Forget Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch, who are clearly the first two priorities for the Arizona Cardinals defense this week.
OK, so maybe the Cardinals shouldn’t forget them. But for the sake of proving how versatile and difficult the Seattle Seahawks offense can become this season — despite relatively underwhelming returns through a 4-4 start — consider Arizona’s recent history facing Seahawks tight ends.
It could make coach Bruce Arians wince, but Seattle’s offseason addition of Jimmy Graham only leads the concerns to grow.
“Jimmy’s a great player,” Arians told the media on Tuesday. “I think it took him a while to find his role. He’s started to catch a lot of balls. It still starts with Marshawn, and Russell. We’ve had a little problem covering tight-ends on bootlegs in the last couple games with them.”
The first of two meetings last season saw the Cardinals fall 19-3, and without doing a double-take into the memory banks, it wouldn’t seem like tight end coverage was an issue.
Upon review, Seattle’s third-, fourth- and fifth-best receivers in terms of yardage that game were tight ends. Tony Moeaki, Cooper Helfet and Luke Willson combined for seven catches on as many targets for 82 yards and a touchdown.
It only got worse in the late-season matchup.
Alone, Willson caught three balls for 139 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-6 Seahawks victory.
“The biggest thing is just staying disciplined, doing your job,” said Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell. “They’re too good. Their whole game plan is to do the same things a couple different ways and see, you know, who’s going to (not be in) their gap, who’s going to blow their assignment.”
The addition of Graham adds more threat of Arizona’s defensive backs getting burned by big tight end plays down the field.
It’s taken some time for the former New Orleans Saint to make a difference, but he’s coming around with his new team. In the Seahawks’ last three games, Graham has been targeted 10 or more times for the first two times this season.
During a loss to the still-undefeated Panthers three weeks back, the 6-foot-7, 265 pound tight end caught eight balls (12 targets) for 140 yards. He tallied 70 receiving yards on seven catches (10 targets) against the Cowboys last week.
“Russell Wilson has an extra playmaker over there,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It was just tough trying to stop him and Marshawn, but now we have to kind of stop a three-headed monster. I’m sure (Graham’s) targets will go up. They’ll start scheming and game-planning to get him in the end zone much more. We have to be ready, man.”
Center Lyle Sendlein is dealing with a shoulder injury and has an outside shot to play after sitting out practice Tuesday, according to Arians.
“We’ll see what he can do tomorrow,” the Cardinals head coach told reporters. “He’s a tough guy. There’s always a chance with him. I’ve seen him play through it before. I’d rather have a full-speed guy than an 80 percent hurt guy.”
Arians added that A.Q. Shipley is the likely starter at center and has given up his fullback duties that Arizona tinkered with while tight end Darren Fells was injured.
Meanwhile, outside linebacker Alex Okafor said he’s 100 percent and set to play as much as needed. A calf injury sidelined the third-year pro in Arizona’s Oct. 11 win against the Detroit Lions and he hasn’t played since.