Seahawks vs Cardinals: 5 Keys to the Game for Seattle
It's time for Seahawks football!
As the preseason concludes and the games start to matter, the Seahawks organization is faced with something they haven't had to deal with in several years—lofty expectations. Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have quietly built something intriguing in Seattle, and Arizona seems to be a perfect place for a road test.
Don't let the positive Las Vegas betting lines and the Cardinals preseason struggles fool you. This game is going to be tough. In fact, history is not even on Seattle's side. The Seahawks are only 4-8 lifetime on road versus the Cardinals, with their last win taking place on Nov. 14, 2010.
Before that? Way back on Nov. 6, 2005.
Even more ominous is the fact that Seattle is only 4-6 in their last 10 meetings with the Cardinals, home and away combined.
Typically, an opening regular season game on the road is not a must-win, but this one has divisional and playoff implications that can not be ignored.
Despite all the super-scary warning signs, the Seahawks have advantages in several areas, and if the hype is legitimate, should be able to win on Sunday.
How, you ask?
Well let's take a look at my five keys to victory shall we?
Key #1: Stop the Cardinals Run Game Before It Starts
Cardinals running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams will be huge factors in this game one way or the other.
Long gone are the high octane, Kurt Warner-led Cardinals. With their obvious limitations at quarterback they want to run, play high pressure defense, excel at special teams and are more than happy to walk off the field with 10-6 victories.
This strategy is great in theory, however, the Pete Carroll Seahawks defense was built specifically to meet this challenge. In 2011, the Seahawks only allowed two running backs to gain 100 yards (DeMarco Murray and Roy Helu). Trying to run into the teeth of this stout Seahawks defense may be an exercise in futility.
Look for defensive ends Chris Clemons and Joseph "Red" Bryant, and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Jason Jones to set the tone early by staying sound in their gap assignments and run fits.
Small Prediction: If rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner continues to flow to the football and find the ball carrier like he did in training camp and in the preseason, he could have a stellar start to his NFL career. Looking for big impact from him on Sunday.
Bottom Line: Putting the Cardinals into obvious passing situations with early run stops will allow the Seahawks front seven to bring the type of pressure that will push John Skelton into forced throws to All Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald and give the ball hawking Seahawks secondary great opportunities for turnovers. (See: Key # 2)
Key Matchup: Seahawks front seven highlighted by Bobby Wagner vs. Cardinals running backs.
Key #2: Creating Consistant Pressure on QB John Skelton
The Cardinals are seemingly a mess at the quarterback position. Ken Whisenhunt's recent decision to start John Skelton over the highly paid free agent bust Kevin Kolb was not stunning, but it may also have had more to do with their offensive line woes than Skelton's superior ability.
Skelton's 2011 numbers—1,913 yards, 11 TDs, 14 Ints, 68.9 passer rating—show how much more ability he has to stand in the pocket and deliver passes under pressure than Kolb—1,955 yards, nine TDs, eight Ints, 81.1 passer rating. But this is only speaking in relative terms. Neither quarterback is the answer in Arizona, and I'm sure coaching staff knows it.
The Cardinals offensive line allowed a painful 54 sacks in 2011 (second worst in NFL), and this year doesn't appear to be starting off well. Starting left Tackle Levi Brown was placed on injured reserve (torn triceps), and versatile backup tackle and guard Jeremy Bridges was also placed on injured reserve after tearing a ligament in his thumb.
That leaves Left tackle D'Antony Batiste, who hasn't started a single game in four seasons and rookie right tackle Bobby Massie to pass protect on the edges.
Bottom Line: This will be a great opportunity to unleash defensive ends Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, as well as defensive tackle Jason Jones, into the Cardinals backfield. This constant pressure should be enough to make Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals talented receiving corps a non factor for the majority of the game.
Key Matchup: Chris Clemons/Bruce Irvin vs. D'Antony Batiste
Key #3: Seahawks Pass Protection
With Marshawn Lynch possibly missing Sunday's game, the job of backfield pass protection will rest in rookie running back Robert Turbin's hands more than I'd like it to. Rookie running backs aren't usually asked to handle much of a pass protection load in their first year, so this will be a crash course against the Cardinals unorthodox blitzing schemes.
Look for the Seahawks to move away from their heavy use of "11" personnel packages (1 RB, 1TE, 3 Receivers) and switch to more "12" (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 Receiver) personnel looks. Hopefully this helps with Turbin's pass protection responsibilities.
Left tackle Russell Okung has not had a particularly strong preseason from a pass protection standpoint. He's struggled mightily with speed rushers and could technically be called for holding on the majority of passing plays.
