For the second year in a row, the Arizona Cardinals end their regular season with a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Awaiting the Cardinals are the Seattle Seahawks. The matchup has ended the regular season three out of the last four seasons. Last season the Cardinals rode the emotions of the departing Bruce Arians to pull out a come from behind victory after Seattle missed the game winning field goal. This season the Cardinals will attempt to win one for Steve Wilks, who reportedly will be fired once the season is over. Can Arizona find another victory in Seattle? Today we take a look at three keys to giving the Seahawks a home loss.
Stop the Run
The Seahawks have the top rushing attack in the NFL. Arizona has the worst run defense in the league. The outcome seems clear as the Seahawks have the ability to run the football against just about any defense. The ground game is led by running back Chris Carson. In just his second season, first as the starter, Carson has rushed for 1,029 yards on 228 attempts. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has 8 rushing touchdowns. What is interesting is that Carson has played in five games this season where he has had less than 15 carries, three games with less than 10 carries. Part of what makes Carson dangerous is his ability to win one on one matchups. It’s not just the broken tackles, of which Carson has 58, but the way in which he pushes defenders backwards and often requires multiple players to bring him down.
Arizona has been unable to tackle consistently and lacks penetration against the ground game. It is a recipe for disaster against Carson and the Seahawks. Arizona will need to find a way to disrupt Carson’s footwork with quick penetration. This helps prevent Carson from building momentum and getting his feet set before contact. Seattle uses a zone read look so dropping an extra safety into the box can help keep an eye on quarterback Russell Wilson and assist on tackling Carson. If the Cardinals want to stop the run they will need to stack the box and bring pressure. It is a risk which leaves the secondary vulnerable, but the Seahawks run game is that important.
Perform Under Pressure
Quarterback Josh Rosen has suffered through some of the worst offensive line play in the league this season. Rosen has been sacked 39 times in 13 games this season. Over the last three games, he has been sacked 13 times. Things have gotten to the point where the rookie has been removed late in the fourth quarter of the last two weeks. This is to be expected with a line primarily made from end of roster players and midseason free agent signings. As a result, expect Rosen to be under constant pressure against Seattle.
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The Seahawks should have little trouble creating pressure, especially outside with defensive end Frank Clark. Clark has tallied 12 sacks on the year. Joining Clark in the backfield has been defensive tackle Jarran Reed. The third-year player has seen a dramatic increase in his pass rushing success. Reid is quick off the ball and has great athleticism for a man of his size. He has the ability to overpower opponents in the interior. This means pressure off the edge and in the face of Rosen. The rookie quarterback will need to get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. Seattle’s secondary will pounce on any errant throw made by Rosen. Expect the Cardinals to go with early screens and play action to try to slow down the Seattle pass rush. If they can’t, it might be an early hook for Rosen.
Get Fitz the Football
Sunday may be the final time Larry Fitzgerald plays a game for the Cardinals. He has spent his entire 15 year career in Arizona and is the unquestioned face of the franchise. If it is indeed the final hurrah for the future Hall of Fame receiver, the Cardinals need to reward Fitzgerald. For his career Fitzgerald has averaged just under six receptions and 71 yards per game against Seattle. He has just 11 touchdowns against the Seahawks. Using Fitzgerald in the slot and in motion will help keep Seattle defenders from pressing at the line and help show the coverage being used on any particular play.
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After a long and spectacular career, it would be fitting for Fitzgerald to have a final big game against a team that has caused him the biggest headaches. The Cardinals passing game needs to get going to relieve the pressure on what has been a disappointing ground game. Rosen needs his athletic receiver to be the outlet and get the tough yards over the middle. At the very least, the Cardinals owe it to Fitzgerald to put the ball in his hands as much as possible and let the veteran make plays. Don’t be surprised to see gadget plays involving Fitzgerald similar to the wide receiver pass against the Rams. It could be his final game, let him have fun.
Prediction: Seahawks 33-13
The final score will be a moot point for the Cardinals. However, they will be attempting to again end their season with a victory in Seattle. In Bruce Arians’ last game the Cardinals shocked the Seahawks on the road. There is no doubt the Cardinals will attempt to play with the same intensity and focus they showed one year ago. The team understands it could be the final time Fitzgerald wears a Cardinals uniform and knows the impact he’s had on the franchise. If Sunday is indeed the end of his career, it will be a joy to see the legend go out on top.