Cardinals vs. Seahawks: 10 Keys to the Game for Seattle
Sports Guy Bill Simmons also known as Grantland's chief who earlier this season jumped on the team bandwagon went so far as to update his relationship status prior to the 'Hawks matchup with the Bears this past Sunday:
I have some sad news: I'm breaking up with the Seahawks. After watching them blow a winnable road game in the fourth quarter for the FIFTH time, enough was enough. Next time I pick a Pete Carroll team as my Super Bowl sleeper, you have permission to hit me with a 12-inch Subway sub. Seriously. It can even be a meatball and cheese.
In fairness to Simmons, who could blame him as it looked like the 'Hawks were about to lose a sixth time as the Bears held a 14-10 lead with just under four minutes to play pinned back at their own three-yard line?
Yet instead of folding, Russell Wilson decided he had had enough himself. He not only willed the 'Hawks to a crucial and somewhat improbable win, he did it twice for good measure in spite of the defense allowing the Bears to tie the game.
It was nothing short of amazing and at the same time contradicted what we've seen for the better part of this season. While it's great to see that Russell Wilson has the heart of a lion, it's a bit troubling to see the once vaunted defense wilt so easily once again on the road.
At any rate, it appears that the 'Hawks' march to the playoffs is a relatively straightforward jaunt if you're willing to take Sports Illustrated's Peter King at his word:
10. Seattle (7-5). Seattle will win the sixth playoff seed in the NFC, and maybe the fifth, by winning three of four down the stretch against a schedule that has 3-1 possibilities: Arizona, at Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis. Three of the last four in the din of CenturyLink Field. I like the Seahawks' chances.
In theory that sounds nice, but a lot easier said than done, and for me at least, all is not forgiven and certainly not forgotten based on last Sunday's win.
On the surface, this Sunday's matchup should be an easy win against a reeling Cardinals team that suffered the indignity of losing in New York against the Jets after they pulled the plug on Mark Sanchez.
Therefore a little home cooking will probably make this Sunday fun for the 'Hawks, but here are 10 key points they need to cover off on before getting too far ahead of themselves.
Take One Last Look?
Sorry to start out with the pink elephant in the room, but it's hard to ignore the fact that Brandon Browner has started his four game suspension for testing positive for performance enhancers effective immediately.
On paper this strategy of staggering Browner's suspension and the one that Sherman will potentially need to serve makes sense for the team's playoff push, yet it doesn't necessarily solve the problem as Seattle Times writer Jerry Brewer pointed out on Wednesday:
As a talented young team with a low margin for error, the Seahawks have struggled to separate from opponents all season. Nine of their 12 games have come down to the final possession. Every little thing matters to this team. That's why you can't dismiss the loss of Browner. That's why you must fear what happens if Sherman is suspended, too.
The next two games are unofficial must-win games because the Seahawks will have Sherman, but they won't be easy. And even if the Seahawks do take care of Arizona and Buffalo, their final two games against San Francisco and St. Louis at home will be the greatest tests of the season, assuming Sherman is gone, too.
Not to sound alarmist, but Brewer is right.
The 'Hawks don't have any room for error, especially with the next two games against teams they should be able to beat.
For now, let's hope Sherman can deliver another solid performance, but also understand this could be the last time you see him at C-Link until next season.
Don't Break the Cardinals Fall
In this unofficial must-win game for the Seahawks, they will face a team that has lost eight straight games.
Fact of the matter is, this isn't the same team the 'Hawks faced in Arizona back in Week 1, by any stretch of the imagination as things have gone from bad to worse for the Cards following their promising start 4-0.
Could the Cardinals snap out of their skid and win at C-Link?
What scares me is that the Cards have nothing to lose and are far more talented than the group that lost 7-6 last Sunday against the Jets.
Meanwhile the 'Hawks have their own issues and have the habit of playing to the level of their competition.
All together this looks like a potential recipe for another patented nail-biter if the Cardinals can regain some of their early season glory.
Close the Deal
Even if the Cardinals fail to piece together a stellar performance on Sunday, the 'Hawks can't afford to leave the door open again.
It's hard to say whether the 'Hawks defense has or hasn't played well the past two weeks.
Against both the Dolphins and Bears they didn't give up a ton of points, at the same time they failed to shut the door and close the deal when the time came at the end of both games.
On the day Marshall had over a hundred yards receiving and had been Cutler's most consistent and important target prior to that catch and yet the 'Hawks looked helpless to stop him while holding on to a three point lead with under a minute to go.
With Larry Fitzgerald coming to town, the 'Hawks will have another major test at wide receiver.
Contain Larry Fitzgerald
Based on last Sunday's performance by Brandon Marshall, I'm simply hoping the 'Hawks secondary can contain Larry Fitzgerald.
A few weeks ago I might have hoped for them to shut him down, but let's be reasonable here.
Can Richard Sherman keep the Cardinals only legitimate offensive threat in check?
Way back in Week 1 the 'Hawks actually managed to do just that by limiting Fitzgerald to four catches for 63 yards; however the team still let the Cardinals passing game gain 210 yards through the air with 66 of them coming from Kevin Kolb during his frenzied finish.
