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

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Cardinals vs. Seahawks: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan
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The Seattle Seahawks return home to take on the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Given Seattle's recent dominance of this series, the Seahawks will likely use a similar game plan to one they used earlier this season.

A win by Seattle will mean the team clinches home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. A loss by Arizona puts the Cardinals on the verge of playoff elimination. Clearly, there is a lot at stake for each of these teams. 

According to Vegas Insider, the Seahawks are now 10.5 point favorites in this game. That is up from 9.5 points earlier in the week. This suggests that the betting population has been backing the Seahawks even though the spread is already quite large.  

 

The Competitive Edge

NFL Rank for Seahawks and Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks Category Arizona Cardinals
5th Scoring Offense 15th
12th Total Offense 19th
24th Passing Offense 14th
1st Yards Per Attempt 11th
2nd Rushing Offense 25th
12th Yards Per Carry 28th
1st Scoring Defense 8th
1st Total Defense 7th
1st Passing Defense 17th
1st Yards Per Attempt 5th
10th Rushing Defense 1st
14th Yards Per Carry 2nd

espn.com

Comparing this chart to the one from when these two teams last played each other, it is easy to see just how much the Cardinals have improved in recent weeks. Arizona is playing much better football than when the Seahawks went into Glendale and hung 34 points on that defense. 

Of course, none of that matters if quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are unavailable to play. Seattle's defense could be looking for its second straight shutout if both of those key players are unavailable. At this point, it appears that both should play on Sunday, but that could still change. 

This game does present one major issue for the Seahawks. Seattle's running game has struggled over the past four games, and now it must face the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. The Seahawks will likely have difficulty getting running back Marshawn Lynch his usual allotment of yards on the ground.  

 

Seattle's Offense vs. Arizona's Defense

Protect the A-Gaps 

One of the things the Cardinals do more than other teams the Seahawks have played is blitzing linebackers through the A-gaps. This means that they bring pressure through the gaps between the center and the guards.

NFL Rewind

This puts a lot of pressure on the interior of an offensive line. Given that Seattle's guards are relatively poor at pass protection, this blitz package should create a considerable advantage for the Arizona defense. 

It will be important for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to recognize this defense and drop back into the shotgun formation. This will provide Wilson the time necessary to escape to the outside should one of the guards miss a block. 

 

Provide Help on John Abraham

Linebacker John Abraham terrorized Wilson when these teams played each other in Week 7. The only solution was to keep tight end Zach Miller in to help block Abraham, which removed Miller as a receiving threat. Even that wasn't enough, as Abraham finished with two sacks. 

The Seahawks need to account for Abraham on every play and provide right tackle Breno Giacomini some help whenever possible. Just having a tight end or running back chip Abraham might be enough, but leaving him one-on-one on Giacomini will lead to trouble for the Seahawks. 

 

Put the Ball in Russell Wilson's Hands

The Arizona Cardinals have statistically the league's best rush defense. Considering Seattle's recent struggles in running the football, that could be bad news for Seattle's offense. 

There is no need for the Seahawks to run themselves into 3rd-and-long over and over again. If they want to sustain drives, they are going to have to do so through the passing attack. Wilson proved to be one of the league's top passers, so it shouldn't be out of the question to let him go put up some big numbers for one game. 

It is unlikely that the Seahawks under head coach Pete Carroll will ever throw the ball 50 times in a game. They will still mix in a steady dose of the running game, but a mostly pass-first mentality will serve them well in this game. This is especially true given the current depleted form of Arizona's secondary. 

Russell Wilson's Stats for Games With Over 30 Pass Attempts
Date Opp Result Cmp Att ▾ Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Y/A
12/2/12 CHI W 23-17 23 37 62.16% 293 2 0 104.9 7.92
10/28/12 DET L 24-28 25 35 71.43% 236 2 1 96.8 6.74
9/9/12* ARI L 16-20 18 34 52.94% 153 1 1 62.5 4.5
9/8/13 CAR W 12-7 25 33 75.76% 320 1 0 115.7 9.7
10/6/13 IND L 28-34 15 31 48.39% 210 2 1 78.7 6.77
10/13/13 TEN W 20-13 23 31 74.19% 257 0 0 98.5 8.29
12/2/13 NOR W 34-7 22 30 73.33% 310 3 0 139.6 10.33

Pro Football Reference

*First game of Wilson's rookie season.

 

Seattle's Defense vs. Arizona's Offense

Attack Carson Palmer

With the increasingly mobile quarterbacks of today's NFL, Arizona's Carson Palmer is a bit of a throwback. He is arguably the least mobile QB on Seattle's schedule, and that was before he injured his ankle. This is a game where Seattle's pass-rushers can attack the point seven steps behind the center and not worry about the QB breaking containment. 

Palmer also struggles when under pressure, even more so than most quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Palmer's passer rating drops by almost 60 points when he's under pressure versus when he's not. 

The one concern is that the Cardinals now possess a semi-competent running game due to the emergence of running back Andre Ellington. This means that the Seahawks cannot get too aggressive and forget about the run, though Ellington is still woefully underused by the Cardinals. 

Carson Palmer's Pressure Profile
Com. % Yds Yds / Att. TD INT NFL QB Rating
No pressure 72.3 2697 8.4 18 7 106.9
Vs. pressure 50.3 992 5.6 3 10 49.4
No blitz 65.6 2508 7.2 13 14 82.4
Vs. blitzed 61.7 1181 7.9 8 3 96.1

Pro Football Focus

 

Jump the Short Routes 

Of the 40 NFL quarterbacks who have taken at least 25 percent of their team's offensive snaps, Palmer ranks 38th in accuracy on passes over 20 yards according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Making matters worse for the Cardinals is that Palmer has only completed 17 of those passes, while seven others have ended up as interceptions. Seattle's ball-hawking secondary has to feel excited about the possibility of adding to the turnover stats this week. 

That is probably why Palmer has only attempted 66 passes over 20 yards all season. He hasn't been good at throwing those passes, so there has been no reason to run the plays where he would be asked to do so. 

The Seahawks can take advantage of this knowledge by attacking the short and intermediate routes like they did on this play:

NFL Rewind

The Seahawks left cornerback Richard Sherman with no safety help on the far side of the field. Free safety Earl Thomas started deep initially but was already rotating down toward the play even before the ball was thrown. This left extra defenders underneath to attack the short route by Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, leading to an incomplete pass.  

 

Game Notes and Facts (via Pro Football Reference and NFL.com)

Arizona leads the all-time series, 15-14, though the Seahawks have outscored the Cardinals 734-580 in those games.

The last time the Cardinals visited Seattle, the Seahawks won 58-0. 

The Cardinals have not won in Seattle against head coach Pete Carroll. Their last win at CenturyLink was back in 2009 when Jim Mora was patrolling the sidelines for the Seahawks. 

Palmer threw 11 interceptions in the team's first seven games this season. He's thrown just six in his team's past seven games. Wilson has thrown just eight interceptions all season.

The Seahawks have now won 14 straight home games and haven't lost at home since the 2011 season. 

The Cardinals are one of the few teams on Seattle's schedule that have allowed more sacks than the Seahawks have. Arizona has allowed 38, while the Seahawks have allowed 36. 

It was announced via the the team's official Twitter feed on Wednesday that Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner lost his appeal. He has been suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. 

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