ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-2) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-4)
5:30 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: Tied, 16-16. … Arizona’s last win in Seattle was Dec. 22, 2013. The Cardinals, Cowboys (in 2014) and Panthers (last month) are the only teams to beat the Seahawks in Seattle over the past four seasons.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Block the blitz: No one blitzes more than the Cardinals. When Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable was asked how often he expected Arizona to blitz, he said: “Every single play.” Since in the opener, when the Rams flooded Seattle’s offensive line, which has starters in three new positions, the book’s been out and wide open. The Seahawks haven’t consistently answered blitzes all season. The Cardinals dumped Russell Wilson seven times when they played in Seattle last November. This Seahawks line has been worse than that one.
Score 7 instead of 3: Sure, it’s great for Seattle that Steven Hauschka is 18 for 19 on field goals. But Arizona’s is the wrong offense against which to settle for field goals in the red zone. That will result in an “L.” The Seahawks, last in the NFL in red-zone touchdowns, spent their bye week and this week studying and tweaking their approach inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Those changes may include more emphasis on jump balls for 6-foot-7 tight end Jimmy Graham. And converting on third downs for a change (Seattle’s 37.6 percent rate is 29th in the league) would sure help, too.
Make him Chris Johnson, vintage 2014: The former 2,000-yard rusher with the Titans was forgotten and discarded last year in Tennessee. Now he’s third in the league in rushing, after signing with the Cardinals in August. He’s made quarterback Carson Palmer and Arizona’s passing game even more dangerous. If Seattle’s ninth-ranked rushing defense can limit Johnson to, say, 70 or fewer yards, pass-rushing ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett will better test Arizona’s line, which might have an injury fill-in at center (journeyman A.Q. Shipley).
Seahawks, 23-20. The division champs know this is their chance for prime position toward another title. They also know it’s wild card or bust if they lose. Earl Thomas has his best game this season vs. Arizona’s deep passes, Bobby Wagner leads a limiting of Johnson, and the defense again carries an unsatisfying offense to victory.
If he’s as fast and ready, as all say, coming off the physically
unable to perform list, Seattle has a deep weapon to debut.
Palmer has an NFL-best 144 passer rating on throws 11-20
yards down the middle. That’s where All-Pro Thomas plays.
Another Seattle All-Pro will be the key to keeping Johnson
from breaking more long runs.
He was injured and didn’t play in either of Arizona’s losses
to Seattle last year. He’s playing as well as any QB right now.
He’s romping like it’s 2009 again, giving the Cardinals
a running dimension they’ve lacked for years.
He has been all over the field, blitzing, breaking up passes
and thumping ball carriers. Seattle needs a plan for him.