The Seahawks play the 6-2 Cardinals on Sunday Night Football tomorrow, so to preview the big game, I traded scouting reports with Revenge of the Birds' Jess Root. Huge thanks to Root for giving a great breakdown of what to expect. My questions in bold, his replies follow.
1. Carson Palmer is again having a great year, and there's no sign he'll slow down. How important is Palmer to the Cardinals' success? What are his major tools that makes him so effective?
Well, as we could see a year ago, Palmer is the difference maker on the team. He is a team captain, he knows the offense and has unshakeable confidence. He is having perhaps the finest year of his career. I already mentioned his leadership, but if you watch his throws, his ball placement is very, very good.
His arm strength is good and he isn't afraid to take shots down the field. He is playing at a level I think most believed he would his whole career when he was drafted number one overall. He has always had the talent. Now he has the right situation and talent around him.
2. The Big Three for Arizona seem to be Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown. What can you tell us about Arizona's other offensive receiving weapons? Will any other receivers/tight ends play a big role this week?
Rookie J.J. Nelson figured to be an important part of the offense when the season first started. Then he got hurt and missed a ton of time. Now, by important, I don't mean significant. He was going to be the team's fourth receiver and started the season number three because Michael Floyd got hurt. But he is healthy now and against Cleveland made a one-handed grab down the field. He is fast -- even faster than John Brown.
The tight ends are able, but have not yet been featured in the offense. Darren Fells returns to the lineup after being hurt. He had a big Week 1, but just hasn't been targeted much since then. Jermaine Gresham has been a nice pickup, but he has been up and down. He has had some key drops and has had a couple of key catches. Troy Niklas caught a pair of touchdown passes against Cleveland, but he only has three catches on the season.
You have to watch the backs, though. Chris Johnson has had a couple of big plays out of the backfield as a receiver and both Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson are deadly in the passing game when used. They just aren't getting a ton of snaps with Johnson playing at the level he has this season.
3. Seattle's offensive line has struggled greatly -- how has the Cardinals' line played thus far this year?
It is strange, but Arizona probably has the best line in the division. That is really strange to think. But you have the numbers -- they have allowed only 11 sacks through eight games and have gone from being the second-worst rushing team to the ninth-best in yards and seventh-best in yards per carry.
Mike Iupati has been exactly as advertised. Jared Veldheer is not playing quite as well as last year, but he has been very good in the run game and his pass blocking stats seem to be almost what they were last season, but the eye test says he hasn't been as good. Lyle Sendlein is playing much better, perhaps because the guard play is better. The right side has consistency issues, but there is talent. Bobby Massie is solid at right tackle and Jonathan Cooper has talent at guard, but he gets beat. He moves around very well and gets to the second level, but doesn't always finish off his guy or doesn't actually block him.
4. What's the biggest strength of the defense, and if there is one, what's the biggest weakness?
The strength has to be the secondary and the way they cover and make plays. The defense leads the league with 13 interceptions. In general, receivers have been taken out of the game. So far, really only one receiver has hurt them -- Martavis Bryant in Pittsburgh, and even then, they had no tape of him to study.
They are solid in run defense.
As you likely know, the Cardinals, like the Seahawks, are in the top 10 in the league in both pass and rush defense.
What the Cardinals don't do well is get sacks or pressure consistently on the quarterback. They get some "pressure," but with Russell Wilson, you have to finish plays. They are 27th in the league in sacks, although, they will have a full complement of edge rushers with Alex Okafor returning from injury. Dwight Freeney has had a sack in his last two games and rookie Markus Golden is getting near the quarterback, just not getting sacks.
5. Who are a few lesser-known players on defense that will make an impact in this game?
Watch nose tackle Rodney Gunter. A fourth round small school gem, he has filled in ably as starting nose tackle since Corey Peters was lost for the season in training camp. He is not a true nose, but he is explosive and strong. I am interested in seeing how he fares against Patrick Lewis, as Lewis had his struggles last season when he played against Arizona.
He isn't a lesser name, but watch Calais Campbell line up at the nose from time to time. He is very good there in limited snaps.
Frostee Rucker is another guy. He has been in the league a while and was a starter in Cleveland and Cincinnati, but he has been very, very good since the start of last season when he became a starter again after Darnell Dockett tore his ACL. he has been dominant in the run game and also has some pass rushing ability.
Thanks again to the excellent Jess Root for the scouting report! Follow ROTB on twitter.