Seahawks vs Cardinals: A scrupulous look

Hopefully this will happen frequently on Sunday - Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The latest prediction for the Seahawks’ next game.

A Retrospect

All is well in the world. I don't know why I love to seeing Eli throw interceptions. He seems like a nice guy and I don't think he's ever made himself unlikable. Whatever it is, I loved Sunday and its five picks.

The game against the Giants was a defensive one. Neither the Seahawks nor the Giants looked particularly explosive. Perhaps the most ugly part was that neither offense seemed to be capable of stringing together long drives.

The game though, was still beautiful. If you don't think Richard Sherman picking off another go-route is sexy I don't know what to tell you. I would much rather see our third corner - Byron Maxwell - pick off two passes than see neutrally attractive women in magazines while waiting for the register. Another beauty is statistical in nature. According to Aaron Schatz over at football outsiders, "four of the five passes to Hakeem Nicks were intercepted (although one was a Hail Mary)."

Another shout out should go to the rush defense which held Andre Brown to just 17 yards. There had been a lot of positive buzz surrounding Brown before the game. To see him floored is comforting.

This next section allows readers to assess how well my predictions have played out. As always, this post will rely heavily on stats (all stats through week 15), mostly from football outsiders. You can read more here.

On to the recap!

Where my predictions were right!

  • Russell would finish with around 250 yards and 50 yards rushing.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Eli would have 2 interceptions.
  • Brown would have around 50 yards and 3.3 per carry.
  • Lynch would have around 80 yards (4.1 per carry).
  • Wilson wouldn't be under too much pressure.

Somewhere in between.

At a Glance

In one of the more exciting games of the week, the Arizona Cardinals travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks at home. In their last meeting, the Seahawks comfortably defeated the Cardinals. Seattle moved the ball with ease, and held fast on defense. Since that game however, the Cardinals have improved immensely, and could potentially steal a playoff spot from the Panthers (yes, please).

With twelve wins on the season already (twelve was my preseason prediction), the Seahawks can clinch the best record in the NFC with a win. However, even if they falter, they still have one more game at the Clink to secure home field throughout. This should be a fun game.

The Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals' Offense

This and future sections may be a bit smaller due to the fact that I've already gone over the Cardinals once. Arizona has certainly changed, but many of the statements I made last game will still stand.

With the Cardinals, we'll start off broad. Their offense ranks 20th by offensive DVOA. In general, they like to throw the ball quite a bit. Carson Palmer is 11th in the league with 498 pass attempts. His yards per attempt are also pretty high at 7.41 (11th in the league). It's very possible that Carson will finish the 2013 with over 4000 yards passing. With 21 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, Palmer owns an 86.5 passer rating (53.5 - QBR). In all, this had led to the 15th ranked pass offense by football outsider's numbers. Relatedly, Palmer is 18th in DVOA, and 15th in DYAR.

Catching the passes are a notable one-two punch - Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd currently leads the team in receiving yards with 58 receptions for 919 (15.8 yards per catch), but Fitzgerald isn't far behind with 73 catches for 823 yards (11.3). After those two is a considerable drop-off. Three receivers all have about 370 yards: Rob Housler, Andre Roberts, and Andre Ellington, and then a number of other receivers fill out the rest of the yards.

Since the last meeting, Carson Palmer has done a much better job of, well doing his job. Since that game, he's played in 7 games and has thrown for 1948 yards, 13 TDs and just 4 interceptions. The largest reason behind the swell has been Palmer's protection. Both Bradley Sowell and Eric Winston have provided more time for Palmer to throw in recent weeks and he's shown what he can do with it.

On the other hand, it's hard to argue the offensive line has improved the rushing offense. The Cardinals have been an improved rushing offense since their game against Seattle, but that may have more to do with opponents and the fact that they're using Andre Ellington more (wow, who knew!?). I wouldn't say that the rushing game has improved very much from the last meeting.

The Arizona Cardinals' Defense

Of the two sides, the Cardinals' defense has seen less turnover from the last game - both in personnel and play. The biggest loss of course, has been Tyrann Mathieu. I think his play has been a tad overstated this season, but he's been very good. In fact, I think he's going to be very good for a long time in Arizona which is a shame. Taking over Mathieu's spot is Yeremiah Bell - a serviceable veteran.

As for the rest of the defense, you should know them all by now. Calais Campbell on the edge, Darnell Dockett causing havoc inside, Daryl Washington shooting inside gaps, Karlos Dansby defying age, Patrick Peterson - the second best cornerback from his class, and of course, John Abraham forcing his way into the Hall of Fame. It's an intimidating defense with few weaknesses.

Overall the Cardinals' defense ranks 2nd in team defense (by DVOA). Their component parts are also impressive ranking 4th in pass defense DVOA and 2nd in rush defense DVOA. Not only do they rank highly in the more general stats, but their peripherals are great too. They rank 10th in adjusted sack rate, 2nd in adjusted line yards (defensive), and their only weakness in pass defense may be against tight ends (though they're not bad there either). The other tendency may be weakness against slot receivers, but again, that's a stretch. Frankly, I'm surprised at how effective the Seahawks were the first time.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks! The Seahawks are number one baby! They're certifiably great too. Kenneth mentioned it too, but the Seahawks rate as one of the best of all time through 14 games. The only concerning element of the Seahawks now is the run game, but should we be concerned?

As Danny O'Neil has pointed out the rush offense hasn't looked the same the past few weeks. When something like this happens, we have to dissect the claim from a number of different angles. To start, have the Seahawks really struggled? In the past four games Lynch has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. I'd count that as struggling. Alright, what about strength of schedule? According to football outsiders, the Seahawks have faced the just an average slate of opponents over the past four games. To be more specific, the past four Seahawks' opponents are ranked: 13, 7, 22, and 23 (average: ~16) against the run. Averaging rankings is going to lose some of the fidelity of the data, but it's still illustrative. The Seahawks haven't faced a particularly tough schedule, they've played at home and away, they haven't been too far ahead in at least two of the games and they've clearly been struggling by both visual accounts and statistical accounts.

