3TFO: Cardinals @ Seahawks, Week 16
Last year when these two teams met in Seattle, it wasn’t just a decidedly one-sided affair; it was one of the most lopsided blowouts in NFL history, to the tune of 58-0 in favor of the Seahawks. While some things have changed since then, at least for Arizona, Seattle (12-2) comes into this week needing just one win to wrap up home-field throughout the playoffs, a place where they have been literally unbeatable since Russell Wilson took over at quarterback last year.
The Cardinals, (9-5) meanwhile, survived a near epic collapse in Tennessee last Sunday to keep their faint playoff hopes alive with an overtime win. Even an 11-5 finish for the Cardinals is unlikely to garner a trip to the postseason, given the strength of the NFC field this year. Regardless, they will look to continue their momentum and register a real statement win in an already successful rookie campaign for head coach Bruce Arians, who has helped clinch just their fourth winning season since moving to the desert in 1988.
Arizona Offensive Line
With above-average players at all three levels on defense and at wide receiver, as the offensive line has gone, so have the Cardinals. This has certainly been the unit that has driven the success or failure of the Cardinals’ offense for the entire season. It has been obvious that Carson Palmer can play well when given time in the pocket, but he has very limited mobility to escape the rush, and will start breaking down and forcing balls quickly when facing pressure. While they still reside in the basement of our Pass Blocking Efficiency ratings for offensive lines (69.5), they have played better in recent weeks, coinciding with the Cardinals’ recent resurgence.
This week, however, might be their toughest test of the year, facing a terrific Seattle defense. Defensive ends Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Chris Clemons are all among the Top 12 ends at Pass Rush Productivity (with scores ranging from 13.5 to 10.3 among these three), a more comprehensive measure of their pass rushing abilities than just measuring sacks. These three, combined with outside linebackers K.J. Wright (11.0 PRP) and Bruce Irvin (13.6 PRP), comprise a formidable pass rushing force, one that the Cardinals’ linemen will undoubtedly struggle to deal with. While the Seahawk defenders will certainly get their shots on Palmer, it will be incumbent on the offensive line to keep him from getting overwhelmed, and if they can’t, there will be little chance for the Cardinals to be competitive in this game.
Seattle Wide Receivers vs. Arizona Defensive Backs
Besides getting Marshawn Lynch his fair share of carries, the Seahawks’ wide receivers will be looking to take advantage of a banged-up Cardinals’ secondary on Sunday. Although the Cardinals’ defense has been strong overall this year, the last line of defense may ultimately be the weakest unit on that side of the ball, especially with the loss of Tyrann Mathieu to a knee injury two weeks ago. The defense is actually coming off its worst performance of the year in Tennessee, when Ryan Fitzpatrick lit them up for over 400 yards and nearly pulled off an amazing comeback in the last six minutes. Star cornerback Patrick Peterson had by far his worst game of the year (-4.2), giving up nine catches on 10 targets (after allowing just three receptions his previous three games), as the Titans’ Kendall Wright beat him repeatedly for big plays. Antoine Cason, who moved up as the nickel corner with Mathieu’s injury, had moments where he struggled, but he also made two huge interceptions including the game-saver in overtime.
Although his numbers aren’t gaudy, Golden Tate has been having another solid year (+8.2) in now his fourth season with the Seahawks, after a breakout year last year. His WR Rating of 101.6 is one of the better ones in the league, and he has just three drops in 57 catchable passes. Doug Baldwin has also been having a very good year (+13.4), with 49 catches on 66 targets, making for an excellent catch percentage of 74.2, along with 770 yards and five touchdowns. In fact, his catch rate of 75.0% from the slot is tied for second-best overall. The addition of Wilson to the team last year no doubt did wonders for both their production levels, and they have proven to be reliable weapons for the second-year signal caller.
Andre Roberts vs. Jeremy Lane
With Larry Fitzgerald still undergoing concussion tests and his availability for Sunday’s game uncertain, and Michael Floyd still bothered by an ankle injury, the Cardinals may be relying on Andre Roberts more than ever. He has been overshadowed by his two aforementioned teammates this year (despite playing 567 snaps so far), but Arizona’s third receiver may have an important role in this game. He hasn’t had a ton of receptions this year (just 38 for 372 yards), and the emergence of Andre Ellington, who frequently lines up at receiver, has also kept his numbers down so far. Roberts has never really developed any chemistry with Palmer the way the other receivers have, but this is his contract year so he will be very motivated to step up his game against the Seahawks as he looks toward his future. While previously the main slot receiver for the Cardinals, he has lined up there just 51.8% of the time in 2013, with Fitzgerald getting more work there under Arians’ offense.
Likely lining up across from him will be Jeremy Lane, the Seahawks’ slot cornerback who has seen his playing time increase with injuries/suspensions to Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. He has had 87 snaps in the last three games, and has made a positive impact, grading at +5.2 while allowing just seven catches (for 47 yards) on 14 targets during that time, with three passes defensed. With Richard Sherman as the clear lockdown corner for Seattle, and the overall stoutness of the Seahawks’ defense, Palmer and co. will need to find favorable matchups wherever they can.
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