Water is wet, and the Cardinals must stop Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Sep 28, 2018, 3:48 PM
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) protects the football as he is sacked by Arizona Ca...
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) protects the football as he is sacked by Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones, right, in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

TEMPE, Ariz. — A turnstile at linebacker aside, the Arizona Cardinals haven’t been as unstable on defense as the first three final scores of the year might suggest.

Assuming that steady improvement will continue in Week 4 might be tenuous considering it’s the Russell Wilson-led Seattle Seahawks visiting State Farm Stadium on Sunday.

As it’s been for the last six-plus years since Wilson stepped in as Seattle’s starter, the gameplan is predictable for Wilks and Arizona defensive coordinator Al Holcomb. Executing against Wilson, of course, isn’t so easy.

“Over the years, we kind of referred to him as Houdini in a helmet,” Holcomb said Thursday. “You know, tries to make you miss, extend plays and things like that.”

Seattle’s offense — new faces and all — got back to a pounding, relentless attack in Week 3 thanks to a healthy offensive line that welcomed back right guard D.J. Fluker, thus moving J.R. Sweezy to left guard. Despite averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per rush, Seattle ran the ball 39 times with the second-year pro Carson taking 32 carries for 102 yards.

“They don’t have the household names they’ve had in the past,” Wilks said, “but 32, (Chris) Carson is a phenomenal back. We got to stop the run.”

That persistence in the run game is all about setting up Wilson, who has receiver Doug Baldwin healthy and ready to play after missing the last two-plus games with a knee injury.

“The back seven has got to be able to plaster — what we call plaster the routes,” Holcomb said. “We got to match up man-to-man at that point. We got to put a body on a body and hope plays don’t get extended.”

Wilson took a battering in the first two games of the year, against Denver and Chicago. He was sacked 12 times and hit 19 more before the protection held up better against Dallas last week during the Seahawks’ 24-13 win. He had a nice pocket to work with on a 52-yard strike to Tyler Lockett.

The quarterback completed 16 of 26 passes for 192 yards. It was his smallest total this year, but he threw two touchdowns and for the first time didn’t turn the ball over.

Even if protection does break down, Arizona will have its work cut out. The Cardinals struggled against another mobile quarterback, Alex Smith, in a Week 1 loss to Washington.

“Don’t bite for the pump-fake because that’s what he’s good at — get people off their feet, get them jumping, get them in the air to buy more time,” Patrick Peterson said of Wilson. “When we blitz him and rush him, make sure we run through his legs because he can’t run without those.”

The prospect of stopping Seattle’s offense, even if it found success last week, could provide hope for a Cardinals team starting rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and hoping its defense can finally come through.

Chandler Jones will be setting one edge for Arizona on Sunday with fellow end Markus Golden entering his second game back from a nearly year-long ACL recovery. The secondary, despite an open cornerback competition, is coming off its best performance of the year.

What’s waiting for the Seahawks on the second level, run or pass, remains more of a mystery, however. Arizona’s rotation at linebacker has shifted in each game so far, but in Week 3, Wilks went heavily to sets featuring five or even six defensive backs. Jamar Taylor and fellow corner Bene Benwikere are not only vying for a starting role but attempting to steal snaps from linebackers.

Facing a quarterback with Wilson’s mobility, of course, could be a worry for an Arizona team still searching for its best 11 players. A run-heavy Seattle offense could force Wilks to turn to traditional three-linebacker sets, thus putting faith in first-round picks Deone Bucannon or Haason Reddick, who hardly played in Week 3.

In general, the Cardinals’ defense has been put in bad spots by an anemic offense so far this year.

Through Week 3, the unit ranked 16th in fewest passing yards allowed per game, though it’s allowing 8.5 yards per attempt, tied for sixth-worst. The Cardinals have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards per game, though opponents have run against them more than any other teams’ opponents have this year. Arizona is allowing 3.7 yards per rush, not a bad figure.

All that is reasonable considering the Cardinals’ defense has been on the field more than any defensive unit in the NFL through three weeks, averaging three more minutes of game time per outing than the next-most worn defense in the league.

They feel like they’re close.

“Last week, we showed what we were showing in the preseason, so that felt good,” Taylor said Friday.

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