Steve Keim, GM for the Arizona Cardinals, sat on a rather hot seat merely 19 months ago. After a single season, the franchise was moving on from a sizable investment in QB Josh Rosen after a single season. The subsequent marriage he ordained between Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury – not to mention swindling the Texans out of the best Wide Receiver in the league – has earned him staying power at the franchise’s helm. Hopkins catching the walk-off ‘Hail Murray’ last week may seem fluky, but don’t those moments seem to be apparent with aspiring contenders? Teams that go onto win the Lombardi are good, yes, but also fortuitous. Whether it be the team’s health, or those epic moments that defy the odds. What I’m saying is, true as it may be, it’s probably unwise to perceive the Cardinals as a team one Hail Mary away from 5-4. They’re legit and that catch single-handedly altered the implications for this week’s matchup.
If you’re of the belief that “must win” games exist void of mathematical equation, Thursday’s bout between Arizona and Seattle certainly exemplifies all of that. Getting swept by the Cardinals would mean the fate of the division crown is no longer solely controlled by the outcome of Seattle’s games. Arizona would have complete control of their destiny with a rather favorable remaining schedule. Seattle would need external help to accomplish their #1 annual goal of winning the NFC West.
Typically, you must dig for intrigue when talking about mid-season Thursday night matchups. However, this game deserves the spotlight and provides a cornucopia of bulletin points. The culmination of what Keim envisioned has come to this. Overall, Cardinals brass should be elated with what they’ve got brewing, because it’s passed the smell test. But can you sweep Seattle and take command of a division they’ve dominated over the last decade? This is easily Kingsbury’s biggest game in pro ranks. With Russell Wilson under center, Seattle has never dropped three consecutive games. Yet, who wants to face Arizona coming off the victory they just had? This feels like the most important game in the conference thus far. Over the span of his career, Russell has played his worst month of football. Is this the week he course corrects to regain control of the MVP race? Kyler will have something to say about that, as he certainly deserves a bid in the coveted accolade as well.
Outside of the QB duel, the key matchups come down to positions where Seattle is injured. In their week 7 game, Tyler Lockett posted career bests in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Lockett is among a long list of players deemed questionable, with a knee sprain. If the Seahawks are without Tyler, rising superstar DK Metcalf MUST be a factor. He cannot be silenced the way he was against Jalen Ramsey. Considering what Seattle’s defense has shown thus far, I do not see a scenario where Metcalf is shut out, and the Seahawks win. Despite hedging for Carson and Penny being injured, Seattle is somehow still dealing with RB durability. Thankfully, Carlos Hyde is set to return and should elevate the offense if not at least for the purpose of experience and physicality.
Perhaps the biggest question is: who will be snapping the ball to Wilson? Starter Ethan Pocic is still recovering form a concussion and backup Kyle Fuller is apparently going to try and play on 4 days rest from a high ankle sprain. In a normal year, the team would have options. For example, Justin Britt would be plug and play but due to the league’s protocol with COVID-19, the Seahawks would not have Britt available in time to suit for this game. If Fuller can’t go, Jamarco Jones will start at Center. Not ideal considering he’s never played the position in the pro or collegiate ranks.
On defense, Seattle’s secondary desperately needs their starting corners healthy. Arizona deploys 10 personnel 20% of the time, which ranks 1st across the entire league. Traditionally you would defend this with Dime personnel. Without Griffin or Dunbar, Seattle’s healthy cornerbacks are Flowers, Amadi, Reed, Stephens, and Stanley. Carroll suggested they could use Ryan Neal at corner in a pinch, as well. My guess is they’ll continue to avoid using dime personnel all together as it wasn’t a part of the gameplan in the previous Cardinals game (which included a healthy Griffin and Dunbar). I believe the way the front seven plays in this game and throughout the season is what determines Seattle’s staying power. If the Seahawks can pressure without blitzing Adams so frequently, and if they can do a better job of containing Murray on 3rd down, I’m confident the defense can do just enough to prevent the game from turning into another shootout. We know this defense is playing far from expectation but we also understand when they’re playing their best, they can still shutdown the run, clamp down in the red zone, and be opportunistic when takeaways present themselves.
They can say every week is a championship opportunity. That they won’t treat it differently than any other week. I stopped believing that years ago. Every season there comes a moment where the Seahawks lose their focus. A captain steps forward to corral the team to inspire and reignite the fire within. If you’ve watched Seattle closely for the last decade, you know exactly what I’m referring to. It may only be week 10 but that time is now. I can’t explain how, but I just have a feeling the Seahawks are going to find a way to win this game. I can’t imagine a Pete Carroll team showing up after the last two weeks continuing to perform so uncharacteristically. I can’t imagine another game where Wilson has multiple bone-headed turnovers. I’m not even really suggesting they’re going to dominate Arizona. If they can just survive and reclaim that edge they inevitably lose along the way in each season, they’ll be through the toughest stretch of their schedule. Afterward, they go on a long break to get healthy before returning to action against the Eagles on Monday Night Football.
First things first though. Beak Week round 2.