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Seahawks vs. Cardinals Breakdown Corner: Arizona Redux

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This is the practically the same team we saw in Week 10. Here's how the Cards have fared since then and what it tells us about their vulnerabilities.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

I already wrote about the Cards seven weeks ago, and most of that article is still true today. Arizona has not only been explosive, it's been consistent, and the paths to defeating the Cards -- or at least coming close -- have been consistent as well.

Arizona is a pass-first team with a reasonably strong running game that sweeps up the short yardage situations. Its defense is solid. The Cardinals are short on weaknesses, but they are beatable -- as several teams have found recently.

Starting with the game after Seattle, three teams have given Arizona problems: Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Minnesota. That's a pretty vast diversity of talent, and it should be heartening to the Seahawks for their chances this weekend.

A week after Arizona bested Seattle at CenturyLink, the Bengals visited Phoenix. Cincinnati went into halftime with a 14-7 lead, striking first after an interception late in the 1st frame, already their second of the game at that point. But come the 3rd quarter, Arizona exploded, putting together 3 TDs with seemingly little effort. Cincy came back to tie it up at 31, but Arizona's game-winning drive went 57 yards in 3 plays, got 15 more on a penalty, and closed with a field goal.

Arizona success was hindered by those early turnovers and a meager running game that produced just 82 yards on 25 attempts, mostly successful around the left end and behind the left tackle. The Bengals, meanwhile, managed just 99 yards rushing and pretty much exclusively tried to run up the middle. By the 4th quarter, Andy Dalton was slinging almost every down: Cincinnati attempted just 2 rushes in the quarter, both in the team's first drive.

A week later, the 49ers used a similar strategy to keep close to their division rivals. San Francisco rode a 13-13 tie into the 4th quarter, and Arizona needed a late touchdown drive to take home the win.

The Cards managed 70 yards on the ground this time, 16 of them on the team's penultimate drive. Carson Palmer was -- even for him -- uncharacteristically addicted to the deep ball, chucking 9 passes downfield and completing 4 for 121 yards. His final line of 24-for-40 for 271 yards and no TDs is a testament to the awfulness of the 49ers they were playing; for most teams, that combination of Palmerian mediocrity and rushing failure would have doomed the Cards, but the game closed 19-13 instead.

Blaine Gabbert put up reasonable numbers, finishing with 318 yards and just 1 interception. But since Gabbert has a degree in Throwing Short of a First Down, the team managed just one drive longer than 8 plays. As well, the 49ers managed just 67 rushing yards.

In Week 14, Minnesota went south and looked like they might have a shot. After a back-and-forth 10-10 first half, though, Arizona delivered a 42-yard catch-and-run by Michael Floyd midway through the 3rd quarter, forced a 3-and-out, and ate up over 7 minutes driving for a field goal. That drive included a healthy dose of short passes as well as a long David Johnson run that put the team inside the 5. By the time Minnesota got back to 20-20, the Cards were able to get just enough yardage to kick a field goal with 1:28 left before delivering a crushing sack-fumble on the final Vikings drive.

Once again, the Cardinals had trouble getting going on the ground. Johnson had 19 rushes for 92 yards, but only 18 for 68 without that long run. The team was trying to press up the middle all game with little success. Palmer had what for him seems like a pretty typical line this season (25-for-35, 310 yards, 2 TDs), but other than the Floyd TD his receivers didn't produce a ton of yards after the catch.

The Vikes ate up yards, but they were doomed by fumbles, including one that killed a 74-yard drive in the first half and another that set up the TD pass in the 2nd half. The Arizona defense was more than up to containing Adrian Peterson, whose 23 rushes for 69 yards and a score did little to help Minnesota's cause.

This week, the Cards are down Tyrann Mathieu and might be out both fellow safety Rashad Johnson and linebacker Dwight Freeney. That will make Deone Bucannon and Kevin Mintner the players to watch up the middle. The defensive line is in good shape, which could be a problem for this Seahawks team.

For Seattle, another poor showing by the offensive line will end the Week 17 contest quickly. There's little in that previous article that doesn't apply this week, except the Seahawks lack the ground game they previously had; that means Wilson will need to have time to find his receivers if Seattle is going to take home a W.

Defensively, the Seahawks will need to stop David Johnson (Chris is out until the playoffs) and get to Carson Palmer. Palmer has too many weapons and Seattle can ill afford to chase the speedy receiving corps all game; they'll need to be aggressive and willing to sacrifice a few long plays in the interests of generally blowing up Arizona's most potent capability.

Of course, with the playoff berth wrapped up, most of us would be happy for Seattle to get out without injuries. Cross your fingers.