The battle of the NFC West rivals will take place on Sunday as both the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are coming off disappointing losses in Week 10. The Kyler Murray-less Cardinals are 1-2 over the last three games and were blown out 34-10 at home against the Carolina Panthers. Russell Wilson made his return to Seattle’s lineup after being sidelined for four weeks due to a finger injury but was shut out for the first time in his career last weekend in the 17-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Is Kyler Murray healthy enough to play? Can the Cardinals extend their road win streak to 6-0? Who will come out on top in this divisional matchup?
Here are three Arizona Cardinals things to watch for in Week 11:
1. Establishing the Cardinals run game early with or without Kyler Murray
None of us really know if Kyler Murray will play on Sunday. With a bye week coming up for the Cardinals next weekend, Arizona could be inclined to keep Murray out for one more game such that he can have another two more weeks of recovery time. Regardless of whether Murray plays tomorrow or not, the Cardinals must put emphasis on the run game early and often. Last weekend, Kliff Kingsbury was really asking for trouble when his plan was to beat his opponent through the air with a backup quarterback (Colt McCoy) and no No. 1 wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) against the Panthers No. 1-ranked pass defense in the NFL that is allowing a league-low 173.7 pass yards per game.
As we saw in the Cardinals’ lone touchdown drive against Carolina, they had five carries for 36 rushing yards capped off with a Conner 11-yard scoring run. They have shown they can run the ball effectively with the current rushing touchdown (11) leader in James Conner and a capable backup in Eno Benjamin with Chase Edmonds on injured reserve. When the run game gets going, that is when the offense starts flowing. Don’t put the team in a situation where they deviate from their strengths. The Seahawks are currently ranked 26th in rush defense and 29th in pass defense through nine games. James Conner is the Cardinals’ key to victory on the offense against the Seahawks’ porous defense so expect him to be the star of the show.
2. Cardinals’ pass rush must redeem themselves against a struggling Seahawks’ offensive line
According to Larry Holder at The Athletics, Seahawks’ top offensive tackle Duane Brown has allowed a team-high 7.6% pressure rate with the second-most sacks allowed (7) on 290 pass-blocking snaps. Holder also points out that Seattle’s offensive line is ranked No. 31 in pressure percentage (31.3%) and second-to-last in the league in sack rate (10%). Based on name value alone, people would think Brown is their best lineman when in fact he has struggled throughout this season so far.
After a dismal loss and a zero sack day for the Cardinals last weekend, their front seven must get back on track and take advantage of a Seahawks’ offensive line that has allowed the fourth-most sacks (29) in the NFL. Chandler Jones has 11.5 sacks against Seattle since joining the Cardinals in 2016. Markus Golden currently leads the Cardinals in sacks (9) and forced fumbles (4). Going down memory lane, this pass rush duo created havoc against Seattle in Week 16 of 2016 when they combined for 12 pressures and 3.5 sacks. There is no reason for this duo to not do well tomorrow in this NFC West matchup.
3. Cardinals’ secondary faces a huge test as they visit D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in Seattle
The Cardinals always had the most difficult time covering Tyler Lockett, especially last year when he went off for 15 catches, 200 receiving yards, and three touchdowns in the exciting 37-34 Cardinals win in overtime. Neither Patrick Peterson or Dre Kirkpatrick could cover him. Peterson often covered the physical freak of nature in D.K. Metcalf really well. But this is a new year and Arizona’s cornerback group now features Byron Murphy, Robert Alford, and rookie Marco Wilson. Expect different results this time around.
Wilson has allowed the highest passer rating (130.4) among rookie defensive backs as he rotates in and out of the slot every game. Murphy is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL with three interceptions this season and allowing a 72.5 passer rating when targeted. Robert Alford is quietly having a quality season with the Cardinals allowing a 61 percent completion percentage and earning a 76.9 Pro Football Focus pass coverage grade. If the pass rush does its job, the secondary should be just fine. I fully expect the Seahawks to throw in Marco Wilson’s direction a lot so expect Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson to aid the rookie. Aside from the pass rush, the Cardinals’ safeties will be relied upon heavily especially against a formidable wide receiver duo that could be targeted often deep down field.
No matter how the Cardinals or Seahawks rank, this divisional clash is always played down to the wire. Even if Kyler Murray plays, Kliff Kingsbury must prioritize the run game to keep Murray healthy if their offensive line fails to keep him upright. Maybe it is just me but D.J. Humphries has not looked like his dominant self the last three games. Still a quality run blocker but leaky pass protection has come from his side. Both the Cardinals and Seahawks are dealing with their shares of inconsistencies and injuries. Chris Carson is out for the season and J.J. Watt possibly as well (though rumor has it he could be back during the postseason). Let the battle of the NFC West rivals begin!