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Searching for a W: 5 keys for a Cardinals upset against the Seahawks

The Cardinals look much better in 2019 than at this point a season ago—but they’re still searching for their first win. What will it take to get that first victory Sunday against the Seahawks?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
There are a lot of new faces for both the Cardinals and Seahawks, but the faces of the franchises remain.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Most Cardinals fans were feeling pretty good about the team after a tie against the Lions and a close road loss to the Ravens. Then came last week’s second-half bludgeoning at home at the hands of the Panthers to drop us to 0-2-1.

Confidence is down, but the perfect cure would be a home win against our archrival. The Seahawks are 2-1 but haven’t looked like world-beaters with close wins against the Bengals and Big Ben–less Steelers, as well as a home loss to the Saints minus Drew Brees.

They’re a solid team, but beatable. So what do the Redbirds have to do to pull off the upset (the Seahawks are favored by 5)? Here’s one key for each phase of the game. If the Cardinals can follow through on three or four or even all five, we should be talking about our first win on Monday. If not… on the schneid we stay.

Key #1 – Passing Offense: Get David Johnson Involved

The Seahawks passing defense has been ordinary so far, giving up 250.7 YPG (#16 in the league; they’re also #15 in DVOA). Opposing QBs have a 100.4 QB rating and 6:1 TD:INT ratio—so Kyler should have a solid day. But the Saints showed last week that the Seahawks defense is even more susceptible to receiving threat RBs, as Alvin Kamara chewed them up for 9/92/1 TD through the air. That should have Kliff Kingsbury and DJ watering at the mouth. But DJ has disappeared a bit from the passing offense after an encouraging Week 1 (6/55/1 TD), going just 7/28 over the last two games (although he did have the TD reception last week on a busted play). Hopefully he’s much more involved in the downfield passing game on Sunday, rather than in the screen game, which has done almost nothing this season. If DJ can snag 6-8 balls for 50+ yards, I’ll like our chances at the upset.

Key #2 – Rushing Offense: Use Kyler’s Legs

Despite facing a trio of talented runners (Joe Mixon, James Conner, Kamara), the Seahawks have bottled up the run in 2019. They’ve only given up 67.7 YPG on the ground (#4 in the league), and they’re #6 in DVOA as well, so it hasn’t been all game script. And with DJ only averaging 44 YPG, I’m not expecting big things from him on the ground on Sunday. But Kyler finally showed off his running ability last week (8/69), so I’m hoping that trend continues. The Seahawks do have a trio of run-stuffing LBs (Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks), but they’ve faced a relative statue gallery of QBs so far (Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger/Mason Rudolph, Teddy Bridgewater), and I don’t think even all the film they’re sure to be watching can adequately prepare them for Kyler’s game speed. I’ll be looking for another 8-10 attempts from Kyler this week—with hopefully a few of them coming in the red zone. A Kyler rushing TD could be huge in this game.

Key #3 – Passing Defense: Force Their Complementary Players to Step Up

The numbers in this phase of the game don’t look good for the Redbirds. Our pass defense has been miserable, and Russell Wilson has been incredible. In fact, he’s been almost exactly as good as our defense has been bad. Check the numbers: Cardinals opposing QBs have thrown for 859 yards (8.5 YPA) with a 9:0 TD:INT ratio and a QB rating of 119.3. Wilson’s numbers in those same categories are 901 yards (8.6 YPA) with a 7:0 TD:INT ratio and a QB rating of 119.6. So, yeah, we’re not stopping Wilson on Sunday. But we need to make him work for those numbers by doing anything and everything we can to limit Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, who have caught the majority of Wilson’s yards and TDs. Vance Joseph needs to scheme to stop those two players, specifically jamming Lockett incessantly and doubling Metcalf with a safety on deep routes. That could mean that TE Will Dissly is in line for monster day, but that’s okay—we already struggle against tight ends, but Dissly is no T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews, or Greg Olsen. Other than that, Seattle doesn’t really have a tertiary WR threat and they haven’t used their RBs a ton in the passing game. Perhaps someone like David Moore or C.J. Prosise steps up on Sunday, but we have to force these other players make plays. If Lockett and/or Metcalf have a big day, we’re likely toast.

Key #4 – Rushing Defense: Make Them Cough Up the Rock

The Seahawks rushing attack hasn’t been as dominant as it was last year (#15 YPG, #19 DVOA). But if there was ever a chance to get right, it’d be against the Cardinals rushing defense (#30 YPG, although a respectable #19 DVOA). However, even if the Seahawks have success rushing the ball, that gives us even more chances to force a game-changing fumble—something Seattle has struggled with this season. Chris Carson’s fumbling issues are well documented, and Russell Wilson actually has an above-average fumble rate for a starting QB. Underdogs need turnovers, and Seattle’s butterfingers might be just the be the sweet spot we need to stop a drive or shift momentum.

Key #5 – Special Teams: Ride the Advantage

If there’s one phase of the game where the Redbirds have the advantage, it’s on special teams. We rank #9 in special teams DVOA, and they rank #25. So as long as Zane Gonzalez remains accurate, Andy Lee (or Ryan Winslow if Lee isn’t healthy) is steady, and punt coverage is strong, we should be able to stay in the game. Just play smart—no penalties or, god forbid, turnovers—and let them make the mistakes. Jason Myers has missed his only FG attempt of the season—perhaps his rust shows? Michael Dickson hasn’t been nearly the weapon he was last year—will we have the field position advantage? All it could take is one big play from us or one bad mistake from them to put us in position for the upset. Hopefully this advantage on paper shows itself on the field on Sunday.

Final Thoughts

Although there are a few reasons for optimism going into this game (the Seahawks secondary is beatable, their fumbling issues, our special teams advantage), this is still going to be a tough game. Their running game could easily break out (remember when Mike Davis ran all over us last year?), and there’s a good chance that Russell Wilson absolutely eviscerates our defense. Kliff and Kyler will need to manufacture plenty of scoring drives to keep up in this one, I have a feeling.

Can we do it? We are at home, and we’ll be fired up for the rivalry game. But the Seahawks always play us tough here. I think this will be a relatively close, high-scoring affair. I won’t offer a prediction this week, but I will say that the first team to 27 wins. Hopefully it’s more 27-23 Cardinals than 30-17 Seahawks.

What do you think, Cardinals fans? Can we pull off the upset? Give us your thoughts on the game and your predictions below. Tell us how we get that first W of the season.