What a matchup. Sunday night*. Under the quasi-bright lights of Glendale with the audio butter that is Al Michaels’ voice drifting into our ear-holes, the Seattle Seahawks face the Arizona Cardinals in a contest that will resonate with NFC implications. Are the Cardinals better than they have looked throughout the season’s first month? Are the Seahawks able to keep up their streak of dominating in their division rival’s nest?
*Carrie Underwood voice
It’s too early to say for sure, as the universe consistently trends towards entropy and chaos, but a victory would give Seattle quite the stranglehold on the NFC West. Currently a game and a half up on both Los Angeles and Arizona, a win would cement the Seahawks as the team to beat off of the best coast.
Attaining the goal of 1-0 will not be easy. Despite their early-season struggles, the Cardinals are a good football team. Unless, of course, they are in fact not a good football team as, again, football hates us and all of our widespread assumptions.
Whatever the case may be, Arizona houses a lot of talent all over the roster and Seattle needs to execute extremely well to win this battle. Divisional games are rarely easy, especially against a group as pissed off as the Cardinals will likely be. To win this game, there are a few things the Seahawks need to make high priority.
Through five games in 2015, Russell Wilson had been sacked 22 times. Through five games in 2016, Russell Wilson has been sacked 10 times. A lot of this has to do with Wilson’s progression as a decisive passer, but the offensive line is definitely light years ahead of where it was at this point last year.
It’s going to have to show up on Sunday. Arizona’s secondary is really solid, so Russell will need time to progress through his reads. Nothing needs to be said about Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, but Tony Jefferson has been having a really nice year so far.
Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, and Alex Okafor are going to need to be slowed for Russell to find his open man, who might not be too apparent some of the time.
A bonus little tidbit matchup: Germain Ifedi and Robert Nkemdiche. Lining up across from the right guard a lot of the time, Nkemdiche has a sky-high ceiling despite his mediocre start to the season. Ifedi needs to make sure that the first rounder out of Ole Miss doesn’t have his breakout performance on Sunday night.
Make Carson the Bad Carson
After an MVP-caliber regular season in 2015, Carson Palmer hasn’t looked like himself. The high-flying Arizona attack is only as good as its signal caller, and he hasn’t been the same since a finger injury affected his game towards the end of last year.
Palmer’s decision-making has been suspect for a lot of this year as well. This coincides with a concussion that forced Palmer from playing on Monday night. This looks to be the most vulnerable that the Cardinals’ passing game has been since Bruce Arians took over in Glendale.
Seattle did a fantastic job pressuring Matt Ryan last week early on. Kyle Shanahan began rolling him out and buying him time which was the catalyst that got him rolling. If Seattle can get consistent pressure on Palmer, they can force him into making questionable decisions that can swing the game in their favor.
The Seahawks must stay disciplined in every different interpretation of the phrase. They must stay disciplined when playing their gaps against a potent Arizona ground game featuring one of the league’s top backs in David Johnson. They must stay disciplined in coverage against a slew of talented receivers including an ageless Larry Fitzgerald and a contract year Michael Floyd. They must stay disciplined in their communication to avoid lapses like those that occurred against Atlanta.
This can be said of just about any game in the NFL. Discipline is the foundation that success is built upon in this league. But in a divisional clash on the Sunday Night Football stage, the importance of execution and control is heightened.
The Seahawks have struggled in prime-time games over the last year or so. It seems like it’s time to buck the trend and take control of the NFC West. They’ll have to execute to the best of their ability to do so. They have the capacity. We’ll see if they can seize the opportunity.