The defense gave them every chance to notch their first victory. The Arizona Cardinals were three points away from the first victory of 2018. Instead the defense put forth an effort all for not. On Sunday the Cardinals get a visit from division rival Seattle Seahawks. For the Arizona defense it will be important keep Seattle off the scoreboard as long as possible. In a battle of division rivals, it could come down to which team can impose their will on the other. The Cardinals defense needs to swarm on Sunday. Today we take a look at what it will take for the Cardinals defense to impose their will on Seattle.
Dominate Seattle’s Offensive Line
Russell Wilson is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL. Through three games he has been brought down 14 times. What is more alarming is Wilson has been sacked on 12.8% of his drop backs. The Seattle offensive line has struggled for the past few seasons as the team has largely chosen to ignore adding pieces through the draft or free agency. Wilson is one of the best at avoiding sacks but even he is negatively affected by pressure in the pocket.
The ground game isn’t much better for the Seahawks. Seattle currently sits in the bottom ten of the NFL in rushing yards. The team’s leading rusher is Chris Carson with 177 yards on 45 carries. What speaks volumes is that Carson contributed 102 yards on 32 carries last week against Dallas. The next leading rusher behind Carson is rookie Rashaad Penny who has totaled 43 yards on 20 carries. Both fans and pundits were confused when Seattle chose to draft Penny out of San Diego State University in the first round. With the many holes along the offensive line and defense, Penny wasn’t viewed as a priority for most.
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The ground game got going against the Cowboys which took away pressure from Wilson and the passing game. Carson ran all over the Dallas defense which struggled to get penetration. One thing that the Arizona defense has been solid at has been defending the run. The unit as a whole has benefited from good play by the front four. A healthy Corey Peters and improved play of Robert Nkemdiche has sparked the unit. Chandler Jones continues to show he is an all around player and has done well to set the edge. Linebacker Josh Bynes is one of the highest rated linebackers in the league against the run. The Arizona defense has the tools to contain the Seattle run game. Doing so will put pressure on the offensive line to protect Wilson in the passing game.
Chandler Jones and Markus Golden have typically pushed around the Seattle tackles. Expect more of the same on Sunday. Against Chicago defensive coordinator Al Holcomb turned up the blitz in passing situations. The defense succeeded in putting pressure on quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Against the Seahawks expect Holcomb to use the blitz slightly differently due to Wilson’s ability to escape the pocket. The Arizona pass rush will be asked to evenly compress the pocket, essentially keeping Wilson in the pocket but cutting off avenues to escape. Also expect to see a spy used on Wilson. This could be someone like Haason Reddick or Deone Bucannon who are starving for playing time. Either way, the defense will need to turn the pressure up but stay in their rush lanes, while leaving a free defender to chase down Wilson if he gets outside.
Talent Needs to Step Up
Much has been made about the lack of playing time for Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick. Both players have received less playing time as the season has progressed. Part of the issue has been getting both players to adjust to the switch in defensive scheme. Either way, the defense needs people to step up and make plays. This isn’t about Patrick Peterson or Chandler Jones. Both men have played well thus far and are leaving their marks on the season. Peterson has seemingly been refreshed this season and has a new fire in his game. Part of this is due to his newer attacking role on defense. In Holcomb’s defense Peterson has become much more active with the pass rush, already registering a sack.
Having Markus Golden back in the fold has already helped the defense. The pass rush against Chicago improved with a bookend pass rusher to Jones. Golden led the league in sacks in 2016 before injuring his knee last season. He is a talented pass rusher and can hold his own setting the edge. Sunday will be just his second game action in the new defensive scheme. Against the talented Wilson, Arizona will need Golden to take a leap in his progress and leave a big impact on the game. Golden can be a force on defense against the struggling Seattle offensive line.
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With a rookie quarterback making his first career start, the Arizona defense will need to help the offense. This happens by causing turnovers and keeping Seattle out of the end zone. The Cardinals defense did a great job of forcing turnovers during the preseason. Through three games the defense has just four takeaways, although two of them took place last week against the Bears. The defense is in the middle of the pack in creating turnovers but have had chances to make timely interceptions. Pass breakups from Tre Boston last week and Josh Bynes against the Rams could and should have been interceptions. Both plays could have prevented scores and eventually led to touchdowns.
There has been a lot said about the defensive scheme switch. However, the real issue is the lack of execution on defense. Replays show the players have been in position to make plays. The front seven needs to find consistency in stopping the run and bring down the quarterback. There have been far too many plays where the ball carrier or quarterback should have been brought down by a Cardinals defender. However, a missed tackle or sack has led to big plays. On Sunday the defense will need to make these plays against Wilson and the Seattle offense. Seattle relies on big plays on offense with Wilson leading the way by escaping the rush and keeping the play alive. The receivers are great at finding a way to get open on Wilson scrambles. To win on Sunday the Cardinals defense must make their own big plays.
The Cardinals defense has long had the number of the Seattle offense. Arizona has the players on defense to take advantage of a weak Seattle offensive line and a struggling run game. Forcing Wilson and the Seahawks into 3rd and long situations while putting consistent pressure is a must for Arizona. However, it just isn’t about putting them in the situations, it is about taking advantage of the situations. If the Cardinals want to get their first victory, they will need to seize their opportunities. In the end the Cardinals get to taste victory against a divisional rival.
Prediction: Cardinals 20-16
The offense looks better with Josh Rosen at the helm and the defense punishes Wilson all day. Arizona improves to 1-3 on the year and 1-1 in the division. The season isn’t yet over for the Cardinals and Sunday could jump-start the team and its fortunes.