NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - INSIDE SLANT
This is pretty much how the West will be won -- the NFC West, that is.
Seattle plays at Arizona on Sunday night in a nationally televised game that will pretty much determine the winner of the division.
Seattle is 10-4 while Arizona is 11-3. But the Seahawks already own a win over the Cardinals. So, if Seattle beats Arizona, the Seahawks move into control of the NFC West needing only to beat St. Louis at home the following Sunday to win the division for a second straight year and third time in five years under coach Pete Carroll.
It also marks a pretty sudden transformation in fate from where Seattle was on Nov. 16, when it had lost at Kansas City to fall to 6-4 and the No. 8 spot in the NFC playoff race.
Seattle remains at No. 5 heading into the weekend. But a win against the Cardinals would put Seattle in prime position to get the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- Seattle would just need to avoid a two-team tie with the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite the meandering midseason in which the Seahawks went 5-4 from Week 2 to Week 11, Carroll said the Seahawks always believed they would end up in this situation.
"Like we had hoped I think somewhere in the middle of the year, we come down to the final part of the season with a lot at stake, a lot at hand," Carroll said. "This is a game that's going to call for everything."
Indeed it probably will, even if the Seahawks are an eight-point favorite due in large part to the uncertainty of Arizona's quarterback situation.
After injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, the Cardinals are starting Ryan Lindley, who a month ago was on San Diego's practice squad.
Lindley has started only four games, all as a rookie in 2012, and has yet to throw a touchdown pass. And now he has to go against the Legion of Boom -- the No. 1 secondary in the NFL.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman acknowledged that in a normal situation there might be a danger in overlooking Lindley.
"I guess overconfidence would be one," he said of the challenges in preparing for a quarterback for whom there is little film. "But I don't think that's one we're going to have to deal with. I think we're giving them a tremendous amount of respect, and we're going to prepare for him as if he's a starter.
"But I think some teams will be overconfident -- not having tape on him, not thinking they have to worry about him -- and then a quarterback can come out and make some throws that you weren't expecting him to make and catch people off guard. But I don't think we're going to be caught off guard because we're very ready for what he has to offer."
One part of Arizona the Seahawks have plenty of film on is an aggressive defense that ranks 14th overall (350 yards per game) but is third in points allowed (17.4 per game), due in part to forcing turnovers (the Cardinals have a plus-12 turnover differential, tied for second in the NFL) and being tough to run against (the Cardinals are sixth in run defense at 90.4).
Arizona sacked quarterback Russell Wilson seven times when Seattle beat Arizona 19-3 at home in November.
"They're tough, they're winning, they have confidence, they get after you, and at home they're going to have a great crowd, noise and all that stuff," Carroll said. "It's a great challenge for us. Our guys are ... really excited about this opportunity to go do this, but we know we're up against it. I think these are kind of the classic NFC West matchups. Defense is going to get after it and (offenses will) try to run the football both sides and all that. We'll slug it out and see what happens. We're looking forward to it."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 16-15, including three wins when the team was the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, Seattle's first game in 1976 was against the Cardinals, a 30-24 defeat at the Kingdome. Seattle has won six of the last nine, including a 19-3 win at CenturyLink Field last month.
NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Russell Wilson won his 34th game on Sunday, the most wins for any quarterback in the first three years of his NFL career. He had been tied with Dan Marino and Matt Ryan with 33.
--Seattle has won its last four games by a combined 79-27, which has moved the Seahawks to second in the NFL in scoring defense at 17.3, behind Detroit's 17.0. If Seattle were to again lead the NFL in scoring defense at the end of the season it would be the third straight season the Seahawks have accomplished that feat. The last team to do that was the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings, the famed Purple People Eaters.
--Seattle also ranks first in fewest first downs allowed at 245, or 17.5 per game. Next are the San Francisco 49ers at 18.1.
--Need proof that the Seahawks know how to finish fast under Pete Carroll? Seattle is 10-2 in December the last three years, the wins trailing only Denver's 11, and has a point differential of plus-212, the best in the NFL.
