ReFo: Seahawks @ Cardinals, Week 7
As Ben Stockwell writes, Russell Wilson's ability to flourish under duress was the difference in this one, as both defenses generated pressure at will.
ReFo: Seahawks @ Cardinals, Week 7
The Seattle Seahawks entered this divisional encounter in the desert sporting a 1-6 record at University of Phoenix, including a loss in Russell Wilson’s regular-season debut last September. Having bounced back from their first defeat of the season with a win at home to Tennessee on Sunday, the Seahawks were clearly in no mood to allow that record to be extended on Thursday night.
The Seahawks never trailed in the game and always looked capable of keeping the Cardinals at arm’s length, even if they didn’t kick it into high gear and blow the Cardinals away. On defense they exploited a weak offensive line to put persistent pressure on Carson Palmer and stunt the Cardinals’ passing game, and the running game was never a threat. Meanwhile on offense, Wilson faced his fair share of pressure but was able to do more with it, coming up with a couple of spectacular throws and making one video-game play getting off a throw for a first-down conversion while being twisted down for a would-be sack in the left flat.
For the Cardinals, this was another performance that, though they kept the scoreboard close, was eerily reminiscent in performance to last season. Palmer had his moments again but struggled under pressure, and there was plenty of it as this latest iteration of the Arizona offensive line once again failed to deliver a stable platform for either run or pass game. The defense had its solid, even star turns in the shape of John Abraham, but couldn’t match the Seahawks’ defense blow for blow or get the support from their offense the Seahawks did. This looks like another rough season for the Cardinals and the key might be seeing some, any, sort of progress from an offense that is struggling to make strides under the new coaching staff.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Wilson Shines Under Pressure
The one thing these two NFC West foes had in common last night was they both recorded and surrendered plenty of pressure. Both quarterbacks were pressured on more than 50% of their drop-backs, with the difference being Wilson’s ability to produce under pressure where Palmer didn’t. Pressured on 18 of 34 drop-backs, Wilson was sacked three times (fumbling twice) and scrambled twice, but registered all three of his touchdowns under pressure to go 8 of 13 for 128 yards and three scores when the Cardinals got pressure on him. He got things started well on that front escaping into the right flat and throwing on the move to find Sidney Rice open to the end zone with both players brilliantly on the same page as a reaction to pressure coming off the right side. We haven’t seen the best of Wilson the passer this season, thanks in no small part to the play of his (injury riddled) offensive line up front — pressured on nearly 50% of his drop-backs this season — but this week we saw him overcome that and highlight his ability as a passer even when the opposition gets to him.
Bennett Leads the Charge Again
It won’t have taken you a second viewing to notice the Seahawks’ pass rush was too hot to handle for the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line, and there are certainly plenty of players to praise, led by Michael Bennett. Continuing his exceptional season, Bennett notched his highest pass rush grade of the campaign (+3.5) and his seventh straight positively graded pass rush performance by notching eight total pressures (1 Sk, 2 Ht, 5 Hu) to pace the Seattle defense. Illustrating his versatility as a pass rusher, Bennett got pressure from both inside and outside alignments registering pressure against both tackles and all three guards to the inside and outside of opposing pass protectors. Nine Seahawk defenders rushed the passer 10 times or more last night, with every single one of them, including former Cardinal O’Brien Schofield (1 Ht, 3 Hu) grading positively as a pass rusher. Just to emphasize the dominance of the Seattle pass rush, they recorded a combined 40 pressures (8 Sk, 6 Ht, 26 Hu) with another two hurries nullified by penalties.
The Legion Lowers the Boom
Just to back-up the stellar work of their pass rush, the Seahawks’ coverage defenders feasted on the poor passing display that came as a result of the pressure generated up front. Every starter in the secondary graded positively, as did Malcolm Smith (+4.5) who shone in coverage and run defense during his fifth start of the season, even adding three pressures (1 Sk, 2 Hu) on four pass rushes. There were breakdowns, notably Palmer’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass, but for the most part the Seahawks got the better of the Cardinals by making plays on the ball rather than plays on the receiver. The biggest hit, in fact, was reserved for Richard Sherman on the receiving end of a block by Larry Fitzgerald to spring Michael Floyd for a first down in the lead up to that score. Sherman soon got himself back into the game though, breaking up the two-point conversion at the culmination of the drive. The Cardinals’ decision to throw a fade at Sherman marks their second puzzling two-point conversion play call in as many games after a failed reversed field, receiver pass by Patrick Peterson against the 49ers on Sunday. Each of Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner and Earl Thomas recorded their highest coverage grade of the season last night.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Disastrous Night Up Front
Having praised the Seattle pass rush while both qualifying and quantifying how good their performance was, it goes without saying that the opposite was true for the Cardinals’ offensive line. First though, the two relative bright spots, both on the interior where Lyle Sendlein (+1.5 pass block) and Daryn Colledge (1 Ht, 1 Hu) had solid nights amid the troubles alongside them. At left tackle, Bradley Sowell struggled for the third straight start and at this stage might even have Arizona fans pining for the now departed and injured Levi Brown. In three starts Sowell has surrendered 24 pressures, with his nine pressures tonight (2 Sk, 2 Ht, 5 Hu) matching the total surrendered to the 49ers on Sunday, though more heavily weighted to sacks and hits this time out. On the opposite side, Eric Winston surrendered more pressure (1 Sk, 9 Hu) but did a better job of minimizing the speed and effect of that pressure, while at guard Paul Fanaika and Nate Potter (coming in at LG after Colledge’s departure) both had pass block grades of -3.0 or worse. For Sowell, this is about as bad a beginning as he could have made, after only three starts he currently sits bottom of our tackle rankings with a -17.2 overall grade. Big turn arounds aren’t unheard of for Arizona tackles, just last season Bobby Massie was one of the best tackles in the league in the second half of the year having been one of the worst in the first half. Is a similar turn around in store for Sowell? We’ll wait and see, on current form you wouldn’t have said so, but you would have said the same for Massie at this time last year. After performances like this you wonder how Massie (after that terrific turn around) is still yet to see the field for the Cardinals this season.
Abraham Makes His Impact
Things haven’t gone swimmingly for John Abraham in Arizona this season, but last night reminded us all what an impactful pass rusher he is at his best — and couldn’t Atlanta use that kind of an impact play on defense right about now? He fell short of a season high in terms of total pressure (six against the Saints in Week 3) but recorded his first sacks of the season, forcing a fumble from Wilson each time to generate turnover opportunities for his team. Registering one sack from each side both of the Seattle tackles got a taste of the speed and explosion that Abraham still possesses to turn the corner and get at the quarterback to finish plays. The Cardinals gave a first start to Marcus Benard opposite Abraham last night, and though he registered only 12 snaps he made his presence known as a pass rusher when given the opportunity. On only five pass rush snaps he recorded three pressures (1 Ht, 2 Hu).
Palmer Continues to Struggle
So it turns out that his performance against the Rams in Week 1 was a false dawn. Palmer certainly wasn’t helped by the pressure he faced in this game (pressured on 31 of 54 drop-backs) but his performance the whole game through was poor and he was lucky to walk away with only the two interceptions to his name. But for some sharp work by Michael Floyd turning defensive back early in the second quarter he would have thrown two interceptions in the first half, and he might have had a pair in the second half had Michael Smith been able to hold onto a badly forced pass into the Seattle endzone. There was some sense of misfortune around Palmer’s second interception, bad a decision as it was under pressure to throw to the well covered Floyd, with Browner getting away with a fairly blatant tug on Floyd to pull himself into position for the interception. Call it veteran smarts by Browner if you like to get away with it, but it made Palmer’s throw look that much worse. This misfortune though doesn’t paper over the cracks of another disappointing display from Palmer who while a step forward on what the Cardinals had at quarterback last season (though at times it might not seem it) hasn’t taken this offense far enough forward to make the Cardinals competitive again.
– After going 0 of 5 with an interception on deep balls in this game, Carson Palmer now has the league’s worst accuracy percentage on deep balls. Palmer is 6 of 32 (18.8%) with four interceptions and no drops on passes targeted 20+ yards downfield this season.
– Russell Wilson, by comparison, now lies second in the same stat at 56.0% having gone 3 of 4 for 78 yards and a touchdown (his fifth of the season on deep balls) in last night’s game.
– Golden Tate drew coverage from Patrick Peterson consistently last night, and got the better of him snagging four of the five passes targeted to him in Peterson’s coverage for 77 yards.
PFF Game Ball
Back where it all started as a rookie last September, Russell Wilson produced his best display of the season to overcome the pressure in his face and lead the Seahawks to victory.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.