For the third time in as many years, the Arizona Cardinals will be squaring off against a rookie quarterback to open the season. Currently, they stand at 2-0 when taking on first-time starters, beating both Sam Bradford and Cam Newton.
But that doesn't mean the Cardinals will skate to 3-0 with ease. The Seattle Seahawks have a much better defense than the Rams and Panthers did in their respective years, and Seattle's weapons on offense pose more of a threat.
John Skelton enters the season as Arizona's starter after beating out the failing $60 million man. Like Seattle, this will be the Cardinals' third different starting quarterback in as many years; ever since Kurt Warner retired, they have been a team desperate to find a player with a pulse at quarterback.
Skelton led Arizona to a 5-2 mark when he was under center last season. Clearly he brought direction and passion to an offense that lacked it with Kevin Kolb at quarterback.
However, his leash will be short, and it will literally be a week-by-week audition. A tough defense like Seattle's could easily end his day early; let's take a look at how the Seahawks should attack Arizona come Sunday afternoon.
Run the Rock
Even though running back Marshawn Lynch's status is up in the air, the Seahawks should have no trouble pounding the rock on Sunday. Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme picked up right where they left off in 2011.
Seattle led the NFL with 178.1 rushing yards per game in the preseason. Impressive numbers considering Marshawn Lynch only saw a few carries in the four exhibition contests.
Not to mention, Arizona was 21st against the run last season, giving up 124.1 yards per contest. The preseason didn't prove to be any friendlier, as teams bulldozed their way to 120.4 yards per game. Pro Football Focus had the Cardinals 25 spots down in terms of overall team run defense in 2011.
It will be hard for the Cardinals to stack the box against Russell Wilson and the boys. Wilson has shown an incredible play-action fake during the preseason. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's play-calling definitely plays to the strengths of Wilson's athleticism.
Expect to see a heavy dose of Turbin and Leon Washington Sunday afternoon if Lynch indeed sits this one out.
Pressure John Skelton
With both starting tackles down for the season in Arizona, Seattle needs to ramp up the pass rush. Chris Clemons will be taking on the 30-year-old fill-in D'Anthony Batiste. Clemons has had his fair share of success against Russ Grimm's unit the past couple years.
In 2010, he tallied three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries against offensive tackle Levi Brown. 2011 wasn't as successful, as he only sacked Arizona's quarterback once. Batiste has only made four career starts at tackle, his last one being for the Washington Redskins in 2009. It's safe to assume it might be a long day for the left side of the offensive line.
After a solid finish to the preseason, Coach Carroll is hoping Bruce Irvin's play translates over into the regular season. Against Oakland, Irvin notched 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. Before last week's game, he hadn't registered a single stat in the three weeks previous.
Irvin won't see a whole lot of action on first and second down, but he will have his ear's pinned back on third down. His sole responsibility is to get after the passer and wreak havoc on 3rd-and-long. Seattle is hoping Irvin turns out to be a quality pass-rushing threat opposite of Clemons.
Attack the Middle of the Field
Given Doug Baldwin will be fully healthy for the first time since tweaking his hamstring, I predict him to play a huge role in Sunday's game. I know him and Wilson haven't had any time to get on the same page, but it will be tough to miss him because he will be wide open in the middle of the field.
Either Greg Toler or Jamell Fleming will draw coverage on Baldwin in the slot. Toler is an average corner when healthy, but since he is coming off ACL surgery, he may be a step slow to start the season. Fleming is a rookie who has flashed at times during the preseason, but I guarantee he has never covered a receiver like Baldwin at Oklahoma.
With a ramped up run game and Wilson working the play action perfectly, Baldwin should have a heyday on underneath routes. Don't be surprised if you see empty sets with two tight ends and three wide receivers. Running both McCoy and Miller up the seam would draw coverage downfield, leaving favorable matchups over the middle of the field.
In his return, I predict Doug Baldwin will catch seven passes for 100-plus yards on Sunday.
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