Enough of me foisting my political agenda on you, amiright*? Another short day today; it's the Sunday of my wife's weekend. Tomorrow we'll do something for the first time this season: Preview an opponent. The emphasis will be on play calling and matchups. Sunday's game against Arizona is by far the most important game of the year so far for the Seattle Seahawks. Since my time is limited today, this post will center on some of the surface information about the Arizona Cardinals, specifically their performance as described by advanced statistics.
Win Chance: Seattle 54%
Overall Efficiency Arizona
That marks them as a below average team. Arizona is a notch above the nine truly bad teams ranging from Buffalo to Oakland, but are nevertheless playing at the low end of the middle of the pack. Seattle is at the high end of the middle of the pack.
Overall Efficiency Seattle
DVOA: 8.2 %
Arizona has played a more difficult schedule to date. It lost badly to Indianapolis, like Seattle, but played badly against San Francisco. The latter drags down their DVOA, but could factor less as earlier games are rendered less significant and/or, San Francisco rebounds from a smackdown by the Falcons.
Brian Burke's efficiency ranking favor the Cardinals, but only marginally. His rankings are much more intuitive. The number indicates how likely the team is to win against a league average opponent on a neutral playing field.
That's a coin flip, with a slight advantage given Seattle for home field advantage.
One of the discrepancies in the ratings is Seattle's run defense. Both metrics agree that Arizona has dominated on run defense, ranking first in DVOA and second in Burke's DRUN, but the two metrics disagree about Seattle's run defense. Burke ranks Seattle as tied with New York for 27th, while DVOA sees an above average run defense, 13th. The major difference there is that DVOA weakens the impact of long runs, but Burke's system does not. So early in the season, Frank Gore's rampage is still disproportionately lowering Seattle's overall run defense in Burke's system, but much less so in DVOA.
My interpretation of Seattle's run defense is that it has the personnel to be excellent, but I do not ignore the impact of long runs. When Seattle doesn't have a bull in the middle like Brandon Mebane, it has shown a consistent inability to stop long runs. With Mebane, I think Seattle is even better than their DVOA would indicate. Arizona is the second worst team in football at running the ball by DVOA and ORUN. Whatever Seattle's abilities, it could look like the Steel Curtain on Sunday.
Arizona does not rely on its run game, but Seattle does. It has been below average running the ball and, as aforementioned, Arizona has transformed into a run killer since the 2009 postseason. If Seattle cannot get its run game going at all, it will severely disrupt its offense. Seattle does not create big gains with its run game, but it does set up its play calling, and teams tend to blitz through play-action when they do not have to respect it. That could lead to sacks and injuries.
Both teams are better at passing the ball than their advanced stats would indicate. And both teams are constructed somewhat similarly.
Seattle Passing Offense
Arizona Passing Offense
Seattle is clearly better because its stats are weakened by Seneca Wallace. Hasselbeck has been sacked less and is averaging 2.8 more ANY/A than Wallace. That is worth almost four games over a full season.
Arizona is better because their talent dictates it, but it is not that cut and dried. Arizona and Seattle are led by venerable, but older quarterbacks with injury histories. The Cardinals are top heavy at their skill position players. Seattle is deeper, but also stronger at its skill positions than its line. As I'll show tomorrow, Arizona relies on keeping blockers in and running longer patterns to get favorable matchups for its receivers. Seattle uses a quick passing attack, but does also run longer routes and max-protect. Both teams can look unstoppable when their quarterback is kept clean, and both teams can shatter when their quarterback is harassed.
An interesting difference between the 2008 Cardinals and the 2009 Cardinals is the loss of Edgerrin James's backfield blocking. Both teams' ability to blitz effectively and unexpectedly will have a huge impact on this game. With James switching sides, Seattle has the undoubtedly better backfield blocking and that could be the difference between long completions and sacks.
With two strong passing offenses, two weak run offenses, and two strong run defenses, pass defense should be where this game turns. Seattle is still thin in its secondary and relies on pressure. Arizona has loaded resources into its secondary, but has only situational pass rushers to create pressure. This is where Seattle could turn an early lead into a blowout.
Seattle Passing Defense
Arizona Passing Defense
Arizona ranks 23rd in adjusted sack rate, and that number overstates their pass rush. The Cardinals lack an every down player that can provide consistent pressure, and if Seattle can burn them on the blitz, it should have no trouble building drives off a consistent passing threat. However, if Seattle relies too heavily on the run, the Cardinals may blitz at will and exchange big plays allowed with disastrous plays by Seattle. Up to and including an injury to Hasselbeck.
The numbers indicate that Seattle's most likely path to victory is keeping Matt Hasselbeck clean, emphasizing the pass game, including screen passes, and using an early lead to aggressively attack Kurt Warner, even if it means allowing some inevitable long pass plays.
*Did I do that right? I do not know the origin of this joke.