. That one change alone could set off a domino effect for the other offensive lineman, hopefully opening up holes in the run game and give Wilson an extra half-second in the pocket.

With the Marshawn Lynch era over, how will the Seahawks approach their running game? Is Thomas Rawls the clear successor or might he have some competition from the likes of C.J. Prosise or Christine Michael?

I think Rawls is the clear successor if he can remain healthy. When he replaced Lynch in 2015, it wasn’t just that there were massive running lanes opened up for him for the offensive line, nor was it like he was just facing bad defenses, Rawls legitimately looked like an All-Pro running back who had incredible vision and an amazing ability to cut on a dime. NFL fans who don’t watch Seahawks games often assumed last year that Rawls was just at the right place and right time, but he went into camp last year as an undrafted free agent from Central Michigan and ultimately gave Pete Carroll enough reason to trade Michael to the Dallas Cowboys and release veteran Robert Turbin during final cuts. If he hadn’t broken his ankle against the Baltimore Ravens, Rawls would have easily surpassed 1,000 yards despite only getting about a half-season worth of carries.

That being said, his absence in camp only opened the door for other players and they took full advantage of those opportunities.

Michael returned last season after Rawls’ injury and played okay, giving the team enough reason to re-sign him. Now it seems like Michael could finally be living up to the pre-draft hype that got him drafted in the second round by the Seahawks in 2013. Now in his fourth season, Michael seems to be displaying the maturity necessary to be an NFL player and he really could be pushing Rawls for carries. He’s gone from on the bubble to being a lock to make the roster, it would seem; the only way I could see that not happening at this point is if the team really loves their rookie running backs and decides to test the trade market for Michael again, since he’ll be more expensive to keep around than the younger guys will be.

That includes rookie Alex Collins, the fifth rounder out of Arkansas who played exceptionally well during training camp but has been sidelined a little bit with a sore ankle. He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Seventh rounder Zac Brooks out of Clemson also seems to have really impressed coaches, and I don’t think he’d pass through waivers if released. The highest back they drafted, Prosise, missed nearly all of training camp with a hamstring injury. He’ll be replacing Fred Jackson in the offense, which means third down and passing situations. You could almost say he plays a different position than the other backs, so I don’t think he interferes with their carries or roles on the offense.

How does the team plan on replacing Bruce Irvin at linebacker?

With a variety of players. Veteran Mike Morgan is going into his sixth season with the team, almost all of which has been spent on special teams. But Carroll loves Morgan (he played for him at USC and has only played for Carroll in his above-high school career, save for 2010) and he is the most experienced of anyone competing for time at outside linebacker. The others are a trio from their 2014 draft class: Cassius Marsh, a fourth round pick out of UCLA, Eric Pinkins, a converted safety from San Diego State who went two rounds later, and Kevin Pierre-Louis, another fourth rounder out of Boston College.

Pierre-Louis is more like a backup to K.J. Wright than he is a SAM linebacker, so he’s not really in the running. Pinkins excels in coverage, where Marsh might be better rushing the passer or against the run. He’s really been one of their best players on special teams over the last two seasons and he’s most played at defensive end, so he’s got experience getting after the quarterback. Overall, I think Pinkins might end up getting the most play at Irvin’s old spot, but I don’t think the change-over will be much of an issue.

After Richard Sherman, the CB depth is a bit unsettled. Who’s the favorite to start alongside Sherman in the No. 2 spot?

I can’t say there is really a “favorite,” it just depends on what package they’re in. The Seahawks re-signed Jeremy Lane over the offseason and he’s often going to be the guy out there alongside Sherman. However, when they move into a nickel defense with three corners on the field, you’ll see Lane slide in to cover the slot and probably DeShawn Shead moving to the outside. Shead is a player who has been in the system since 2012 and started out as a safety but slowly was converted to corner. The other player who will compete for time there is Tharold Simon, who Sherman said could be better than even he himself is, but Simon’s been super inconsistent throughout his career and throughout training camp and the preseason this year. Simon has the physical skills, but he might not be at the same level mentally that Shead is.

Keep an eye on Tye Smith, a fifth round pick out of Towson last year who seems to be the wild card in this equation. Nobody really knows where he stands right now, he’s not really getting reps with the ones like the other three I just mentioned, but reports almost always seem to be positive about what he’s doing on the field. He might emerge at some point this year.

Despite still fielding a top-shelf defense, the Seahawks were prone to major fourth-quarter collapses last season. What were the root causes of those losses, and how does the team remedy it going forward?

It’s an issue that has plagued Carroll for pretty much all of his time with Seattle. For some reason, they lose more games in the fourth quarter (a higher percentage) than vast majority of teams. But the way I see it, the Seahawks are also “in the game” in the fourth quarter more than every other team in the NFL dating back to 2012. This is a team that hasn’t been blown out, not a single time, since mid-2011. In the last four-and-a-half seasons, including playoffs, they’ve had a decent chance to win literally every single game. They don’t get blown out. If they go down by a lot of points (take Carolina’s 31-0 lead in the playoffs last year), they find a way to claw back into it. I think if you’re the type of team that has to make up a lot of ground in a game to catch up, or if you’re putting on the gas for four quarters of football every year, or you’re playing deep into January every season, you might be a little bit more tired in the last few minutes of the game. I don’t know, maybe that’s inaccurate, I’m not in the locker room and I definitely can’t run for 60 minutes, but take a look at how Seattle started their 2015 season:

They lost four of their first six games, all four losses coming in the fourth quarter. Well, the Seahawks secondary was battered with injury issues in the previous year’s playoffs: Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Jeremy Lane, and Tharold Simon were all either nicked up or seriously injured in the postseason the year before. Lane, Simon, and Chancellor (holdout) weren’t playing in the beginning of the year and Marshawn Lynch wasn’t his usual self, eventually getting injured too.

