'Hawks Avenge Road Demons, Defeat Cardinals
By Corbin Smith
Russell Wilson tossed for 237 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Seahawks to a pivotal 34-22 road win Thursday night over the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The victory extended Seattle's division lead over Arizona to three full games and helped the Seahawks move to 6-1 in the standings for the first time in franchise history.
A harrassing defense frustrated Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer all evening, as Earl Thomas and Brandon Browner recorded interceptions and the Seahawks racked up seven sacks on the night to help Seattle end a three-game losing streak in Glendale. Arizona also failed to establish a running game of any kind, as the Seahawks held the Cardinals to 30 yards rushing as a team and forced them into several third and long situations. Aside from a three-yard touchdown from Rashard Mendenhall, the Cardinals simply couldn't muster anything on the ground. Add in the fact that Larry Fitzgerald was playing with a bum hamstring, and it's no surprise that it was a long night for the home team.
Carroll felt his defense entered the game well-prepared. "The line of scrimmage was really solid," he said. "The stuff that they ran, we defended really well. Danny [Quinn] did a great job of positioning our guys. They never really got anything going. I think they had one counter for like seven yards."
He stressed that the team is still working on figuring out how to properly use its stable of pass-rushers, but the game showed progress in that area. With a "number of different athletes" to mix into the defensive game plan along the front line, Carroll believes the team will only get better at attacking opposing quarterbacks. Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons both had strong showings at the "leo" position and recorded one sack a piece, while continually disrupting the pocket and forcing Palmer to unload the football quicker than he wanted to. That pressure helped lead to turnovers, and Seattle capitalized by scoring touchdowns off both of Palmer's interceptions.
The coaching staff was especially pleased to see a breakout game from Browner, who had struggled so much in recent games that the team benched him for parts of last week's contest against the Titans. He committed a costly pass interference penalty in the 'Hawks only loss at Indianapolis, and he had been burned by opposing receivers far more than Carroll expects from the veteran corner, but he played at a much higher level against the Cardinals. With Richard Sherman and Thomas playing at an elite level, Browner's reawakening would make a dominant secondary even better.
Carroll spoke enthusiastically about Browner's progress. The coach said that he "challenged him this week at practice" and felt he played much more confidentally and did a great job being physical with receivers.
"Brandon played a terrific game tonight. He was all over the football and challenged everything," Carroll added.
He also joked about Browner stumbling at the five-yard line on his interception return. He appeared to have an easy touchdown return after jumping in front of a Palmer pass, but he tripped over his own feet as he approached the end zone and ended up being tapped down at the one-yard line. Seattle would have enjoyed seeing a pick-six, but Marshawn Lynch ended up scoring two plays later on a two-yard plunge up the gut to help the Seahawks extend the lead to 31-13. That touchdown ended up sealing the deal and building an insurmountable deficit that the Cardinals had no chance of overcoming.
The defense won this game by shutting down the Cardinals' run game and creating turnovers, but the offense also played at a much higher level than last week. Wilson still dealt with plenty of pressure and ended up losing two fumbles on strip-sacks, but his ability to keep plays alive with his legs once again paid dividends for Seattle. On the Seahawks' first drive, Wilson quickly drove the offense 83 yards on just five plays and capped the drive off with a 31-yard strike to Sidney Rice. Wilson, who was forced to vacate the pocket immediately and roll out to his right, kept his eyes downfield, and Rice adjusted his route as he scrambled toward the sideline. Arizona failed to cover Rice as he changed routes, and Wilson found him wide open in the end zone to give Seattle an early 7-0 lead.
After Arizona clawed back into the game early in the third quarter to make the score 17-13 Seattle, Wilson made the play of the game on third down to recapture momentum. The Cardinals brought several blitzers up the middle, forcing Wilson once again to roll out to his left. Linebacker Daryl Washington latched onto Wilson and appeared to have a sack, but the elusive signal-caller managed to get rid of the football before his knee hit the ground and tight end Zach Miller corraled the pass for a key first-down conversion. Instead of being forced to punt, the Seahawks quickly advanced the football and Wilson hit reserve tight end Kellen Davis for a one-yard touchdown to create separation from a pesky Arizona team.
Carroll noted that the team made great improvements on third-down efficiency last night after suffering through poor conversion rates the past few games. The Seahawks only converted two third downs in a loss to the Colts two weeks ago, but Seattle converted 7 out of 12 attempts against the Cardinals, leaving the head coach all smiles during his postgame press conference.
"We know we can be a good third down team. We know we have it in us; that's a big goal for us to get our third down game and red zone game where we want it. When that happens, we'll be really hard to stop on offense."
While Wilson stepped up his game in the passing department and continued to extend plays with his running ability, Lynch remained the focal point on offense. He rushed for 91 yards on 21 carries while making several "SportsCenter" Top 10-worthy runs. Shortly before Wilson hit Davis for his third passing touchdown, Lynch ran through talented Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and knocked his helmet off, continuing to drive his powerful legs before finally being brought down inside Arizona's 10-yard line. On several other occasions, he provided vintage "beast mode" runs, lowering his shoulder and dragging multiple tacklers several yards before finally being brought to the turf. His success on the ground opened up great opportunities for Wilson in the play-action game and played a key role in the offense finding traction early.
Carroll understands how important his veteran running back is for the offense, and dished out plenty of compliments after the game came to a close.
"There must have been five or six runs where he just kept going and churning and finishing," Carroll said. "He just fires everybody up. He's a tremendously inspirational player for this football team."
Seeing the offense put up big numbers in Arizona is a great sign moving forward, and this team should only get better. Carroll said that this weekend will be real important for injured star Percy Harvin, who could start practicing with the team on Tuesday if the next couple days go as planned. The explosive wideout has been running after undergoing hip surgery prior to training camp and appears to be way ahead of schedule. Barring a setback, the Seahawks expect him to return to game action sooner rather than later. Lineman Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini also are making great progress and could be back in the next few weeks to provide better protection for Wilson.
With several key players on the mend and the best record in the NFC, Seattle looks primed to contend for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The journey toward the playoffs will resume Oct. 28, as the Seahawks will enjoy a mini-bye week after playing two games in five days before playing another crucial inter-divisional road game against the Rams.