Last season was a breakthrough season for the Arizona Cardinals. For the first time in 33 years the Cards won their division. Going into last year the franchise had won three playoff games, a number which was doubled during their Super Bowl run of 2008.
2009 is the season where they get the chance to prove if that run was a fluke, or they are really setting up for a run atop the mediocre NFC West.
The Seahawks, up until last season, were the kings of the NFC West. From 2004 to 2007 the division was all theirs. Having joined the NFC West in 2002 there have only been three seasons that the Hawks did not win the division.
For that reason many fans felt that last year could be called a fluke. It seemed to be an unlucky series of events that led to Seattle sending their iconic coach Mike Holmgren off on a less than positive note.
Whether it be from confusion of a coaching transition in an odd situation where the successor was already on the staff, or from the obvious amount of injures, it was easy to simply disregard 2008 as a fluke.
So far the 2009 season has shown that perhaps it wasn’t a fluke after all. A combination of injuries, a patchwork line, and aging skill players has proved difficult for coach Jim Mora to overcome. Going into the season Mora and his staff spoke of establishing a tough running game, but the personnel has just not worked out this year.
This team is built to be a passing team. The talent is in the wide out and tight end positions. Hasselbeck, while banged up, is still capable of throwing the ball all over the field at an impressive clip.
The problem has been the lack of balance. What made the 2005 Seahawks offense so great was the bulldozer offensive line with Shaun Alexander running wild.
It seems that the rushing production was at least as much of a product of that offensive line than Alexander himself, as he has been unable to put up even close to the same kind of numbers since that run.
To be fair though, he has been injured as well for his last seasons here and was subsequently replaced by Julius Jones. He has not fared much better behind Seattle’s post 2005 offensive line.
The fall of the Seahawks lead to a great opportunity for the Arizona Cardinals who had not been to the playoffs since 1998. Taking advantage of this the Cardinals made the playoffs with an average record, but got hot at the right time and road a balanced offense all the way to the Super Bowl.
Like Seattle, Arizona was unable to capitalize on the opportunity with a Super Bowl victory.
This season both teams have had their fair amount of struggles. The Seahawks cannot manage to win on the road, and the Cardinals are struggling mightily at home. The last time they faced off resulted in an ugly home loss for the Seahawks getting soundly beaten 27-3.
The Cardinals defense stifled the struggling Seahawks offense for a total of 128 yards. Seattle could not establish a run game, and Arizona’s defense played tough against the pass. Arizona also struggled on the ground, but did enough through the air to win the game handily.
This is the norm for a pass first Arizona team, which ranks 30th in rushing offense for the season, but manages to have the 14th overall offense in the league. The Seahawks stats show similar struggles on the ground, and but not quite as effective through the air as Arizona has been thus far.
Part of that is the fact that Hasselbeck is still banged up, but nobody should ever question his toughness as he is doing everything he can to get the Seahawks going back in the right direction. No matter how much pain he is in.
For this game the teams are both facing their weaknesses in game location. How much of a difference that will make is debatable considering that in the last game both teams were where they like playing and it still lead to a dominating Arizona victory.
The Seahawks are bit healthier going into this game, but coming off a comeback win against the Lions, it is hard to make an argument that they have a lot of momentum going. However, this game is absolutely huge for the Seahawks.
As bad as the season has been thus far, a win here puts the Hawks only one game below the Cardinals in the divisional race.
Can the Seahawks pull it out here? It is going to up to the defense to not let this game turn into a shootout. Arizona has immense talent at the wide receiver position, and if they are able to run the ball efficiently, the Seahawks defense will be scrambling all day.
It doesn’t help matters that star linebacker Lofa Tatupu is out for the season either.
All season it has been up to the Seahawks D to come through and lead the team, and except for the two shootouts and the close win against Detroit they haven’t stepped up to the task.
The offense is getting a little bit healthier so that should help, but the Seahawks defense needs to start living up to its potential if this season is going to turn around. A lot of draft picks and money have been invested into that defense, and the time to produce is now.
This is a game Arizona is happy to see on their schedule as a chance to turn around their fortunes at home. With a win here they will be able to build a comfortable lead in the division, and make a run to a second playoff appearance in two years.
If the Seahawks want to win this game they also have to productive on offense and Matt Hasselbeck will need to continue throwing the ball well for any chance of a victory.
Both teams have shown they can win by throwing the ball all over the place, so while balance is important it is going to be whichever secondary can step up and shut down the passing attack.
Although the Seahawks offense is healthier for this game, it is going to be a tough battle, and one that I’m just not sure the Seahawks can pull off right now.
Cardinals 28-Seahawks 17