Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get any more difficult for the Arizona Cardinals (11-3) offense, they somehow manage to do just that. The Cardinals will be forced to start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley after Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton succumbed to injuries in recent weeks.
Arizona is also without spark-plug running back Andre Ellington for the rest of the year, leaving the team with relative unknowns Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor. Much like the Seattle Seahawks (10-4), the Cardinals offense seems to put up just enough points each week while its defense dominates.
The Seahawks won the NFC West front-runners' first meeting 19-3, starting the team's four-game win streak. Both teams found points hard to come by, but Seattle's advantageous field position throughout the game was a key factor.
There are significant playoff implications on the line for this game, with the two teams embroiled in a tight race for the divisional crown along with top seeding. An Arizona victory would effectively end Seattle's hopes of winning the division and would leave them in a much tighter wild-card race.
A win for the Seahawks puts them in the driver's seat to win the division and gives them a shot at winning the No. 1 seed in the NFC. With Seattle's defense limiting opponents to less than a touchdown per game over the last four weeks, Arizona will be hard-pressed to win this game.
|Seahawks and Cardinals NFL Ranks|
|Seattle Seahawks||Category||Arizona Cardinals|
|361.6 (11th)||Total Offense||321.6 (24th)|
|24.2 (11th)||Scoring Offense||20.5 (22nd)|
|192.8 (31st)||Passing Offense||237.3 (15th)|
|7.3 (14th)||Yards Per Attempt||7.2 (19th)|
|168.8 (1st)||Rushing Offense||84.4 (28th)|
|5.2 (1st)||Yards Per Attempt||3.3 (32nd)|
|42.2 (12th)||3rd-Down Percentage||41.7 (14th)|
|272.4 (1st)||Total Defense||350.0 (14th)|
|17.3 (2nd)||Scoring Defense||17.4 (3rd)|
|184.3 (1st)||Passing Defense||259.6 (29th)|
|6.5 (6th)||Yards Per Attempt||7.4 (20th)|
|88.1 (5th)||Rushing Defense||90.4 (6th)|
|3.6 (4th)||Yards Per Attempt||3.8 (7th)|
|39.4 (15th)||3rd-Down Percentage||37.2 (11th)|
While Seattle's defense has been holding teams to less than a touchdown per game over the last four weeks, Arizona's offense has only been able to muster up 12.5 points per game over the same span. With Lindley at the helm things only stand to get worse for the Cardinals.
The third-year pro completed four of 10 pass attempts for 30 yards last week in his first action since 2012. Having not seen any action last year, the one thing that appears to be clear is that Lindley is largely inaccurate. In six appearances during the 2012 season, Lindley completed 52 percent of his passes for an average of 4.40 yards per attempt.
When these teams last played each other, the Seahawks defense was content to let Stanton throw short passes and try to generate long, scoring drives. It was a challenge Stanton and the Arizona weren't prepared for. The Seahawks should employ the same tactics of keeping all receivers in front of them and stopping any chunk plays from happening.
Whether the Cardinals run game has improved with Williams stepping in for Ellington is up for debate. However, he has carried the ball 34 times for 175 yards (5.1 yards per carry) over the last two weeks. Ellington had not rushed for 100 yards or averaged five yards per carry in any game this season.
Expect to see the Cardinals try to establish their running game while attempting some deep passes every so often. Having Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup this time will present its own challenges.
Russell Wilson had to run for his life last week, and the last time he faced the Cardinals things weren't much different. Arizona sacked Wilson a season-high seven times in Week 12, with their defense utilizing an assortment of blitzes.
The passing game was highlighted by the team's tight ends rather than its receivers in the last meeting. Tony Moeaki and Luke Willson will definitely be in the lineup, while Cooper Helfet's status is still uncertain. The Seahawks got most of their big plays from tight ends and used receivers to move the chains.
If Arizona opts to go blitz heavy again, I would expect a similar approach. The Cardinals secondary is a major weakness, so getting as many targets involved as possible should be Seattle's goal. Marshawn Lynch had absolutely no room to run in the last game, and I don't expect that to change much.
Of course, the Seahawks have to try to run in order to create some balance, but Wilson's legs proved to be the most successful in Week 12. This game plan is going to lean heavily on Wilson's ability to find open targets and being decisive when there's room for him to run.