This isn't promising considering the Cardinals registered an eye popping eighteen sacks in the final five games of the 2011 regular season. Rising star linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield were a big reason for that success, registering seven of those sacks themselves.
Premier five technique defensive end Calais Campbell is almost unblockable at times, and disruptive players Darnell Docket and inside linebacker Daryl Washington are also a handful. Russell Okung and the rest of the Seahawks offensive line need to communicate well, keep a clean pocket and create the much needed passing lanes for Russell Wilson to deliver the ball.
NOTE: Russell Wilson has responsibilities in the pass protection scheme as well. The decisions he and his offensive line make at the line of scrimmage concerning protection calls will be huge. A wrong call here and there could put the Seahawks in obvious passing situations that will enable even more Cardinals pressure. Also, he must get the ball out fast to limit the effectiveness of the pass rush. Not doing so puts undo strain on his offensive line to protect and creates opportunities for costly penalties and turnovers.
Bottom Line: The success of the Cardinals defense is based solely on pressure. To me, they have all the parts on defense to give the Seahawks headaches. If the Seahawks want to win on Sunday, this can not happen.
Key Matchup: Ray Horton's blitz schemes vs. Russell Wilson's knowledge of protection schemes
Key #4 Seahawks Must Maintain Offensive Balance
This game is going to be a huge road test for Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense.
Pete Carroll selected Wilson over Matt Flynn because of his ability to make dynamic plays in and outside of the pocket as well as the confidence and leadership he brings to the huddle. I just don't buy that Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton holds Wilson in the same regard just yet.
With the Seahawks recent additions of wide receiver Braylon Edwards, tight end Evan Moore, and the somewhat shocking subtraction of former starting tight end Kellen Winslow, this offense has yet to gel.
Look for the Cardinals to aggressively bring pressure from every defensive position in an attempt to expose that fact and confuse and batter Wilson into mistakes. This offensive sqaud will need to get on the same page quickly.
I have high hopes for Russell Wilson and this Seahawks offense in 2012, but this is not the type of defense I want him to attempt to pick apart in the first game of his career.
That's a lot to ask.
The Seahawks are built for the running game. The inside zone run is deadly and with Marshawn Lynch running the ball the team is one of the better in the league. The possibility of Seattle playing without Lynch is troublesome.
Football is always about matchups, and Daryl Washington vs Marshawn Lynch sounds much better to me than Daryl Washington vs Robert Turbin.
This is by no stretch a knock on Robert Turbin's ability to run the ball, but he's not on Marshawn Lynch's level at this point in his career. Moreover, this Washington is a tackling machine that lives in an opposing teams backfield.
Can Turbin break the same tackles Lynch can? Doubtful.
Bottom line: The Seahawks must avoid putting the game on Wilson's shoulders. Maintaining at least a 45/55 run-pass ratio range will be they key to offensive success and keep the offense on the field and the defense resting.
Key Matchup: Cardinals front seven vs the Seahawks running game.
Advantage: Slight edge to the Seahawks
Key #5: Stopping Patrick Peterson's Ability to Make Plays
With the Cardinals skill deficit at the QB position, the Cardinals will need great field position to have consistent offensive success.
Special teams ace and up-and-coming cornerback Patrick Peterson—No. 5 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft—is a very young and very dangerous player. His ability to make the big game changing special teams play has been the theme of his career to date.
But he's not just a one trick pony; he's an absolute stud with limitless potential at the cornerback position. Seahawks receivers Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Braylon Edwards will have their hands full trying to shed this athletic playmaker who is trying to develop into a Darrelle Revis-type player.
The Seahawks simply must not allow him to touch the ball in the special teams game. If this means punting directly out of bounds, so be it. In my opinion he has earned the Devin Hester treatment. Considering the way the Seahawks lost game one to the 49ers last year with costly return team blunders, I hope they follow this strategy.
Fun Fact: In his rookie year Patrick Peterson tied the NFL record with four punt return touchdowns.
Key Matchup: Patrick Peterson vs. Seahawks coverage team.
Advantage: Seahawks, but only if they follow the Hester rule.
Like I said in the opening, this game will be a huge test for the young Seahawks offense. The defense and running game must provide Russell Wilson with every opportunity to succeed in order for Seattle to leave Arizona with a win.
The Cardinals want a low scoring brawl and the Seahawks are more than capable of accommodating them. They just need to win it. I say they will.
Prediction: Seahawks 17, Cardinals 13
Seahawks Defensive Players I'm watching:
Bobby Wagner, Middle Linebacker
Chris Clemons, Defensive End
Jason Jones, Defensive Tackle
Seahawks Offensive Players I'm watching:
Russell Wilson, Quarterback
Zach Miller, Tight End
Robert Turbin, Running Back
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