Fresh off their first win in 2018, the Seattle Seahawks will head to the desert to take on an NFC West foe, thArizona Cardinals. Week 4 will see the Seahawks face Josh Rosen in his first career start for a Cardinals team still searching for their first win in the 2018 season.
The Pete Carroll- and John Schneider-era has provided some of the best moments in Seattle sports history. Unfortunately, during that same time, Arizona has been a dreadful place for the Seahawks to visit.
Their last trip saw Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman leave the field for the final time in the blue and green. Previously, there was a 6-6 tie—the first in Seattle’s history. Before that, the most crushing loss in Super Bowl history. Glendale hasn’t been kind to the Seahawks, but against a directionless Cards team, Sunday should see a relatively uneventful game.
Offensive and Defensive Primers
After six seasons as a defensive coach on the Carolina Panthers’ staff (in various roles), Steve Wilks is in his first season as a head coach. To oversee Arizona’s offense, Wilks brought in former Broncos OC and Chargers head coach Mike McCoy.
McCoy, an uninspiring name, was scapegoated in Denver last season by John Elway, who had failed to find an adequate replacement for Peyton Manning. In McCoy’s first go round with the Broncos, he drew praise for effortlessly changing his offense as Denver went from Tim Tebow to Manning. Flexibility is a key trait McCoy brings to the table as a playcaller.
McCoy’s background is in the Erhardt-Perkins system, most famously of the New England Patriots throughout Tom Brady’s career. The Erhardt-Perkins system is a boiled-down offense that relies on different concepts out of the same personnel, formations and plays. Perhaps most famously, that principle manifests itself in the Patriots’ option routes. The Cardinals’ offense will be undoubtedly scaled back to an extent in Rosen’s first start, but that’s the least of their worries on offense—which we’ll get to later.
Wilks has brought with him the same defense that the Panthers have run for years, a zone-heavy system. However, unlike Seattle, Wilks doesn’t rely on one type of zone over another. In 2017, while Carolina played a zone defense a league-leading 72.5% of the time, they didn’t lead the NFL in cover-2, cover-3, cover-4 or cover-6 usage.
Of concern for Arizona has to be the way perennial All-Pro Patrick Peterson is minimized in Wilks’ defense, despite maintaining a high level. A shutdown-corner in the old mold—following the opposing’s team best receiver around the field, pressing at the line of scrimmage and as good on the ball as any DB—has been shoehorned into a one-sided, zone defender.
Numbers that Matter
42: Among the 0-3 teams remaining, the Cardinals have been the most uninspiring, unexciting and unpromising. A first year coaching staff looks lost, neither of their hybrid linebackers are playing, and Sam Bradford has been unable to move the offense.
But with the debut of Rosen, there’s reason for optimism. Just last week, Baker Mayfield entered the game for the Cleveland Browns and pumped life into a franchise that’s been adrift for the better part of two decades. Arizona has no business competing in 2018 and their record won’t define their season, but Rosen’s progress over the year will.
However, evaluating the progress of Rosen will prove to be difficult if he doesn’t last behind their offensive line. Prior to getting benched for Rosen, Bradford was pressured on 42% of his dropbacks this season. Though they rank a not-completely-awful 21st in adjusted sack rate, that can be credited more to the ineptitude of their offense rather than Bradford getting the ball out quickly. The Cardinals simply haven’t sustained drives long enough for opposing defenses to put up huge numbers. Arizona has averaged 47.3 plays per game, the lowest through three weeks in a season since 2000.
The offense, and the protection, has been awful through three games. For a Seahawks defensive front that finally produced in Week 3, the Cardinals and Week 4 should provide an opportunity to start stacking strong performances.
31.8: Week 3 saw Seattle get their best performances out of both their offensive and defensive lines. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, it wasn’t a high bar to clear on offense.
Seattle is the 31st ranked line in the NFL by both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. Though the team’s run blocking, particularly inside, was encouraging, the Seahawks got by in pass protection by keeping Will Dissly and Nick Vannett in-line.
In Week 4, Germain Ifedi will face yet another massive test, in the form of reigning sack king Chandler Jones. On the inside, the much maligned Robert Nkemdiche has come alive and is rounding into a disruptive force. There’s a lot of questions surrounding Arizona in 2018, but their ability to get after the quarterback is not one of them. Their pressure percentage of 31.8 is sixth in the NFL, and they rank sixth in adjusted sack rate on defense, as well.
