Seahawks vs. Cardinals Preview: Division showdown

The Seattle Seahawks (4-4) host the Arizona Cardinals (6-2) in a prime time matchup Sunday under the glare of a national television audience. While the Cardinals have a two-game lead in the NFC West, Sunday’s game will go a long way to establishing dominance in the division – the victor will stake a claim to the divisional crown and a berth in the NFL playoffs.

Below is a preview of what’s sure to be a heavyweight tilt.


NFL Rank


3rd (139.5)

Rushing Offense

9th (124.8)

28th (213.6)

Passing Offense

4th (292.6)

19th (353.1)

Total Offense

3rd (417.4)

9th (98.5)

Rushing Defense

4th (90.1)

2nd (186.4)

Passing Defense

7th (222.6)

2nd (284.9)

Total Defense

3rd (312.8)


What to watch for

This game has the makings of a defensive showdown, with the NFL’s 2nd (Seattle) and 3rd (Arizona) ranked defenses looking to steal the spotlight. Both teams are among the statistical leaders in every defensive category, with the exception, surprisingly, of sacks (the Seahawks are 11th with 20, the Cardinals 27th with 13).

Offensively, the Cardinals have proven to have much more upside this year than the Seahawks have. However, they’ve also occasionally developed the nasty habit of turning the ball over – the Cardinals’ 14 giveaways are tied for 7th most in the NFL.

As with most games between tightly matched teams with strong defenses, special teams, turnovers and penalties – and their effect on field position – will have an impact on the outcome. While the Seahawks will benefit from the home crowd of rowdy “12s,” neither team will enjoy the elements – the forecast for Sunday night calls for temperature in the mid- to high-40’s with a steady cold rain.

When Seattle has the ball

The Cardinal’s defensive backfield is better than the Seahawks receiving corps. Way better. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu will cover their assignments like blankets, and their run support makes them among the league’s best.

Seattle quarterback will have to counter with big plays to his tight ends, both Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks’ leading receiver, and Luke Willson. Graham poses matchup problems with everyone he goes against, and he’s recently been much more involved with the Seahawks’ passing game. Willson has a history of making big plays, and Wilson will look for him a several deep seam patterns.

The key will be the development of the Seahawks’ offensive line through the bye week. To this point in the season, they’ve been horrible in pass protection, allowing 31 sacks of Wilson despite his often miraculous escapes. Wilson is going to need time to find open receivers. If he doesn’t get that time, it’s going to be a long game of scrambling for him.

When Arizona has the ball

The Cardinals offense has been potent most of the year, with only turnovers holding them back. Carson Palmer has full command of the offense, and running back Chris Johnson has been one of the best free agent signings of the year.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has had a career resurgence this year, and his seven touchdown receptions lead the team. More importantly, his blocking and willingness to run the tough routes out of the slot provide invaluable leadership. With John Brown getting healthy again, the Cardinals present a test to the Seahawks’ defensive unit.

The Seahawks and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will need to control the line of scrimmage and force Palmer and the Cardinals into third and long. That will allow them to pressure the quarterback with the likes of Michael Bennett and the linebacker duo of Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin, and with pressure, it frees up Richard Sherman and the secondary to come up with turnovers.

Kicking game

Both teams have outstanding placekickers. At mid-season, the Seahawks’ Stephen Hauschka has hit on 18 of 19 field goal attempts and converted all 15 of his extra points. The Cardinals’ Chandler Catanzaro is 13-15 on field goals and 30-32 at the league’s new PAT distance (the equivalent of a 32-yard field goal).

Call it a slight edge for Hauschka and the Seahawks.

In punting, it’s another slight edge for the Seahawks. Jon Ryan is averaging a career-high 47.3 yards per punt, and has dropped 12 punts inside the 20. The Cardinals’ Drew Butler is averaging 41 yards per punt, but has had one blocked.

With returns, both teams have dangerous options. Seahawks rookie receiver Tyler Lockett has been sparkling, returning both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns, and makes teams kick away from him at every opportunity. On the other side, Patrick Peterson is dangerous every time he receives a punt, and the Ryan would be well served to angle every punt toward the boundary.

Who wins?

With the home field advantage at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks are favored by three points. It’s could very well be closer than that. Touchdowns will beat field goals. Seahawks 21, Cardinals 20.

Photo Credit:  Roger Steinman/Associated Press


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Ray Hartjen

A Public Relations pro by day, by night @RayHartjen follows parallel - yet somehow still often conflicting - paths searching for hair metal guitar legend status, a career as a journeyman 4th line center in the NHL, and the treasured laminates to be a hanger-on in the circus that is Formula 1.


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