The Arizona Cardinals fell 32-20 to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, and are hosting the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The two teams split their season series in 2012, but the most recent matchup saw the Seahawks blow out Arizona 58-0 on Dec. 9, 2012, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, the worst loss in Cardinals' franchise history. The loss capped the Cards' nine-game losing streak -- one that came after beginning the season with four straight wins.
The 3-3 Cardinals look much different than last year's squad, boasting a different starting quarterback, running back and head coach, among other positions. The 5-1 Seahawks appear even stronger than last year's club that went 11-5 and made it to the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Keys for the Cardinals offense:
1. Hold onto the ball
It's no secret that quarterback Carson Palmer has had trouble with interceptions this season -- 11 in six games. Palmer needs to play it carefully with his throws and keep them short most of the time. Going for the long ball may be too risky against Seattle.
Also, the backs and the receivers need to hold on to the ball better this week. Larry Fitzgerald and Alfonso Smith both had costly fumbles against San Francisco. The result will be the same if the team can't take care of the ball against the Seahawks.
2. Exploit the Seahawks' run defense
The Seahawks defense is stellar overall, but their pass defense is practically impenetrable, giving up the fourth-fewest yards in the league thus far. Arizona has a chance to fare better this week if it commits to the running game. The Cardinals need to throw Seattle different looks in the backfield and utilize Rashard Mendenhall, Smith and rookie Andre Ellington as needed.
3. Get tight ends and Andre Roberts involved
Wide receiver Andre Roberts has all but disappeared from the Cardinals passing attack since Week 1, and the team has yet to see a tight end have a big day. Now is the time to throw Seattle off its guard and bring Roberts back into the fold while also looking for Rob Housler and Jim Dray (if he plays) so the Seahawks' defensive backs don't double up on Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Keys for Seattle's offense:
1. Wear down the Cardinals defense
The Cardinals' usually promising defense showed signs of weakness in San Francisco due to being on the field too long. San Francisco sealed the game with an 18-play, 89-yard drive that melted 9:32 off the clock.
Part of this will hinge on the Seahawks defense, but the team's offense can do its part to wear out the Cardinals defensive unit but rushing the ball often and putting together long scoring drives.
2. Keep feeding the 'Beast'
Running back Marshawn Lynch tore up the Cardinals last season and is off to a solid start this year. There is no reason for the Seahawks to go away from him on Thursday. The Cardinals have given up the eighth-fewest yards on defense this season, but the unit did allow its first 100-yard rusher (San Francisco's Frank Gore) in its most recent game, and Lynch poses just as big of a threat.
3. Utilize the tight ends
Arizona's defense has been atrocious against tight ends this season. The unit gave up an embarrassing number of yards (a career-high 180) to the San Francisco's Vernon Davis last Sunday. Judging by that pattern, the Seahawks' Luke Willson may be up next for a breakout game. The team also boasts Arizona State product Zach Miller, who looks to return after sitting out the past two weeks with a hamstring injury.
Keys for the Cardinals defense
1. Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket
Quarterback Russell Wilson excels with making plays on the run, whether with his feet or with a pass. The Cardinals defense needs to focus on keeping him from getting free and burning them with a big play.
2. If you can stop a Lynch, you can stop the ball
This one's easier said than done, but the Cardinals need to keep Lynch in check. It's a pretty straightforward goal. If they can slow down "Beast Mode" and make Wilson beat them from the pocket, they stand a much stronger chance in Thursday's game.
3. Shut down Seattle's receivers
With Percy Harvin still on injured reserve, Seattle boasts no elite receivers, and the passing game isn't the focal point of Pete Carroll's offense. Jerraud Powers and Patrick Peterson should be ready to take away Wilson's top receiving options. Another Peterson pick or two this game would go a long way, too.
Keys for Seattle's defense
1. Force Cardinals to pass
Palmer is prone to interceptions this season, and the Cardinals receivers other than Fitzgerald have been shaky. If Seattle can stunt Arizona's run game, the Seahawks put themselves in good position to force turnovers and short drives.
2. Bait Palmer into throwing deep
Palmer will have a hard time throwing deep against Seattle, but cornerback Richard Sherman will tempt the Cardinals signal caller to do so, and Sherman is one of the best at making up ground and picking off passes in those situations. Palmer will likely know not to throw deep, but the defense will try to trick him into doing it a few times in the game.
3. Cover for Chris Clemons's absence
Defensive end Chris Clemons is listed as questionable for the game. Cliff Avril may have to start in his place. Clemons is one of the team's top pass rushers, so if even if he sits, the line can't afford for Cardinals to exploit his absence; it will need to keep the pressure on Palmer regardless.