As has become tradition around these parts, any time the Cardinals get set to face the Seattle Seahawks we reach out to 710AM Seattle’s Brady Henderson for a little insight into the team.
Henderson covers the two-time defending NFC champs for MyNorthwest.com, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about them.
It’s with that in mind I asked him a handful of questions to try and learn a little more about Arizona’s Week 10 opponent ahead of what is, up to this point, the biggest game of the season.
*Note: Brady did the same thing for his site, asking me questions about the Cardinals. Those answers can be found here.
Adam Green: It’s good to hear from you, Brady. When looking at the Seahawks, I see a team that again has a solid defense but is struggling mightily on offense – especially in the passing game. In Arizona, Cards fans are accustomed to poor offensive lines derailing seasons, is that what’s happening in Seattle?
Brady Henderson: Poor offensive line play has been as big of a factor as any in Seattle’s 4-4 start. Pass protection specifically has been the problem. The Seahawks have allowed a league-high 31 sacks, which at one point put them on pace to approach the NFL’s single-season record of 76. And who knows how high that total would be if it weren’t for Russell Wilson’s ability to escape pressure. Now, there were expected to be some growing pains with that group. It lost two starters from last year then moved Justin Britt from right tackle to left guard in training camp. They began the season with Drew Nowak at center and Garry Gilliam at right tackle, neither of whom had ever started an NFL game. Patrick Lewis is now the starter at center. So all told, there are only two players playing in the same spot from last year. Perhaps Seattle underestimated how long it would take for a newly-configured offensive line with three young players to come together. The frequent breakdowns in pass protection have forced Wilson to improvise, abandoning the scripted play to try and make something happen. At times it has worked, but for the most part it has hamstrung Seattle’s offense. The Dallas game was encouraging. Seattle didn’t allow a sack for the first time this season, partly because of an emphasis to get the ball out quicker but also partly because the pass protection was better. And that was with a backup at left tackle who was replacing an injured Russell Okung. I would expect Seattle’s game-plans from here on out to feature plenty of those quicker throws to make things a little easier on Wilson and the offensive line.
AG: Keeping with the offense, save for potential game-winning plays at the end of a Super Bowl, traditionally Seattle’s was one based on Marshawn Lynch. He has seemed to struggle this year, though, and is not even his own team’s leading rusher. Is “Beast Mode” now “Least Mode” (see what I did there?)?
BH: Well played. It has been a very un-Lynch-like season, both in terms of his health and his production. He had only missed one game since he was acquired in a trade midway through the 2010 season before missing two of them and the better part of a third with hamstring and calf injuries. He’s only scored twice and he’s on pace to finish with fewer than 1,000 yards for the first time since 2010. Along with his injuries, inconsistent run-blocking has been one of the issues, though it’s hard to pin his slow start entirely on that when rookie Thomas Rawls has been productive behind the same offensive line. Lynch looked like the Lynch we’re accustomed to seeing two weeks ago in San Francisco when he rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He’s healthy now and in theory he should be fresher than he typically is at the midpoint having missed time earlier in the season. In other words, it’s way too early to write him off.
AG: Historically, the Cardinals have really struggled defending tight ends, so you can imagine how worried folks were when the Seahawks traded for Jimmy Graham in the offseason. But so far, the three-time Pro Bowler has yet to really get going. Is he just a bad fit with his new team or is he on the verge of breaking out?
BH: There’s been an adjustment for Graham going from New Orleans to Seattle. He’s being asked to block more, for one, and he’s also getting accustomed to the frequency with which Wilson scrambles, which requires receivers to improvise along with him. That wasn’t the case with Drew Brees in New Orleans. All that said, Graham’s 38 catches for 450 yards are pretty much in line with expectations for how much he would produce in a run-first offense. And he’s been targeted almost as much over the last three games as he was over the first five. Graham has only scored twice, which qualifies as a big disappointment considering how big of a factor he was expected to be in the red zone. The Seahawks are dead-last in red-zone offense this season. If they’re going to fix that problem and start scoring more touchdowns as opposed to settling for field goals, Graham has to be more of a factor close to the goal line.
AG: Switching sides, Seattle’s defense is once again strong, ranking second in the NFL in total yards allowed as well as points per game surrendered. Their strength appears to be defending the pass, with the “Legion of Boom” still being very formidable. How do you see them matching up with Arizona’s dynamic and diverse passing attack?
BH: I’m curious to see what the Seahawks do with Richard Sherman in this game. They’ve been much more willing this season to move him around than they have in years past, when he almost exclusively stuck to left cornerback. He spent a lot of the first game against St. Louis in the slot and has at times since then covered the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. He completely shut out San Francisco’s Torrey Smith and held Dallas’ Dez Bryant to 12 yards and also neutralized Cincinnati’s A.J. Green after he beat Cary Williams on a pair of deep passes in the first quarter of that game. I could see Sherman following Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday, but I think that would be an easier call if Arizona’s second and third options weren’t as good. The Seahawks have been excellent at defending deep throws the past few seasons but got burned several times against the Bengals. They’ll have to do a much better job against an Arizona team that is just as aggressive with down-field throws.
AG: The Seahawks haven’t always been pretty over the last couple of years, but they had a knack for pulling out victories when maybe they shouldn’t. This year, however, that has not been the case. Close losses are all over their schedule, some of which were games the ‘Hawks coughed up late. Once viewed as unbeatable, Seattle now seems very beatable. The aura that used to surround them seems to be gone, but is their confidence still in-tact?
BH: Seattle’s season has shown how razor-thin the margin can be between victory and defeat. The Seahawks held fourth-quarter leads in all four of their losses. A play here and there, and they could be 7-1 or even 8-0. At the same time, two of their four wins have been decided by a combined four points, which means they could just as easily be 2-6. Seattle lost 17- and nine-point leads against Cincinnati and Carolina, respectively. As much as the defense has been blamed for the Seahawks’ inability to finish at times this season, their offense hasn’t done its part to extend those leads, either. The Seahawks’ defense shut the door in the second halves of their wins over San Francisco and Dallas. Their offense only score a combined six points in those games, but it has held onto the ball long enough to limit the opponents’ time of possession. As much as the Seahawks struggled at the ends of games earlier in the season, the last two suggest they may be regaining their finishing touch.
BH: Forgive me while I bury the lede for a moment here. Games against Arizona have been the most difficult to predict. The first meeting last season, Seattle won despite allowing seven sacks. Just when you thought the rematch would be low-scoring nail-biter, the Seahawks set a franchise record for yards gained en route to a blowout win. This one isn’t any easier to predict. Arizona and Seattle seem fairly evenly matched; the three-point spread in favor of the home team suggests the Las Vegas oddsmakers agree. Arizona has been the better team this season, but the Seahawks are more desperate, they’re playing at home and they seem to have found answers to what had been their biggest issues at the start of the season. Seattle 19, Arizona 17.
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