SEATTLE – If there was a turning point for the Seahawks on their way to the NFC West title a year ago, it came on Nov. 20.
After losing three of four, the Seahawks returned home to face an Arizona team that they trailed in the NFC West standings (each stood 6-3, but Arizona had beaten them three weeks earlier), and some wondered if the game might represent a changing of the guard if the Cardinals were to come in to Lumen Field and win.
The Seahawks responded with one of their most well-rounded efforts of the season to beat the Cardinals 28-21 and start a string of six wins in seven games to end the season and win the fifth division title of the Pete Carroll era.
Three hundred sixty-six days later here the Cardinals come again with the Seahawks (3-6) again reeling, though this time to a greater degree – losers of four of their past five.
Another season-ending surge won’t be easy. But hope remains alive until the math says otherwise.
Onto our keys to the game.
Matchup to watch
Seahawks’ running game vs. Cardinals’ rushing defense
Carroll said this week he wants to get back to running the ball more after his running backs had just 11 carries for 43 yards against Green Bay. This is a good week to do it against a team with a standout secondary but a defense that has been vulnerable against the run. Arizona is allowing 4.8 yards per carry, 31st in the NFL, and gave up 151 and 166 yards in losses two of the past three weeks to Green Bay and Carolina. Can the Seahawks repeat those feats? They’ll have to do it without Chris Carson, who is out for the year after it was announced Friday he will have neck surgery. They will rely on Alex Collins to start and hope to get some contributions from Rashaad Penny, who played just a snap against Green Bay despite being healthy. Carroll said Friday that Penny will have a larger role moving forward. What they also need is a consistent push from its offensive line.
Player to watch
QB Russell Wilson
Wilson declared himself “a fixer” following the Green Bay loss, which was among the worst of his career. To his credit, he didn’t blame his finger. But adapting to playing with that injury (the Seahawks took every snap out of a shotgun or pistol formation) had to have been a factor. A week under his belt, and maybe with the offense better situated – i.e., running it more – should mean Wilson looks more like his usual self, and maybe prevent the decisions that led to his two killer interceptions.
Coaching decision to watch
How much pressure to bring?
While the Seahawks’ defense has improved markedly of late, getting to the quarterback has still been an issue. They have just 15 sacks, a rate of 1.7 per game, which is 29th in the NFL. Some of that is by design as the Seahawks are blitzing just 24.5% of the time (17th in the NFL), down from 33.5% last year, which seems to be a reaction to giving up a bevy of big plays early in the season. But with Arizona’s unsettled QB situation – Kyler Murray dealing with an ankle injury and declared a game-time decision and backup Colt McCoy a pec injury – and a home crowd, this might be a good time to ratchet up the pressure. If nothing else, maybe to find out early just how mobile Murray is with that ankle.
The Seahawks continue to say all the right things about their current plight, standing 14th out of 16 teams in NFC playoff seeding – that they are optimistic they can still make a playoff run while understanding the sense of urgency that exists. But if there’s a game that feels make-or-break for postseason hopes, this is it. At 4-6 and some winnable games left, it would still feel doable. But at 3-7, the odds become pretty negligible. And even in the one-week-at-a-time NFL, the Seahawks undoubtedly understand this one week may be just a bit more important.
Player who could surprise
WR Dee Eskridge
The Seahawks’ first pick in the 2021 draft returned from a concussion Sunday at Green Bay. Despite some thought he could be heavily involved in the game plan, he ended up playing just five snaps, getting one touch, a fly sweep that went for minus-4 yards. Carroll attributed that in part to not running enough plays (though the 59 was their third-highest total of the season). With Eskridge having a second career game under his belt, the assumption is his role will increase. The Seahawks drafted him with the idea of getting him a few carries a game in the fly/jet sweep game. And with the goal of running more this week, count on Eskridge getting a few more snaps.
Time of possession
How much time of possession matters is often debated in NFL analytic circles. But of the top 14 teams in TOP this year, all have at least a .500 record, so there seems to be some correlation to success. At the bottom of that metric this season is none other than the Seahawks, who are averaging just 25:18 of possession per game in regulation. They have yet to win the TOP battle once in nine games. But its two highest TOP games are two games it won – 28:31 against Jacksonville and 28:20 against the 49ers. The Seahawks had a season-low 20:51 against the Packers.
Cardinals 23, Seahawks 19
For all the local talk of what this game means for Seattle, Arizona is starting need some wins, too. The Cardinals have lost two of three following their 7-0 start, and the last thing the Cardinals want is to start hearing are parallels to its second-half collapse of last season. Arizona has a top-10 offense and defense, and if Murray plays, is the better team on paper. And yes, the games aren’t played on paper, but …