Over the two team’s last six meetings, the Seahawks are 2-3-1. Since Pete Carroll took over in 2010, Seattle is 9-6-1. But in the entire history of the series, the Cardinals have a 19-18-1 advantage. In order to knot up the series, and hopefully by the end of the year take the overall lead, the Seahawks need to get a win.
They couldn’t be catching Arizona at a better time.
Though the Cards will be giving rookie quarterback Josh Rosen his first start, which may or may not improve their chances from Sam Bradford, the team has played as poorly as any in the NFL, getting off to an 0-3 start with just 20 points scored. Though Seattle is also off to a less-than-ideal start, it’s not nearly as bad. However, those fortunes can change in an instant, or at least, in five of the most torturous “quarters” you could have ever imagined. Win or lose, let’s hope this doesn’t come down to a field goal attempt.
To find out more about what’s going on with the Cards, I sent five Qs to Seth Cox from Revenge of the Birds, and in kind he sent me five As. These are them.
Q: The Cards had a pretty bad offense last season, ranking 30th in DVOA, 32nd in rushing DVOA, and 25th in points. However, I’m sure much of that was due to the injuries to David Johnson and Carson Palmer. The offseason solutions surrounded a new head coach (Steve Wilks), offensive coordinator (Mike McCoy), quarterback (Sam Bradford), and the return of Johnson, plus signing guard Justin Pugh, hoping for a return to health from some other offensive linemen, and adding Christian Kirk. The result has been an even bigger disaster with Arizona scoring just 20 points through three games, Bradford playing abysmally, and Johnson not getting many opportunities to re-establish his dominance as a running back and receiver. Wait, do I have a question here? Yes, yes, I do. If you had to pin the blame for that on one person, who would it be? And what do the Cardinals need to do this week against the Seahawks to score more than six points? What do they need to change immediately?
A: I think it starts at the top. Mike McCoy has been fired twice in less than two years and think there are obvious reasons as to why. He lacks imagination as a play caller, which is fine if you are a team with a top tier offensive line (the Cardinals are not) and a running back that thrives getting the ball in between the tackles 20+ times a game (David Johnson is not). Yet, that is the running game aspect of the Cardinals offense through three weeks. Except, it is about 13 carries a game in between the tackles for David Johnson, except on third and two with the game on the line, then you run a counter with your rookie running back and your $39 million running back on the sideline. Oh yeah, in your rookie quarterbacks first regular season NFL appearance. McCoy sucks, what were we talking about?
Sam Bradford looks shot, he didn’t have much juice left as is, but when you watched him throw, behind a bad pass blocking offensive line, he didn’t have much on the ball. He was afraid to take a chance pushing the ball down the field, although the interceptions he threw down the field show why, and looked uncomfortable on almost all passing plays.
All of this is to say, there is not one place to lay the blame, but the initial move from Bradford to Rosen is really just the tip of the spear.
Q: Josh Rosen makes his first NFL start on Sunday, what should we expect? What are his strengths and weaknesses, both before the draft and based on what was seen in the offseason and preseason? Is it expected to be a much more simplistic offense with the rookie out there?
A: Rosen is more like Carson Wentz, not saying he is as good, as opposed to the statuesque Bradford. He moves well in the pocket, can break the pocket and make plays with his feet, but that is not his strength. Fun note, Rosen has the longest run of the season for the Cardinals at 12 yards.
He also is like Wentz in that he has maybe too much confidence in his arm, so he’ll take some chances he should not. He likes to wait for the play to develop and get his reads in, which means he is accustomed to taking hits you don’t necessarily want your quarterback to take. We saw that at UCLA, we have seen that in the preseason and in his brief appearance as a pro.
