Should be weird: Kyler’s Cardinals come for Seahawks’ red zone crown
When it’s supposed to be a battle of two explosive offenses, the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks will go at each others’ throats and finish overtime with a 6-6 tie.
If it’s supposed to be Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray holding a fourth-quarter lead and needing to put away veteran Russell Wilson, it will end up as Arizona backup Brett Hundley doing it instead.
Lately, home field has meant nothing.
In summation, Arizona and Seattle meeting never goes as you think it will. Hell, their Week 7 game has already been rescheduled from an afternoon game to Sunday Night Football.
“There’s been nothing normal in 2020,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “This week will probably be just as weird as always.”
The theme of something going the complete opposite direction as expected is going to happen some way or another.
Seattle (5-0) leads the NFL by averaging 33.8 points per game, while Arizona (4-2) has the second-best defense by holding teams to 18.7 points through Week 6. It’s probably no coincidence that the Seahawks lead the league by converting 16 of their 18 trips (88.9%) to the red zone, while the Cardinals have the second-best red-zone defense (41.7%).
At least a few of those things won’t stay on trend.
What you can bet on is that Wilson, the NFL’s leader in passer rating, will give his team a chance to win. He completed 73% of his passes for 1,502 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions before last week’s bye.
“He makes the entire football team go — his personality and his play-making ability,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “I think they purposefully keep games close until the fourth quarter to allow Russell to take them over and to win ’em.”
It’s helped that leading Seattle receiver D.K. Metcalf has grown leaps and bounds from a year ago, when his raw athleticism translated immediately. Metcalf has 496 yards, five touchdowns and has done that on just 22 receptions for a gaudy 22.5 yards per catch.
Joseph has seen a transformation for the second-year receiver, who has caught the ball more consistently and “has improved 80%” as a route-runner.
The Cardinals, though, feel good coming off their best defensive performance. Notably, the secondary that held the Dallas Cowboys to 10 points last week is in sync and potentially at full strength if safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) is activated.
“When your secondary is playing good, it makes it easy to call a game because you feel good about calling certain pressures, you feel good about closing the middle on first, second, third down without the anxiety of giving the big play up,” Joseph said.
Here is where we get to the obvious narrative.
Obviously, holding down coverage is harder against the mobile Wilson, whose big shots down the field usually materialize from extended plays.
Murray — the short former baseball player who broke NFL stereotypes — will need to keep pace.
The good news for the Cardinals is they haven’t floundered once they get drives going. In 20 red zone trips, Arizona has converted 16 times (80%).
Like Wilson, who more utilizes his legs to cause problems near the goal-line, Murray’s athleticism in the red zone creates more time and more opportunities — and it gives head coach Kliff Kingsbury more play-calls.
Murray’s six touchdown runs this season were from 1, 2, 1, 14, 21 and 22 yards out. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to record both a passing and rushing touchdown in five of his first six games of a season.
After his 9-of-24 passing performance for 188 yards and two passing touchdowns last week, eyes will be on Murray to get the Arizona air attack right. Or should we focus more on his 10 rushes for 74 yards that included a touchdown?
“I think we definitely left some things out there,” Kingsbury said of Murray’s game against the Cowboys, before making a point. “But at the end of the day, I think he had a pretty dominant performance just with his presence — extending plays, the runs he made, the throws he hit when he needed to hit them.
“We still have not hit our stride offensively, and I think more than anything that’s encouraging. We’ve got to hit it here soon because we have a great Seattle team coming in and scoring a bunch of points and has a tremendous defense.”
Added Fitzgerald: “It’s Seattle like it always is.”
So, probably weird.