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Seahawks-Cardinals: 2 key matchups to watch in Week 16

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Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Cardinals team that will roll into Seattle for a Week 16 meeting with the Seahawks is quite different from the one that hosted in Arizona in Week 4. Kyler Murray has grown from dodging contact at all costs to becoming the threat he previously was running the football; David Johnson is no longer a vital cog to the offense; and Patrick Peterson, who has struggled, was suspended for the last meeting. These Cardinals also just snapped a six-game losing streak.

A pair of changes to Arizona’s lineup since Week 4 will be featured in this week’s matchups:

Seahawks’ run defense vs Kenyan Drake

Early on in 2019, it appeared as though new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury had salvaged Johnson after a lost season; the well-rounded tailback averaged 17.6 touches per game through the first six weeks of the season. However, since an ankle and back injury began to plague Johnson he has been a non-factor, something that coincided with the arrival of Drake via trade.

In the six games Drake has played with Arizona, the former Dolphin has avergaed 18.2 touches per game, and despite the small sample size as a lead back, he ranks 10th in rushing DYAR and 5th in DVOA. Drake’s best performance came last week, when he rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns. Now, Seattle will need to look to Poona Ford—who makes multiple splash plays per week against the run—as well as the steady Jarran Reed and Al Woods, and Jadeveon Clowney, Quinton Jefferson and Rasheem Green’s stout play on the edge to contain the Cards’ dynamic tailback.

Though Drake has been a revelation for Arizona, his directional splits offer an interesting insight. On rushes to the left, Drake averages 2.8 yards per carry on 20 runs; to the offense’s right or up the A-gaps, he averages 5.4 yards per carry on 67 attempts. Per Sports Info Solutions, Drake is also averaging 7.7 yards per carry running off tackle. So, while the Seahawks’ defense continues to struggle against the run (22nd in rushing defense DVOA but 13th in weighted defense), they are well built to defend against Drake’s strengths. Clowney, Jefferson and Green can set the edge strongly—and disengage to make a play—while Ford, Woods and Reed are excellent moving laterally.

With Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks all banged up, the defensive line must win at the line of scrimmage and at the point of attack to allow the linebackers to flow cleanly to the ball, rather than being forced to chase Drake all over the field. This will be of even greater importance without Quandre Diggs, who did marvelously filling against the rushing attack of Christian McCaffrey last week, to clean up behind them.

Tyler Lockett vs Byron Murphy

After four anonymous games as a result of a pair of setbacks, Lockett was back against the Panthers. Seattle’s star wideout hauled in eight catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, winning in the variety of ways we have become accustomed to seeing. That is bad news for former Washington Husky Byron Murphy who, after Kevin Peterson was placed on injured reserve this week, will slide inside and into the role the Cardinals have long projected him in.

Murphy will be tasked with solving a problem that has plagued Arizona all season long, as the Cards have allowed 10 yards per attempt and 11 touchdowns on throws to slot receivers in 2019. Arizona’s new nickelback boasts some numbers that are not too shabby, particularly for a rookie defensive back in a pass happy league: 65.1 completion percentage allowed, 6.4 yards per target and seven pass breakups. However, he has also allowed nine touchdowns—on average a score allowed every 9.2 targets. Lockett, targeted nine times a week ago, should be good for a touchdown—and then some—against Murphy this week.

From a broad view, Lockett is a challenging task for Murphy, one of the game’s best slot receivers against a rookie cornerback. In comparing traits, it is a really tough ask for him. Murphy has struggled in a pair of ways which compound with one another: Sticking with receivers releasing off the line, and closing at the catch point.

It is a tough combination in any matchup, but particularly brutal against a wideout in Lockett who could find space in a phone booth.

In previous years, particularly at CenturyLink Field, the Cardinals have proven to be a bogey team for the Seahawks. However, with Seattle’s offense threatening through so many options, and a terrific matchup for their best skill position player, they should be able to score with ease on Sunday. A strong game from their defensive front will set up a massive Week 17 showdown against the 49ers.