Seahawks vs. Cardinals: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan

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Seahawks vs. Cardinals: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks head back out on the road this week to take on the division rival Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. Thursday games give teams very little time to implement game plans, so expect both teams to keep things simple this week to avoid mistakes. 

According to Vegas Insider, the Seahawks are 6.5 point favorites in this game. That might be a bit high given that the Seahawks have yet to play a road game this year that has been decided by more than six points. In addition, three of the last four games between these teams have been decided by four points or fewer. 

One the other hand, three of the last four games the Seahawks have played in their division have been blowouts, including a 58-0 dismantling of the Cardinals at the end of last year. 

 

The Competitive Edge

NFL Rank for Seahawks and Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks Category Arizona Cardinals
8th Scoring Offense 25th
10th Total Offense 26th
24th Passing Offense 18th
4th Yards Per Attempt 23rd
2nd Rushing Offense 24th
8th Yards Per Carry 20th
3rd Scoring Defense 12th
2nd Total Defense 15th
2nd Passing Defense 19th
4th Yards Per Attempt 17th
11th Rushing Defense 5th
14th Yards Per Attempt 4th

ESPN.com

The Seahawks are statistically better than the Cardinals in almost every area except for rushing defense. Arizona's ability to defend the run is among the best in the NFL. This sets up a definite strength-on-strength matchup with Seattle's offense, which is among the best in the NFL at running the football. 

On the other end of the spectrum is the matchup of Arizona's rushing offense vs. Seattle's rush defense. Stopping the run is the closest thing to a weakness that can be found in Seattle's defense, but Arizona appears to lack the ability to take advantage. 

 

Seattle's Offense vs. Arizona's Defense

Defend the A Gaps

One of the things that the Cardinals like to do, especially against mobile quarterbacks, is to attack the A gaps. That means that they will blitz linebackers through both gaps on either side of the center. 

This puts tremendous pressure on the center and guards to communicate on their blocking adjustments. They have to quickly get into position against the speedy linebackers. 

It will be important for the Seahawks to recognize when this blitz is coming and get quarterback Russell Wilson back into the shotgun. That way he'll have more time and space to work with, should the blocking break down in the center of the formation. 

 

Beware of the Stunt

Another thing that the Cardinals like to do is to bring their outside linebacker inside against the guard. The defensive end would then typically stay wide and be the outside containment on that side. 

Other teams have been successful in attacking the Seahawks with this approach. Seattle's guards are both prone to giving up pressure when blocked by speed rushers. 

The Seahawks must account for this, perhaps by keeping a back in to help pick up the blitzing linebacker. Leaving Seattle's guards one-on-one against speed rushers like Arizona linebacker Sam Acho isn't a recipe for success for Seattle. 

 

Unleash the Air Attack

The Seahawks are a run-first team, but this is a game where they'll be better served by being slightly more pass-heavy in their approach. Seattle must be able to sustain some drives, and running themselves into 3rd-and-long repeatedly isn't a viable way to do so. 

The Cardinals' run defense has been solid all season, and the statistical results above speak for themselves. 

The Seahawks can counter this by reversing their own tendencies. By throwing more on first and second down, and running more often on third down, they should be able to move the football more reliably against the Arizona defense.

Wilson has also been significantly better when throwing on first and second downs this season.

Russell Wilson Passing Stats by Down
Comp % Yds/Att TD Int Rat
1st Down 61.8 8.36 3 0 106.6
2nd Down 68.6 8.18 3 0 112.9
3rd Down 54.8 7.39 2 3 67.2

ESPN

 

Seattle's Defense vs. Arizona's Offense

Attack Carson Palmer 

Compared to most of the other quarterbacks the Seahawks will face this season, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer is essentially a statue. Palmer completely lacks the mobility of players like the Colts Andrew Luck or Carolina's Cam Newton

Palmer's career yards per carry is just 1.7. It is even worse this season, as he's only managed 0.1 yards per carry, which is a career low. 

There is no reason to be worried about containment this week. The defensive ends and inside pass-rushers are free to attack upfield without concern that Palmer will take off and get yards with his feet. 

 

Don't Over-Focus on Larry Fitzgerald

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL . There isn't much room for debate about that. He also has a history of dominating against the Seahawks.  

The Seahawks have to resist the temptation to focus too heavily on Fitzgerald, such that they leave other players open. Players like wide receiver Michael Floyd and running back Andre Ellington could have huge days in the passing game if Seattle's corners and safeties are overly focused on Fitzgerald.

Besides, Fitzgerald is currently bothered by a hamstring issue, though it remains to be seen as to how much it will affect him in this game. 

 

Go For The Turnovers

Carson Palmer has already thrown 11 interceptions, which is more than anyone in the league besides New York's Eli Manning. The Cardinals have also put the ball on the ground 10 times. There will be opportunities for the Seahawks to generate some turnovers in this game, and they must take advantage. 

The Seahawks have been among the league's best at collecting turnovers this season. Their 17 takeaways so far this season is just one behind league-leading Kansas City

 

Game Stats and Facts (via Pro-Football-Reference.com, Stats LLC and NFL.com)

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Arizona leads the all-time series between these teams 15-13, though the Seahawks have outscored the Cardinals 700-558 in those 28 games. 

This will be the first time these two teams have played each other since the 58-0 blowout win by the Seahawks in Seattle last season.

The Seahawks are just 1-4 in their last five games in Glendale, including a 20-16 loss in 2012, which was the last time they played there. 

These two teams have never played each other on a Thursday.

The Seahawks are just 2-5 in games played on Thursdays. Arizona is 1-10 on Thursdays, with their only win coming back in 1948. 

Both teams lost their Thursday night games in 2012. Arizona lost 17-3 to the St. Louis Rams in Week 5, and Seattle lost 13-6 to the San Francisco 49ers two weeks later. 

Russell Wilson has completed 11 passes of 25 yards or longer. Carson Palmer has completed just six such passes.

Carson Palmer is completing only 59.3 percent of his passes this season. He has only one other year when he completed under 60 percent, and that was back in 2008.

Seattle's plus-7 turnover ratio is the best in the NFC. Arizona's minus-2 is worse than all but two NFC teams.

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