Now, the question becomes, can he make more positive plays than negative plays for the Cardinals? Rosen is a very confident quarterback, if you watch his reaction to his interception against the Bears, it is a shrug of the shoulders and a look of, welp that sucked, let’s get the next one. That’s a good mentality to have… If you are not having to go to it too often. There is a fine line between Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions in Seattle then throwing a dagger to Michael Floyd to win the game and Jay Cutler’s, who cares what just happened. We’ll see where Rosen falls on that.
Q: As usual, there will be questions surrounding, “can the Seahawks protect Russell Wilson?” and especially against a defense featuring Chandler Jones. I see that Jones, Robert Nkemdiche, and former Seattle player Benson Mayowa each have two sacks. But sacks can also be misleading. Do you feel that the pass rush has been a success so far this season? Is it a bright spot for Arizona? Are there other players in that front seven who are doing a lot of disrupting that we should be looking out for? Or are there holes on the defensive line that still need plugging?
A: The pass rush stinks out loud for 80% of the game. The 20% it doesn’t it creates quite the havoc, with four pass rushers who can create pressures and finish those pressures off with sacks. It is the 80% of the time they don’t that there is a problem.
I will say, the Skins and Rams have two of the better offensive lines in the NFL, so it should be noted that they did better last week against a lesser Bears line, but the 2014 Seahawks pass rush this is not. The biggest surprises are how non-existent Chandler Jones can be for 90% of the game playing in the 4-3 now and how much of a wrecking ball Nkemdiche can be for 75% of the game. I’d venture to say that Nkemdiche has been their best and most consistent disruptor through three games, while Jones is getting his numbers in sacks more, if that makes sense.
Markus Golden being back, albeit on a pitch count, should help amp up the consistency of the pressure, but through three games, the numbers are a bit misleading.
Q: Three games is too soon, most would say, to put a new head coach on the hot seat. But I’m sensing that Arizona fans are livid with the early results by Steve Wilks. (I guess I’ll also take this time to remind folks that Kyle Shanahan started 1-10 last season and by the end was being touted as a savior.) Especially given that we do often see rookie head coaches spark some life into a team in the beginning but the Cards seem multitudes worse than they were a year ago. My question: Is this at all close to where you thought they’d be before the season? Were your expectations around the 9-10 win area or did you figure this could be a rough season as you prepared for a 2019 with Rosen? How far is the gap between expectations and current reality?
A: There are several levels at play here so I’ll start with this.
I thought Arizona was a seven win team. When I predict wins, I do so on a sliding scale where the best case scenario is +2 and the worst case scenario is -2. So five wins would not have shocked me, nine wins would not have shocked me.
Then the season started and the team looked… incompetent. It wasn’t the losses, it was the fact that for two complete games, they didn’t look prepared, they didn’t look like an NFL team and they looked like their coaches, overwhelmed.
The Bears game was better for about three quarters, but at the same time, you knew a loss was coming after Bradford’s third turnover in a row to end a series.
It was Wilks who made the call to go to Rosen, which was good until his defense couldn’t get off the field and milked 7+ minutes off the clock and gave up the game winning field goal.
It is Wilks who decided it was time to make the move to Rosen moving forward and has effectively tied himself to Rosen for his immediate career (how many new coaches can have a young QB fail and survive?).
However, it is also Wilks who has relegated Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick to backups because they can’t grasp the system. It is Wilks who put Jamar Taylor in as a starter and let him get beat for two weeks, before making a move in week three when it seemed like Taylor was finally playing well.
There are some quirks to Wilks thus far, and going 0-3 and doing so in humiliating fashion won’t give you much cache with fans.
So, this week looms large, because if there is one things Cardinals fans like, it is beating Seattle. If that is his first win, between going to Rosen and beating Seattle, those first three losses will start to fade from memory… at least for the immediate future.
Q: Do you know who Michael Dickson is?
A: I am aware of the cult like following happening for Dickson in Seattle. We actually have an avid reader at Revenge of the Birds who is a big A&M fan (I know Dickson was a Texas guy but how many people pay attention to college punters), who was not happy when you all drafted Dickson, because he thought so highly of him.