I'm not going to start analyzing tape now because that's not my strong suit, but my observation would point to the offensive line as the main reason for the struggles. Further, the problems of the run game coincide with the return of the two tackles, which would make sense. Should Seahawks fans be worried? I'm not sure I would say so. Four games is a quarter of the season, but it's possible to have four poor games in a row. Coaches can adjust, and we could see a breakthrough soon. If the Seahawks continue to struggle I would be worried, but as it is, I think we should just keep a watchful eye.

Matchups

Cardinals' Offense vs Seahawks' Defense

In the last game against the Seahawks, the Cardinals scored 22 points. That's actually the third most points scored against the Seahawks all season. Can Arizona fans expect an even larger output now that their team has improved since the last meeting?

Well, no.

I think as unbelievable as it sounds, the Seahawks defense has also improved since that game. More importantly, the Seahawks are at home. Frankly, I think Seattle's improvement when playing at home negates any Arizona improvements.

Still, there are a number of advantages that are hard to ignore in Seattle's favor. For all of Arizona's improvement, they still just rank 20th in total offense DVOA (weighted 16th). Further, their greatest strength by DVOA is their passing game which ranks as just average at 15th. Further, their run game is still hovering below average.

Cardinal wins lately have been due to average offensive play and a great defense. It's a strategy that can work wonders with poor quarterback play and can really reel off wins with a good quarterback and good offense (see: Seattle). The problem with the Cardinals is that they just have too many holes on offense. Quarterback is one, even with Palmer playing more effectively. A featured back is another. Their offensive line has actually improved quite a bit, but that may not matter at the CLink.

Like before, I have a hard time believing that Rashard Mendenhall will have any success on the ground. Ellington is likely going to have more play this weekend with around 50 yards, but he won't make an enormous impact. That will leave the rest of the offense up to Palmer who's going to throw for just around 200 yards and a couple turnovers.

We saw what happened last time, and while Arizona has played better of late, they just won't be able to overcome the 12th men effect. The offensive line which ranks as average by adjusted sack rate, should again struggle and give up sacks. That'll lead to a few turnovers and around 50 yards a pop for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. It'll be a tough day for their offense.

Seahawks' Offense vs Cardinals' Defense

In my last Seattle-Arizona prediction, I said that Marshawn Lynch would have a difficult time running the ball against Arizona's defense. At the time, Arizona was 5th in rushing defense by DVOA. Now the defense is ranked 2nd. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are struggling to run the ball. I'm expecting another hard day for Lynch. He'll receive his carries but I don' think he'll be too far away from 65 yards.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, 65 yards is still serviceable. In comparison to running backs, quarterbacks have been more efficient against the Cardinals' run defense. Russell should be able to take advantage of that weakness for about 30 yards. Where I'm a little bit more conflicted is the passing game.

I think Russell will face heavy pressure, and I think the Cardinals will blitz. The problem I have is deciding what will happen next. Russell has performed well against blitzes - in general - but a large part of the 4th ranked pass defense (DVOA) is blitzing. Which strength is going to falter? I'm not sure. What I'll do is predict something in the middle.

The Seahawks' 4th ranked pass offense by DVOA should play an average game against the Cardinals' defense. That would equate to about 220 yards passing and about two touchdowns (rush or pass). Doug Baldwin should have a good day and so should the surprising Luke Willson! In all though, this game isn't going to be the 58-0 game we all saw last year.

X Factors

Arizona's offensive line. If they can give Palmer time, then he won't implode and the Cardinals will have a chance. Their win would still be unlikely, but they would stand a better chance.

The Cardinals' blitzing. We saw a few breakdowns last game that gave Seattle easy points. If the Cardinals can maintain integrity when blitzing, scoring will be tough for the Seahawks.

Seattle's offensive line. Russell Wilson has been unstoppable when he's been given time. If the line can stop Arizona's rush or provide lanes for Lynch, then the Seahawks will win.

The Narrative

The Seahawks won't look awesome on offense but they'll still play well. They'll have marginally better field position than Arizona so that should help score a few points, but at its essence, this game will be a defensive struggle. In the end though, Seattle's defense should win out.

Prediction: Seahawks win 27-13

Recap Stats

This section is dedicated to me owning up to my predictions. The predictions are graded on a 10 point scale where 1 is completely wrong and 10 is completely right. As always, if anyone submits their own grades of my predictions I'll include them in the average. Further, if YOU, the reader, include predictions in this format, I'll include them as "The Field."

Where my predictions were right!

  • Russell would finish with around 250 yards and 50 yards rushing. - 8 - The passing yards were off, but this prediction was pretty on point.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Eli would have 2 interceptions. - 3 - Oh, so glad to be wrong here. I'll give him some credit for the Hail Mary though. I don't count those.
  • Brown would have around 50 yards and 3.3 per carry. - 2 - He got about half of each. Great defense.
  • Lynch would have around 80 yards (4.1 per carry). - 3.5 - I covered this above, but keep an eye on the running game.
  • Wilson wouldn't be under too much pressure. - 3 - It didn't seem like it, but Wilson was hit quite a lot.

Somewhere in between.

  • Brandon Myers, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks would all finish with around 40-50 yards. - 4.5 - I didn't predict any impact, but I underestimated here a bit.
  • Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin would have nice pass-catching days. - 5 - Call it one out of two.
  • The offense would "hum along." - 5.5 - They didn't quite hum, but they did fine.

This Week's Average: 4.3125

Total Average: 5.264...

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