Can Seattle avoid another slow start and get its first road win of the season against the Cardinals? Our Bob Condotta gets you ready for Sunday's NFC West showdown in Arizona.
Here’s what to look for in the Seahawks’ fourth game of the season at 1:05 p.m. Sunday in Arizona.
The Seahawks and Cardinals renew an odd series of late. The home team has not won a game since 2014. The last seven games have either been won by the road team or it has ended in a tie. The Seahawks obviously hope that trend continues in what looms as one of the most winnable games on their schedule. Arizona is off to a horrid start under first-year coach Steve Wilks, who was the secondary coach at UW in 2005 under Tyrone Willingham. Arizona is last in the NFL in total offense (190.3 yards per game), rushing offense (58.3), passing offense (132.0) and points per game (6.7), all of which led to a change in quarterback this week from Sam Bradford to rookie Josh Rosen, a first-round pick out of UCLA. Seattle got its first win of the season last week against Dallas and hopes to get another victory to stay within striking distance of the 4-0 Rams in the West with Los Angeles coming to CenturyLink on Oct. 7.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Seattle secondary vs. Arizona QB Josh Rosen
Maybe we should say that the key matchup is the Seattle defense against Arizona RB David Johnson, because you would expect that the Cardinals will try to ride Johnson as much as possible with Rosen making his first start. But Rosen is going to have to throw at some point, and the Seattle secondary has been able to make opposing QBs pay for mistakes with seven interceptions, already half of the 14 Seattle had last season. It’s hard to imagine Rosen not making a pass or two he’d want back, and those could turn into game-changing plays for Seattle.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
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Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin.
It sounds like Baldwin will be back after missing the last two games — and the second half of the opener at Denver — with a sprained right MCL. He may not be 100 percent. He’s still dealing with a separate issue on his left knee. But even at 70 or 80 percent he can help greatly, having long been Russell Wilson’s go-to receiver on third downs and allowing for Tyler Lockett to play on the outside more. As we did last week, we’ll also add Earl Thomas to this category since his every move is going to be worth examining for the entire season.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
How aggressive will the Seahawks be offensively early in the game?
One thing the Seahawks have yet to do is solve their long-running problem of slow offensive starts. Seattle has had eight first-quarter possessions this season and has punted after seven of them. The only score came on a one-play, 15-yard drive following a Thomas interception at Denver. Seattle otherwise has 105 yards on 34 first-quarter possessions, having only once moved past midfield. The last two weeks, the Seahawks largely spent their early possessions trying to establish the run and that figures to be a sensible course of action again this week. But what the Seahawks aren’t going to want to do is let a struggling team hang around, especially on the road. Arizona has outscored opponents 14-0 in the first quarter this season but has been outscored 74-6 in the final three. Seattle has been outscored 14-7 in the first quarter this year, the only quarter it has been outscored in.
Seattle’s tight end corps.
There was lots of talk in the offseason about how the Seahawks would replace departed tight ends Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, who last season led a tight end corps that combined for 84 receptions for 794 yards and 15 touchdowns. So far it hasn’t been a problem with Will Dissly (7-151, 2 TDS) and Nick Vannett (8-61) on pace for 80 receptions, 1,130 yards and 13 touchdowns. Vannett has quietly moved up to third on the Seahawks in receptions and already has more than half of the 15 catches he had in his first two seasons. The Cardinals play a lot of nickel and Seattle’s tight ends could find themselves in some interesting matchups to potentially exploit.
WILD CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WR Jaron Brown.
Brown returns to where he spent the first five years of his NFL career. He’s beginning to look a little more comfortable in Seattle’s offense. After making just one catch for seven yards against Denver, he has five for 61 and a touchdown in the last two games. With Baldwin back, maybe Brown will find himself in some more advantageous matchups. Arizona likes to blitz — second-most in the NFL, according to ESPN — so all of Seattle’s receivers should find themselves in some man-coverage situations.
3.3 vs. 3.6 — Seattle’s rushing yards per carry and Arizona’s.
The Seahawks are being outgained on the ground by a whopping 1.8 yards per carry, having allowed 5.1 yards per carry so far. That number comes with some asterisks: Dallas got a lot of yards late last week when the Seahawks were expecting passes, and the linebacking corps has obviously dealt with injuries. More telling for Seattle is the 3.3 number on offense. Despite the good vibes of last week’s game, the Seahawks have yet to really show they can run it well consistently against a good defense, and the Cardinals figure to do what they can to make Seattle have to throw it. Arizona’s best hope offensively is to get David Johnson going. He has 116 yards on 34 attempts with a long of 11 and a 3.4 yards per carry average. The value of a running game can be heavily debated, but if Arizona has a better yards-per-carry average in this game that’s probably bad news for Seattle.
THE FINAL WORD
This could be an ugly game featuring two pretty good defenses and what statistically are two of the worst offenses in the NFL. Seattle ranks 27th this week and Arizona is dead last. But one team has one of the better QBs in the NFL and the other is starting a rookie who has never started a game before. That should be enough right there to push the game Seattle’s way.
Seahawks 16, Cardinals 3.