That is what this weekend is, as the Arizona Cardinals host the Seattle Seahawks.
Let’s get to it.
1. Obviously Russell Wilson has been great for a while, but he seems to be playing at a special level, despite the changes and struggles of the running game. Why is that?
I seem to get this question at least once a season and I think that’s because Wilson has consistently gotten better every year. Does anything really change? I mean, this is not the first time we’ve talked about struggles at o-line and it’s not the first time we’ve talked about struggling in the running game, which was the case in 2016-2017. I think when others see Russell Wilson, they see the numbers or the highlights or the lowlights and think that he changes or that the plan changes a ton week to week or season to season. Observing him over 120+ games now, he’s always been the same to me, but consistently improving his efficiency in doing what he can do best. He’s the most special player that the Seahawks have had on offense since Walter Jones or Steve Largent. He makes plays happen with his legs+arm that are consistently mind blowing. And if your readers are tiring of my homerisms or biases, I’ll say that Kyler Murray looks like a player to me that can be as special or better than Wilson, especially since Wilson helped open the door for QBs like Kyler to be elite draft prospects.
The biggest thing to emphasize though is offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. There were a lot of criticisms of his hire in 2018 after six years of Darrell Bevell, but I think he always seemed perfectly capable to me and he’s had decades of experience despite being young because of the nepotism that brought him into the NFL. I have long compared him to Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, where he struggled to get it all together with Matt Ryan in year one and then Ryan won MVP in year two. I look at Schottenheimer having a full year+ to emphasize Wilson’s strengths and compensate for his weaknesses, I look at the improved situation at left tackle with Duane Brown compared to a couple years ago, and I look to the advanced play of rookie D.K. Metcalf, as well as Tyler Lockett stepping up to look like a true number one receiver over the last two weeks. The Seahawks still prefer to get the run game going, but the offensive plan is sound (8 of 9 in the red zone, highest percentage of success in the NFL), Wilson is getting the ball out quicker and highlighting his abilities as a true pocket passer when he needs to be, the receivers are catching their opportunities, and tight end Will Dissly is the best option they’ve had at the position since drafting Wilson. (Yes, over Jimmy Graham.) Others would disagree with me and say that Wilson is being “wasted” under Pete Carroll and Schottenheimer and they’d like to see him throw for 5,000 yards, but I personally don’t have many complaints about the plan. It’s Seattle’s defense that has them in more trouble right now than the passing game, which is performing at its best level maybe ever.
2. Speaking of the struggling running game, do you see this as a week where Chris Carson can get right?
I mean, I don’t know how to answer that because I don’t even think the coaches could answer that. They seem to prefer a week in which Rashaad Penny is healthy because I think the time has come to make the transition. Not only has Carson fumbled in all three games, he’s also not breaking tackles like he was in 2018, not seeing open lanes, not creating opportunities for himself. He was great last season and now he’s kind of the worst starting back in the league. I think that I’d expect to see Penny and C.J. Prosise lead the way if healthy and Carson might have to earn his way back to getting snaps. Maybe by Sunday Carroll goes with the hand he trusted to open the season, but he tends to back away from his Week 1 decisions that don’t work out as he hoped. I know Arizona has faced a lot of rush attempts against them this season and I expect the Seahawks to try that and to keep doing it if they get a lead, which is where Carson could get some opportunities to prove himself again.
3. There’s Tyler Lockett and Will Dissly, but who else do the Cardinals need to worry about?
Metcalf is way better than I expected him to be after three games. Other than catching fewer than half of his targets, Metcalf doesn’t have a problem with drops that I’ve seen and he’s made some incredible catches that seem to foretell a very promising future if he improves his route running. Right now he’s on pace for over 1,100 yards and he’s first in the NFL in yards before catch, meaning that Wilson has found his favorite deep target and it’s Metcalf. I’d watch that matchup of course.
Malik Turner is working his way into the plan this season and I think he’s a threat each week for maybe 40-60 yards, though his floor is 0 yards. That wouldn’t be surprising. Instead of boom or bust, he seems more like something or bust. David Moore returned last week and had a great 29-yard catch. He could end up stealing from snaps from Metcalf just because he’s now in his third season and he’s a very promising player that the coaches and Wilson love a lot. Finally, Prosise might get in there for some runs but he’s also a threat for 5-6 targets out of the backfield.
4. The two big edge additions have not made an impact... Yet. Do you expect to see that change and if so how soon?
I certainly expect it to change, because I think any fan of any team who had acquired Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah would have a decent pass rush situation. The Seahawks have a bad pass rush situation and there are some reasonable factors to consider when thinking of why that is: Clowney was added days before the season and Ansah made his debut last Sunday. Based on that, my expectations is that if Clowney and Ansah remain healthy, they’ll be contributing at higher levels than they currently are beginning in the next 2-4 weeks. Clowney needs to be better than he’s been. The Seahawks are 2nd-to-last in QB hits in the NFL behind only the massively disappoint pass rush of the Denver Broncos and their best pass rusher has probably been Quinton Jefferson. And Jefferson was hurt this week. I do think that Clowney’s had an impact as a run defender and you see flashes of what makes him so disruptive, but based on the magnitude of the trade and who he is, the first three games are disappointing without question. I hope that with another 2-3 games under the belt, Clowney and Ansah look like two players who were recently given the franchise tag by their respective teams. Another thing that we expect to help is the addition of Jarran Reed in Week 7. There’s also some hope that competition has played a factor; the Saints may have the best pass protecting line in the NFL and Teddy Bridgwater was only throwing 2-5 yards downfield most of the time. I know Kyler has a low air yards/attempt ratio and the Cards are going to make a lot of short passes too -- but the tackles appear to be less than the quality of Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, so maybe Clowney and Ansah won’t be so anonymous this time.
5. Just talk a little bit about how the defense of the Seahawks has changed overall.
The Seahawks lost nickel cornerback Justin Coleman in free agency to the Detroit Lions and rather than find another nickel they liked that much, they re-signed linebackers Mychal Kendricks and K.J. Wright instead. They used to run a nickel out there about 75% of the time, and now they’ve flipped to a third LB on 75% of the snaps and less work on the nickel. Expect Kendricks to play that “role” a bit more often. Additionally, Cards fans are used to seeing the LOB but the secondary is now the weakness of the defense, many would argue. The elite safeties are gone. Bradley McDougald is good but he’s not Kam Chancellor. Lano Hill has replaced Tedric Thompson at free safety and that experiment is just getting started. The strength is expected to be in the front-7 rather than the back-4, but overall the defense just isn’t as stout as it once was. I think they could finish the year as a top-3 run defense but pass defense is more than suspect for the time being. We hope the best for corners Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin, plus rookies Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair, but Seattle’s best chance at mitigating passing attacks will probably come in the form of Clowney living up to his best self. Also I haven’t said the name Bobby Wagner yet but Bobby Wagner. There, I said it. He’s amazing.
I promise I’m not a homer. Well, not one who completely ignores his biases, at least. The defense is not great. I think it has potential though. We miss those days of it being #1.
I probably hate this game more than any other all season long. No matter what position they are in, the Cardinals seem to have the number of the Seahawks, especially in Arizona. I can’t pick against Seattle (there’s my bias) but I don’t feel good about this at all. I’d have to say Seahawks 23, Cardinals 20, with Jason Myers doing what so many other Seattle kickers couldn’t do in Arizona.