Seattle has played in 74 games in the last four years compared to 64 games for a team that has not made the playoffs over that span. That will wear on you and I think it will often show itself on a defense in the last couple of series of the game. How do you prevent that?

Look at how much they’ve focused on depth at cornerback, defensive tackle, running back, and safety over the summer: Lane got an extension, they re-signed Brandon Browner, they are extremely high on rookie Tyvis Powell, they drafted two defensive tackles (Jarran Reed, Quentin Jefferson), and three running backs (C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins, Zac Brooks.) They’re going to try and keep themselves as fresh as possible at the positions that get worn down the most over four quarters.

It’s hard to call 10-6 and a playoff win a disappointment, but after two straight Super Bowl appearances the Seahawks must certainly feel that way. Do you feel like this current crop of players has peaked, or do they have several more years of title contention left in them?

I do not think they’ve peaked. I mean, Earl Thomas is a Hall of Fame safety (I feel comfortable saying he’s headed that way with five Pro Bowls and three All-Pros in six years), and he’s 27. Richard Sherman is 28. Bobby Wagner is 26. Nearly every important player is signed through 2017, and most of them are signed through 2019. But none of them are more important than the one player who won’t ever be given a chance to leave for as long as he’s healthy and effective:

Russell Wilson, who is 27.

History maintains that successful QBs consistently carry their teams to the playoffs every season. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers … I mean, you know where to find those players every January. The few cases of great QBs not regularly going to the playoffs, like Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, have to deal with far bigger issues like playing with the worst defense in NFL history or for an organization that doesn’t seem to have any clue what it’s doing most seasons. (And even then, Rivers usually carries the Chargers to 9-7.)

If you don’t think Wilson is a top tier quarterback, you don’t actually know what you’re talking about in regards to football. The numbers show it, the results show it, the tape shows it. A lot of people are slow to give Wilson the credit he’s due because they asserted on draft day that an under-6’ QB simply would never succeed in the NFL and nobody wants to admit when they’re wrong, but every day that passes in which Pete Prisco or some other motionless avi on Twitter or “expert” on a high-traffic website that insists that their writers say stupid things to drum up attention, is another day that will simply add up to the sum of “you don’t know shit about football” when Wilson wins another regular season game, another playoff game, another award, or another Super Bowl.

As long as that’s true, as long as Wilson is playing at a high level, the Seahawks window will be open. Based on how long franchise QBs are usually effective for, that should theoretically give them at least another decade. The fact that they also have five or six other players who could be an All-Pro this season and are signed through the next few years only heightens their chances.

Will Michael Bennett ever sign a contract that he’s actually happy with?

Yes. In December.

Who's the fan favorite player, the cult hero [think how John Kuhn used to be in Green Bay] and why?

To me, a “cult hero” is a player who isn’t the most athletically-gifted and probably had no business making an NFL roster, but accomplished it through sheer will and determination. I think Seattle mostly makes up their roster of those types of players, it’s the “always compete” mantra of Carroll that encourages everyone to play above their supposed “skillset.” The person that perhaps best embodied that last year was Ricardo Lockette, a flat-out bad receiver that stuck around the team for a few seasons because he played so well on special teams and out-worked his competitors in practice most days. But Lockette unfortunately had a career-ending injury against the Cowboys last season and won’t be back in a playing role. I think the player who takes his place in that regard now is rookie UDFA Tyvis Powell.

Seen as a “tweener” safety, Powell was the top priority for Carroll and Schneider after the draft and has been getting nothing but praise ever since. He can back up both safety positions and has been getting work at corner too. In the first preseason game of the year, Powell had two huge plays on special teams and then an interception on defense. He isn’t seen as the prototypical safety or cornerback, and he went undrafted so obviously teams weren’t too high on his chances of making it as a pro after his career at Ohio State, but Powell has quickly earned favor from coaches, players, and certainly from fans.

The other guy might by “athlete” Tanner McEvoy, who played just about everything at Wisconsin and has been a sight to behold as a 6’6 receiver in camp who can win some battles at the point of attack, but McEvoy has a much longer road to travel if he’s going to make the final roster.

How does the first month of the season go for the Seahawks? The last month of the season? What's the final record going to be?

Seattle’s first four opponents are the Dolphins, Rams, 49ers, and Jets. I think the Seahawks are clearly a better football team than all of those opponents. But I wouldn’t predict a 4-0 start.

They have to play the Rams, a team that swept them last season, during their home debut in Los Angeles. They have to play the Jets on the road, and New York is definitely a team on the rise after going 10-6 last season. I think anywhere from 2-2 to 4-0 is reasonable, probably erring on the side of 3-1.

The last month includes Packers, Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers. I think there’s a much bigger chance of disaster with that block of games, but who knows what the NFL will look like in December. The United States will have a new president by then, I mean the whole world will be different by December. Everyone thought the Cowboys were going to be good last season, but they weren’t, right? The Packers weren’t good either. All things considered, division opponents are always tough, Rodgers is always tough, two of those games are on the road. I would be shocked if they ever went 0-4 for any stretch under Carroll right now. I guess 2-2 to 4-0 is again reasonable.

Overall, I would say their final record is somewhere in the 11 to 12-win range. They have the potential to win 13 games and the division with the number one seed in the NFC, they also could go 9-7 theoretically, but I’d say their floor with a normal assumption of injuries (barring an injury to Wilson), is 10-6 and a wild card berth.