The eyes of the football world will be focused squarely on University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Thursday night as the Arizona Cardinals (3-3) play host to the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks (5-1).
Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com and his Seattle counterpart, Brady Henderson of MyNorthwest.com go back and forth on the major talking points surrounding this game between division rivals.
Alright, Vince. Forgive me for bringing up what might be a sore subject, but I'll start with a question about that 58-0 Seahawks win over the Cardinals last December. With as much turnover as there's been with the Cardinals since then, is that something the team is downplaying or do you get the sense that it's still on a lot of players' minds?
Well, if it's on any of the players' minds, they're not talking about it. Head coach Bruce Arians was asked about it Monday, and said that he hadn't heard anything about last December's game - which isn't shocking. Not only the coaching staff is new, but 26 players on the Cardinals' roster weren't with the organization last season for the historic beatdown. I am somewhat surprised that veteran players, especially outspoken ones like Darnell Dockett, haven't had much to say about the "revenge factor".
But along those lines, the Seahawks did force eight turnovers in that win last year and their secondary is well-known for their ball-hawking ways. How much is the Seattle defense salivating over the fact that Carson Palmer, who has more interceptions than anyone not named Eli Manning, is facing them Thursday night?
Quite a bit, I would have to imagine. Richard Sherman, normally not one to shy away from trash talk, was saying all the right things earlier this week about Palmer and how much Seattle's defense respects his abilities, but given their aggressiveness and his propensity for interceptions this season it has to be on their minds. The Seahawks are one off the NFL lead with nine interceptions, and their two picks last week came on deep throws, which Palmer has appeared to struggle with this season. That secondary is even tougher when Seattle's pass rush is clicking, but it's been hit and miss so far this season and won't have the benefit of the home crowd Thursday night.
Speaking of Palmer, he was supposed to be a significant upgrade over the who's who of quarterbacks Arizona used last season. Has he struggled as much as the interception totals would suggest or is there something the numbers aren't telling us?
The interceptions, if you believe Arians, are normally the fault of receivers running the wrong routes and not putting themselves in position to make catches - which is really more troubling than an inaccurate quarterback. It's been a common theme so far for the Cardinals - the fact that there is an apparent disconnect between Palmer and his targets.
However, there is some belief that Palmer turned the corner following his second pick against San Francisco last Sunday - his rating was 110 for the remainder of the game. Ultimately, he is still a huge upgrade over the four-headed monster the Cardinals used at QB last season.
On the Seattle offensive side of things, one of the concerns has been with the red zone touchdown efficiency. Seattle has converted only 50 percent of its chances inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns, and only 33 percent on the road. The Cardinals' defense has been good this year in the red zone, especially last week against the 49ers. How big is the concern about the ‘Hawks red zone efficiency?
It's been a big topic of discussion around here, and it's worth noting that four of the 11 touchdowns they've scored from the red zone came against the lowly Jaguars at CenturyLink Field. So it's certainly an area of concern with them playing on the road against a good defense. Not only have the Seahawks struggled to finish drives, but they've been awful on third down as well. They converted five of their 13 third-down opportunities last week, which was actually an improvement from the previous two games when they went a combined 5 for 26. A big part of the problem has been the patchwork offensive line they've had to go with for most of the year. They haven't had much trouble running the ball, but their issues in pass protection have been especially problematic when they've faced obvious passing situations on third down.
I'm intrigued by Arizona's defense, which seems to have plenty of talent at all three levels. You mentioned all the turnover since last season, and I'm curious to know how different that defense in particular is this year with a new coordinator and Adrian Wilson no longer patrolling the back end.
There was an audible groan from Cardinals Nation (if there is such a thing) when Arians announced Todd Bowles would be the defensive coordinator and not Ray Horton, who left for the same job in Cleveland. That reaction was based on the job that Horton did in Arizona coupled with the job that Bowles did under tough circumstances for half a season in Philadelphia last year. But this defense might actually be better than last year's. Adrian Wilson was a fixture for so many years, but had become a liability in pass coverage. The more surprising move was not bringing back Kerry Rhodes (who still doesn't have a job), who was always around the football during his time as a Cardinal. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu has lived up to his billing as a dynamic playmaker thus far and Rashad Johnson is steady, if unspectacular - when he's not losing fingers on the field. The real standout thus far has been linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was signed in May as an insurance policy for the team while Daryl Washington was serving a four-game suspension. Dansby has been a menace in the last two games, a surge which coincided with Washington's return to the field.
I was intrigued to read about Seattle's struggles in domed stadiums. Add in the fact that they haven't played great in Glendale (1-6 all-time at UOP Stadium), and I'm wondering…do you think the Cardinals can actually win this game?
I certainly can't rule it out. History isn't on the Seahawks' side in this one. They've struggled on the road in general and in Glendale in particular, losing six of their last seven games at the Cardinals' home stadium. Three of those losses came in years the Seahawks reached the postseason, so even good Seattle teams have had a hard time winning down there. The Seahawks are just 10-17 in regular-season road games since Pete Carroll became their head coach in 2010, but they seem to be trending in the right direction in that department. They're 4-2 on the road since the second half of last season, and that includes a 3-2 record in games with the dreaded 10 a.m. kickoff. While the Seahawks might be turning the corner on the road, they can't play as sloppily as they did last week in their win over Tennessee (when they fumbled five times) and expect to beat the Cardinals in their home stadium.
One player I'd be particularly concerned - OK, terrified - about is Darnell Dockett. Seattle's offensive line has been most vulnerable at the tackle spots - where its missing both starters - but I remember how Dockett made life awfully tough on the Seahawks in the opener last season. If the Cardinals win this game, I have a feeling he'll be a big reason why.
Alright, Vince. The time has come. What do you think will happen and what's your prediction on the final score?
Despite their pedestrian 3-3 record, I do think the Cardinals are a much better football team than they were last season under Ken Whisenhunt. And beating Seattle, arguably the best team in the NFC, would be quite a statement on national television, but I just don't think this team is at that level just yet.
I think the Cardinals need to run the football to beat a team like the Seahawks, but they just don't do it with very much consistency. Arizona ranks 23rd in the league in rushing yards, and haven't gotten much from starting running back Rashard Mendenhall. Rookie Andre Ellington has been a spark plug on offense, but Arians has been hesitant to give him more playing time, instead showing loyalty to Mendenhall.
And although the Cardinals have been rugged against the run, Marshawn Lynch feasts on this team (32 carries for 213 yards and five TDs last year alone).
I expect a good, close game, but I just don't think the Cardinals have what it takes to beat Seattle…yet.
Seahawks 23…..Arizona 20
What say you, Brady?
I think that game last December to some degree might be skewing perceptions of where these teams are in relation to one another right now. The Cardinals weren't as bad as that blowout would suggest and they seem to be a much better team this year, and the Seahawks' offense isn't hell on wheels like it was when Seattle scored 150 points over a three-game stretch that included that win over Arizona. That said, I think Seattle is still clearly the better team, albeit one whose offense is far from perfect.
Tight end Zach Miller's return from a two-game absence should help quite a bit, not only because of what he can do as another option for Russell Wilson, but also - and perhaps more so - because he's a willing and able blocker who can mitigate some of the issues in pass protection.
But mostly, I think Seattle's defense gives the Seahawks a huge edge in this game. Andrew Luck is the only quarterback who has given this defense problems, and some analysts would argue that he's playing the position as well as anyone in the league right now. Seattle has made some good quarterbacks look bad this season, and this matchup against Palmer seems to heavily favor the Seahawks given his tendency to throw interceptions and their penchant for making them.
Seahawks 29.....Cardinals 14