Seahawks Look To Soar In The Desert
By Corbin Smith
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks will look to end a three-game losing streak at University of Phoenix Stadium when they take the field against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. Both teams will be playing on short rest after only having three days to prepare for this nationally televised contest.
The stakes are always higher in division matchups, but this one holds extra importance for both teams. The Cardinals enter the contest with a 3-3 record, trailing the Seahawks by two games in the NFC West. Losing at home would significantly diminish hopes of winning the division and potentially competing for a wild card, especially considering that Arizona has already lost divisional games to the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams this season. A win for Seattle would create more separation in the division standings and help the team keep pace with the New Orleans Saints for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
This past Sunday, the Cardinals dropped a critical road game in San Francisco, and they failed to contain tight end Vernon Davis, as he torched Arizona for 180 yards receiving on eight receptions. Carson Palmer continued to battle turnover trouble, as he threw two more costly inteceptions in the loss. A long touchdown run by rookie Andre Ellington and a 44-yard touchdown reception by star receiver Larry Fitzgerald helped the Cardinals in the game well into the fourth quarter, but a fumble by running back Alfonso Smith turned the football back to San Francisco inside Arizona's 35-yard line. The 49ers added a field goal to take a 32-20 lead that would stand as the finals score.
Seattle, meanwhile, overcame sloppy play on offense and special teams to hold off the pesky Tennessee Titans at Century Link Field. Wilson saved the Seahawks on numerous occasions, as he threw for 257 yards and rushed for 61 more while also scooping up a Marshawn Lynch fumble in the red zone that could have cost Seattle the game. Lynch finished with 155 all-purpose yards and gashed Tennessee on the ground and as a receiver, giving the Seahawks a late boost to win the game. The Seahawks dominated the game statistically, but turnovers and poor efficiency in the red zone remain concerns for this talented team. Seattle fumbled five times on the day, with the Titans recovering two of them, and they escalated that issue by only scoring two touchdowns on five red zone trips. Both of these areas need to be cleaned up for the Seahawks to have a shot at winning the Super Bowl this year, and Thursday's contest should provide an opportunity to fix things.
Seattle enters the contest with a three game losing streak in Arizona, with the latest setback coming on opening day last season. Wilson, who made his first career start, had a rough afternoon and a last minute drive came up just short as the Cardinals held on for a 23-20 victory. The second year pro has come a long way since that point, but protection will once again be a major key to his success. An injury-plagued offensive line has forced Wilson to use his legs more often than he'd prefer, but he's been effective and has done a great job avoiding big hits. Still, head coach Pete Carroll doesn't want his quarterback to have to carry the ball this frequently and expose himself to potential injury. With Percy Harvin set to start practicing next week and closer to returning to game action, Seattle would love to see improved efficiency in the pass game and then add him to the fold.
With Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini still on the shelf, the Seahawks will still have a tough time giving Wilson much time to throw tonight. He'll need to release the ball quickly and his receivers will need to do a better job creating separation after the snap to create opportunities in the passing game. A strong start from the rushing attack would also create better opportunities to exploit Arizona's defense with the play-action passing game. Offensive coordinator Darell Bevell may look to get Wilson outside the pocket using boot plays on play-action to create plays through the air while also forcing the Cardinals to respect his ability to improvize on scrambles. WIlson should also benefit from the return of tight end Zach Miller, who missed the previous two games due to injury.
Defensively, the Seahawks rebounded from a tough week in Indianapolis and held the Titans out of the end zone in Week 6. Led by Richard Sherman, the "Legion of Boom" intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick twice on Sunday and could be in for a big day against Palmer, who has thrown 11 interceptions so far this season. If Seattle can generate a pass rush and force Palmer to get rid of the football before he wants to, the ball-hawking secondary will have a great chance at adding to his interception total. The defensive front will be key, especially if Chris Clemons cannot play with a hyperextended elbow. Without Clemons in the lineup, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, and Michael Bennett will have to step up and wreak havoc in the backfield.
If Seattle can establish the run early and execute the play-action passing attack while generating turnovers defensively, this game has the potential to be over early. Seattle has talent advantages at most positions on the field, but the Cardinals have a distinct advantage being at home and Seattle's offensive line woes could have a major impact on the final result. A great game from Palmer and continued sloppy play for Seattle's offense would leave room for an upset in prime time. It'll be interesting to see how this inter-division rivalry plays out as Arizona tries to cut into Seattle's early lead.