Round 2 vs. Seahawks presents different test for Arizona Cardinals
TEMPE — When the Arizona Cardinals take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, it’ll be 21 days since the two met in Week 6.
Despite the quick turnaround and knowledge Arizona has on Seattle, the Seahawks enter the NFC West clash with atop the division, riding a three-game winning streak and sporting a new look.
The defense doesn’t look so bottom of the barrel anymore, improving their points allowed per game from 30.8 to 24.9. They aren’t relying on the passing attack to win games as much as before, with rookie Kenneth Walker shouldering the load. And they’re doing so relatively cleanly.
“They have changed,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “I think (Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s) plan of playing good D, running the football and not turning the ball over is definitely in effect. You can see his print on that team.
“The first time we played them it was a lot more taking shots and being aggressive in the pass game but the last two weeks, it’s been more run game. It’s been more two tight ends, 13-personnel sets and more Walker than pass game. They’re definitely different than we saw the first time and teams do evolve. It happens each week.”
Since putting up 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in his first career start against the Cardinals, Walker has racked up 218 yards and three scores on 41 attempts. He’s averaging just over five yards per carry across three starts.
For his efforts, Walker picked up Offensive Rookie of the Month for October.
Joseph wasn’t lying when he said this kid was something else ahead of the Week 6 meeting.
“Trust my evaluation, right?” Joseph said. “The more he plays, the better he looks. Every game, he’s making runs that are that special. He’s making guys miss, he’s breaking tackles with his quickness and with his power and his legs. He’s catching the ball better.
“Watching this kid early on, I knew he was going to be a good player, but boy, he’s coming on fast. Every game, he’s making game-changing play.”
And with quarterback Geno Smith, who continues to outperform expectations and is coming off back-to-back games of at least 210 yards and two touchdowns, alongside Walker, the offense is a much tougher out than many originally thought not long ago.
The same is starting to be said about the defense, too.
Turning to another rookie in cornerback Tariq Woolen, the unit has grown since it last met up with quarterback Kyler Murray and Co.
On his way to picking up Defensive Rookie of the Month for October, the cornerback racked up three picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown, five passes defensed, 19 tackles and two forced fumbles across five games.
Thanks to the upped play from Woolen, the Seahawks have seen a nice jump in their pass defense, allowing 236.6 yards through the air per game. Entering the team’s Week 6 matchup with the Cardinals, Seattle was allowing 359.8 yards per game.
“They’re on a three-game winning streak, so they’re playing extremely confident,” tight end Zach Ertz said Thursday. “They haven’t changed too much, but I feel like their confidence level and intensity has kind of raised as they’ve grown more confident in the scheme.”
But while the Seahawks give off a different vibe entering Round 2, the same can be said about the Cardinals.
Unlike Week 6, Arizona will have it’s best offensive weapon on the field in DeAndre Hopkins. The wideout has been on a mission since his return from a six-game PED suspension, racking up 262 yards and a touchdown on 22 catches (27 targets).
His presence has helped foster better offensive outputs for Arizona, too, with the unit averaging 27 points per game over the past two outings. And with extra eyes needed on Hopkins, that should open up some opportunities for those around him.
Getting starting running back James Conner, who hasn’t played since Week 5 due to injury, back in the fold alongside Eno Benjamin could also go a long way against a defense that is 28th against the run (140.8 yards per game).
While Benjamin has filled in admirably in place of Conner, turning three starts into 151 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries, the return of the bullying back would present a two-headed rushing attack for an offense that runs at its best with multiple options in the backfield.