So in addition to Fitzgerald, the Seahawks will also need to make sure that no other receivers like the surprising Andre Roberts, provided he's healthy, manage to have a big day while dealing with the absence of Brandon Browner.
Either way we will likely get our first look to see whether Walter Thurmond is capable of filling Browner's shoes.
Stop Whoever at Quarterback
After two weeks of seeing whether Ryan Lindley could stop the bleeding, the Cardinals have opted to plug John Skelton back in at starter.
When asked about getting another chance, Skelton responded to Associated Press writer Noey Kupchan by saying:
"You can't take any opportunity for granted," Skelton said. "If it comes at the beginning of the season, the end of the season, when you're losing, when you're winning, you've just got to take advantage of every opportunity you get."
The 'Hawks can't afford to let Skelton take advantage of this particular opportunity, but at the same time let's hope they avoid opening the door for Kevin Kolb to come off the bench again given the disastrous results from Week 1.
Pass Rush Anyone?
If a tree were to fall in the woods, would this crew be able to keep it down?
Sorry for the bad joke, but what happened to the 'Hawks pass rush?
Even with a makeshift line decimated by injuries, the Bears still held up admirably against the 'Hawks front by only allowing a single sack and that came courtesy of linebacker Bobby Wagner.
While it may seem unfair to expect a tour de force performance week in week out, this group has been missing in action for what seems like ages now.
Can they put together a solid performance at home against the Cardinals?
One would hope so, especially with the secondary losing one cornerback and possibly another in the coming weeks.
If this crew can't regain some of their early season magic, it's going to put a lot of pressure on everyone else to pick up the slack.
Free Russell Wilson
I will confess, so far I've been rather harsh against the 'Hawks defense that is struggling at the moment to rediscover its true identity.
Yet if there is one positive we can take away from the past few weeks, it's the emergence of Russell Wilson as the man in Seattle.
Last Sunday in Chicago, Wilson refused to lose and put the 'Hawks on his back to claim victory at Soldier Field.
Anyone still claiming that Wilson was the wrong choice at quarterback needs to sit down and watch the 'Hawks final two drives against the Bears as many times as possible in order to help them finally understand.
As for the offense itself, from here on out the 'Hawks need to let Wilson take whatever page of the playbook he wants and go with it.
We're past the point of no-return here and I'd imagine he's looking forward to this matchup as part of getting even with a defense that made him look every bit like a rookie in Week 1.
Hold the Line
Speaking of Week 1 against the Cardinals, the Seahawks offensive line needs to do a much better job protecting Russell Wilson this time around.
In fairness it was the first game of the season, on the road, with a rookie quarterback and everyone getting settled into their roles.
That's all fine and good, but the time for excuses is past as it is now Week 14.
No more hiccups, dumb flags, or missed assignments, just make sure that Wilson has time to do his thing and make room for the Beast.
Beast Mode Cracks the Century Mark
Last Sunday it wasn't essential for Marshawn Lynch to gain 100-yards on the ground, but his significant improvement versus his performance in Miami sure did help the 'Hawks.
With 19 carries for 87 yards that included a touchdown, the Beast looked a lot better, but he fumbled once and got stuffed by a stout Chicago front on more than one occasion.
While I don't think that Lynch must get a hundred yards to help the 'Hawks win against Arizona, another solid outing in range of that figure could help take pressure off Russell Wilson and the defense while keeping the clock and the chains moving.
It's a tried and true formula that the 'Hawks should always strive for, especially at this point in the season.
In many ways it's easy to discount this matchup and pencil in a win.
At the same time I'm reluctant to soft-pedal this opponent or this particular game as the 'Hawks aura of invincibility at home will be once again put to the test, but this time against a divisional foe who won their earlier matchup.
Yes, a lot has changed since then as the Cardinals are a team falling apart at the seams and their head coach Ken Whisenhunt could very well have his job on the line, but the Seahawks have just as much if not more to lose.
Last week Russell Wilson saved the season with his late game heroics, but he didn't do it alone.
Receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate both made the kinds of plays that this team has needed all season long with clutch catches at critical times, especially in recent weeks.
It turns out this is largely owed to the commitment Wilson has made to his receivers, something that Tate pointed out to Curtis Crabtree of the Associated Press
Tate credited Wilson's attention to detail and openness in discussing every aspect of the offense for the Seahawks' improved success in the second half of the season.
"Since the three years I've been here, we've never watched the film with the quarterback," Tate said. "But after practice we watch the film with the quarterbacks. When there comes a ball that's an incompletion I always ask, 'What do you think Russ,' and then he'll say what he thinks and then I'll say what I think, Sidney will say what he thinks. We're all on the same page I think. We still got some work to do but we're all on the same page and moving in the right direction."
This group still does have work to do, but they have made significant strides.
Against a solid Cardinals secondary, the 'Hawks will need more from Rice and Tate along with the likes of Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller as well.
The more weapons Russell Wilson can utilize, the better off the 'Hawks offensive attack becomes. Fact of the matter is that this team will need to put up points the rest of the way with the subtraction of one if not two starting cornerbacks on a defense that is in search of answers.
It is a lot to ask of Wilson to keep doing this week after week, but he is now the team's leader having shed his rookie label over the course of the past few weeks.
Can he keep doing the impossible?
We will soon find out, but so far, so good.