TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s a classic case of strength meets strength.
The Seattle Seahawks and their No. 2 pass defense matching up with the Arizona Cardinals and their fourth-ranked passing attack.
It’s the kind of matchup people look forward to seeing; coaches, not so much.
“No, not really,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said when asked if matchups like this are fun to coach in. “I’d much rather play somebody else. As long as we can block their front four on a consistent basis, we’ll be OK.”
Heading into this weekend, the Seahawks have allowed an average of 186 yards per game through the air. Quarterbacks have posted a rating of 85.6 against them while averaging a paltry 6.7 yards per attempt. The secondary is led by cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Cary Williams along with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and has long been regarded as one of the best in the league.
Throughout Arizona’s locker room, there is a healthy amount of respect for what the Seahawks can do against the pass, but it’s important not to mistake that for fear.
“Most definitely, there’s no fear at all,” receiver John Brown said. “These are the games that we prepare for and these are the games that we want.”
While the Seahawks’ secondary deserves all the accolades it has received, the Cardinals have every reason to believe their offense can have success Sunday night.
Larry Fitzgerald (55 receptions, 706 yards, seven TDs), John Brown (37 receptions, 562 yards, three TDs) and Michael Floyd (20 receptions, 319 yards, three TDs) form what ProFootballFocus.com ranked as the best receiving corps in the league, and all season long have — combined with an effective running game and useful options at tight end — proved to be too much to handle for pretty much every opponent they’ve come across. Even in Arizona’s two losses, to the St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, they passed for 334 and 414 yards, respectively.
Last season the Cardinals threw for 204 and 187 yards in a pair of losses to the Seahawks, though they did not have starting quarterback Carson Palmer for either game. Out with an ACL injury then, he has returned this season and thrown for 2,386 yards and 20 touchdown passes in eight games, and his presence has understandably given the Cardinals a jolt of confidence.
As does the play of his wide receivers.
“We’ll find out on Sunday,” Palmer said of how his group matches up with Seattle. “I wouldn’t rather go in there with any other five wideouts, especially our top three.”
The beauty of Arizona’s passing game is that a defense, in theory, cannot take away every one of Palmer’s options. Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said he thinks that makes it difficult for a team like Seattle, who cannot choose to put Sherman, their best cover corner, on one player and expect to neutralize the Cardinals.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Sherman said he’ll cover whoever his coaches ask him to. Some plays that may be Fitzgerald, others it could be Brown or Floyd. Either way, he should have his hands full, but also an opportunity to make plays. After all, no one expects the Cardinals to back down from their normal game plan of taking some shots down the field — no matter who is lining up against their receivers.
“It’s always a great competitive matchup when we play these guys,” Sherman said. “Just great respect for both sides and there are always some unique battles down the field. Obviously, we’ve been playing Larry and Michael for three or four years now, and John Brown has come on as of late. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be an interesting game.”
Interesting? Probably. Intense? Definitely.
Goodwin said his receivers definitely get excited to face one of the league’s best secondaries as it’s a chance to show just how good they are. Facing off against Arizona’s defensive backs in practice helps, he noted, since there is plenty of talent there as well.
“I know they’re excited, and I know they’re even more excited because Carson’s back there,” he said. “Just like any other game, as long as we can protect there’s going to be opportunities to put the ball down the field, but it starts up front and me and my group have to do a great job.”
Indeed, the easiest way to short-circuit an electric passing game is by getting after the quarterback, so it is imperative that Arizona’s offensive line gives Palmer enough time to find his targets. Seattle has amassed 20 sacks this season, with Michael Bennett (6.5), Bruce Irvin (4.5) and Cliff Avril (3.5) doing most of the damage.
The Cardinals have allowed just 11 sacks all season, which has allowed Palmer and the passing game to thrive. They have yet to face a secondary as strong as Seattle’s, which makes Sunday’s game a bit of a proving ground for them.
And you know what? While they’d surely rather play a lesser opponent, as Arians said, there is value in the opportunity to step up and outclass one of the league’s best groups.
“You hear about the Legion of Boom all the time and to be able to have the chance to play against them, with our starting quarterback especially, it’s a lot of fun,” receiver Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot of confidence in our skill guys.”
Some stories for pre-game reading
As Craig Grialou reports, the Cardinals know the road to the top of the NFC West goes through Seattle.
Jimmy Graham is not putting up the kind of numbers he did in New Orleans, but Arizona knows he is still a tough cover.
John Gambadoro believes all the pressure in Sunday’s game rests on the home team’s shoulders.
The Cardinals would like to have a rivalry with the Seahawks because that would mean they have beaten them a few times.
The last time the Cardinals faced the Seahawks with Carson Palmer, they won. In Seattle.
Some Arizona Sports 98.7 FM hosts made predictions for Sunday’s game.
And in “Double Coverage” Brady Henderson, who covers the Seahawks for ESPN 710 in Seattle (think the me of that station) answers some questions about the team.
The Arizona Cardinals wide receivers got high praise from Pro Football Focus.
More stories from the Seattle side of things
The Seahawks have intercepted just three passes, though they’re more concerned with points allowed.
ESPN 710 AM’s Danny O’Neil believes limiting big passing plays is the key to beating Arizona.
In “Chalk Talk,” Brock Huard explains how the Cardinals will try and contain Russell Wilson.
-A touchdown reception by Larry Fitzgerald would give him eight on the season, a mark that would tie a career high through nine games. Fitzgerald is also 79 receiving yards shy of surpassing his yardage total all of last season.
-A 100-yard or more rushing effort from Chris Johnson would tie a franchise record for consecutive games with 100+ rushing yards at three.
-The last time the Cardinals played the Seahawks in Seattle, defensive lineman Calais Campbell recorded three sacks. Cards coach Bruce Arians has maintained the Pro Bowler should have had even more.
-Remember that long TD run Marshawn Lynch had against the Cardinals in Glendale last season, the one where he made a gesture while diving into the end zone? Bruce Arians does.
“Not me. I didn’t get my ass run over,” he answered when asked if it motivates the team at all. “Hopefully with the guys that got their ass run over, it motivates them.”
-Michael Floyd needs a TD catch Sunday to become the first player since Larry Fitzgerald in 2013 to record a touchdown reception in four straight games.
-The Cardinals are acutely aware of Russell Wilson’s ability to burn him with his legs after he burned them for a combined 161 yards in two games last season. Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said they will absolutely change their approach to rushing the QB.
“Rush very aware of your rush lane integrity. Taking chances can cost you big,” he said. “Look back last year, we had the one scramble coming out of the goal line where someone jumped out of their rush lane and 40 yards later it’s a field position change for us.”
-Given an extra week to prepare for the game, the Cardinals are clearly amped up for the contest, and Arians does not see that as an issue.
“Any night game, Sunday or Monday night, they’re going to be a little more jacked up, and it’s a big division game so you would want them jacked up,” he said. “But snot bubbles and tears don’t win [expletive]. As soon as you get hit in the mouth, they dry up.”