To top it all off, the Cardinals blitz the second most in the NFL, on 38.2% of passing plays they’ve defended this season.
Dissly, one of the surprises of the early season for Seattle, saw his production as a receiver drop in Week 3 as he was targeted just three times, his focus turning to help slow down DeMarcus Lawrence. Dissly will likely find himself in a similar role in Arizona, as the Seahawks attempt to mitigate one of the few things the Cardinals do well.
Similarly, if Rashaad Penny’s role didn’t already shrink for the foreseeable future, it will at least through Week 4. The rookie’s pass protection remains a project, and against an Arizona defense that loves to bring pressure, he may not be trusted to see more than the 10 snaps he saw last week.
31.3: While Penny saw his workload drop drastically in Week 3, Chris Carson’s ballooned to a career-high in carries. Carson carried the ball a crazy 32 times against the Cowboys and added two catches—a workload equaled just eight times in 2017.
Despite showing up on the injury report this week, Pete Carroll says Carson is ready to go, and he should see another heavy workload on Sunday. The Cardinals have given up the fourth most rushing yards this season, and through three weeks, opposing backs have averaged 31.3 carries a game against them. That figure leads the league, as does the 37 total touches opposing backs have averaged against Arizona.
After doing a poor job juggling Penny and Carson in the first two games, Carroll and Seattle leaned on Carson in Week 3. It was a return to the type of football Carroll has pursued all offseason, and the Seahawks will return to it again in Week 4.
Matchup to Watch
David Johnson versus the Cardinals’ coaching staff: NFL seasons are bizarre, unpredictable and entirely entertaining. There’s so much going on in a given week that sometimes, other ridiculous story lines go largely unnoticed or are pushed aside by something new. For instance, just two weeks ago a player retired at half-time(!)—after starting the game(!!)—and the following Sunday, Vontae Davis’s untimely ride into the sunset was forgotten in favor of Josh Allen treating the Vikings’ defense like they were the worst unit in the sport.
One of the story lines that has slid under the radar for the most part in 2018 is the gross misuse of David Johnson by the Cardinals’ offensive coaches. So far in 2018, 26 of Johnson’s 34 carries have come between the tackles. In 2016, Johnson averaged 4.9 yards per carry outside, compared to 3.6 yards per carry inside. Mike McCoy should be forced to look at Johnson’s carry chart like a puppy being made to look at the garbage they’ve strewn about, so they know not to do it again.
It isn’t like defenses are selling out to stop Johnson, either. He has faced a 8+ man box on just 17.65% of his carries—31st in the NFL.
Making matters worse, the negligence extends to the passing game. Johnson has been targeted beyond 10 yards just twice all season. Instead of using Johnson as the mismatch he is, capable of lining up in the slot or out wide, he’s been used as a safety valve for Bradford.
No one-on-one matchup between Seattle and Arizona comes close to the importance of this story line. David Johnson is the Cards’ best player. He’s one of the 10 best skill position players in the sport. He is an ideal player for modern football. And his own coaching staff is essentially reducing him to a highly priced LeGarrette Blount. The Seahawks don’t have to worry about a matchup to take Arizona’s best player out of the game; they’ll do it for them.
Opponent to Know
Josh Bynes, LB: Though the disappearance of Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon is both surprising and disappointing, the Cardinals must be pleasantly surprised with the play they’ve received from journeyman linebacker Josh Bynes. In his second season with Arizona, Bynes (No. 57) has taken over the starting middle linebacker spot and been a bright spot, making the calls for Wilks’ defense.
Through three games, Bynes’ 15 stops are tied for third in the league, and he didn’t miss a tackle last week against a Bears offense that loves to stretch opposing defenses.
There are a few things the Cardinals have done well in 2018. However, the number of things they have done poorly is much higher. Wilks has the game-management of a coach steering towards one-and-done, and Arizona’s hopes are attached to a rookie quarterback playing behind a shoddy offensive line. Rosen may be bound for stardom, but he isn’t in a situation to succeed this season. Arizona has been a house of horrors for Seattle previously, but Week 4 should see them improve to .500.