BY THE NUMBERS: 12-5 -- Seattle's record in its last 17 road games, dating to the middle of the 2012 season. Seattle is 4-3 on the road this season and can tie the second-best road record in team history with a win at Arizona, trailing only the 6-2 of last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know. We've worked real hard to be comfortable in those situations. We don't change to play in those opportunities and I don't want that kind of a moment to change what we are, who we are, so we work hard to understand that. But I don't know. That's just me guessing how it works. I don't know." -- Coach Pete Carroll, on why his Seahawks are 12-1 in prime-time games as they head into another one Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--C Max Unger remains questionable for Sunday's game while battling knee and ankle injuries. He has missed the last four games. Seattle coach Pete Carroll had hoped he would return this week but said Unger had a "tough recovery" from some heavy work in practice last week.
--LT Russell Okung's status for this week is uncertain after he suffered a bruised lung against the 49ers. He sat out practice Wednesday but Carroll said he would have some work done on Thursday that would clarify his status.
--RG J.R. Sweezy sat out practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. His status for the Arizona game is unclear.
--TE Tony Moeaki did not practice Wednesday after hurting his shoulder against the 49ers on Sunday. It's unclear if he will be able to play.
--TE Cooper Helfet was able to practice fully Wednesday and appears on track to playing for the first time since spraining an ankle in the initial win over Arizona on Nov. 23.
--RB Marshawn Lynch sat out practice Wednesday with a sore back, his usual custom.
GAME PLAN: Defensively, the Seahawks need to put the game solely in the hands of Ryan Lindley, who is essentially Arizona's fourth-team quarterback and is now filling in for the injured Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.
Lindley will be making just the fifth start of his career and first since 2012 and Seattle's goal will be to take away the running game and make him make plays. Arizona isn't the greatest running team but likes to do it a lot and has taken to that idea more than ever the last few weeks. Arizona rushed for an average of 142 yards the last two weeks in wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams. Arizona mixes in some zone blocking schemes, and the task against that is to remain patient and not allow cutback lanes.
The Cardinals say they won't vary from their vertical passing game, so the Seahawks can also expect to get tested some downfield.
Offensively, the Seahawks need to find a way to keep a relentless Arizona pass rush off Russell Wilson, who was sacked a season-high seven times in the initial meeting. Wilson was able to take advantage of that rush a few times in the first game with bootleg runs and keeping the ball on some zone reads. But that also exposes Wilson to hits.
Arizona is one of the heaviest-blitzing teams in the NFL and Seattle will have some one-on-one chances in the passing game and also needs to take advantage of those.
Another key is getting a lead. Arizona has outscored foes 102-40 in the fourth quarter this season, a key reason the Cardinals have been so successful in close games. But Seattle led the opener 19-3 going into the fourth quarter and then was able to sit on that lead and ride it out.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Seahawks Ts Justin Britt and Alvin Bailey vs. Cardinals DE Calais Campbell: Campbell had three of Arizona's seven sacks when the teams played in Seattle last month, leading a Cardinal defense that pressured Russell Wilson all day long. Arizona brings pressure from all over, but is sure to attack Seattle's edges particularly hard. Britt, a rookie, has struggled all season in pass protection, while Bailey, a second-year player, is expected to get the start at left tackle in place of the injured Russell Okung.
--Cardinals S Deone Bucannon vs. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: The Cardinals did one of the best jobs of any team all season in limiting the running of Marshawn Lynch in the first game, holding him to 39 yards. But Seattle was able to get an effective running game going due largely to Wilson, who had 73 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 40. Bucannon a rookie, seemed to get a little better read on Wilson as that game wore on, though, and will again be called upon to act as something of a spy on the Seattle quarterback. Wilson has not been running quite as much in recent weeks, but he might need to against the Cardinals.
Seahawks pass rush vs. Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley: Lindley, a third-year player, will be making his first start since 2012 and only the fifth of his career in one of the biggest games in Arizona history. Seattle's defense has been as effective the last four weeks rushing the passer as at any time this season, including getting a season-high six sacks Sunday against San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Lindley isn't anywhere near as mobile as Kaepernick.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun