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Four key matchups to watch against the Cardinals

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NFL: SEP 15 Seahawks at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In Week 4, the Seahawks will return to their own personal house of horrors to take on the Cardinals. Last year’s trip to Arizona resulted in a costly 20-17 victory over a dreadful Cardinals team that was already adrift, just four games into a new regime. Seattle is again going to Arizona in Week 4, and again, the Cardinals don’t appear to have any bite—however, this version of Arizona is, if nothing else, interesting. The Seahawks should be well positioned to get back into the win column in their first showdown with Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, they just need to handle a handful of glaring matchups.

Will Dissly vs DJ Swearinger

Seattle’s sophomore tight end returns to the stadium where his rookie season ended in 2018, halting what was a promising and out of nowhere beginning to his NFL career. Surprisingly, Dissly is off to an even better start in 2019, as he currently ranks first in DVOA, third in DYAR, sixth in yards per route run and first in touchdowns among tight ends. What has been even more encouraging than the numbers Dissly’s posted thus far is the way he looks moving in the open field; what can be a devastating knee injury hasn’t seemed to have had a lasting effect.

Dissly has one of the more favorable matchups across the entire NFL in Week 4, against a defense, and safety DJ Swearinger, who have been helpless against tight ends in 2019. As a defense, the Cardinals have given up 23 receptions, 350 yards and five touchdowns to tight ends in three games, with Swearinger drawing the majority of tight end matchups. It was Swearinger who was beaten by Greg Olsen last week for the second of two touchdowns on the day, a play that was later described by the 34-year-old tight end as “relatively easy.” Ouch.

There’s a version of this game where Arizona is able to score at will and keep it close—in that case, the Seahawks need to expose this weakness on the Cardinals’ defense and ensure Dissly has a happy return to the desert.

Seahawks’ front vs Cardinals’ offensive line

Arizona’s dreadful pass protection did something quite incredible last week against the Panthers: They made Kyler Murray look like a noodle-armed checkdown artist at the helm of an antiquated offense.

Murray was sacked eight times in Week 3, bringing the season total to 16, which is the second most in the NFL. It isn’t wily defensive coordinators overwhelming a young player with pressure, either: Murray has faced an extra rusher on less than a quarter of his dropbacks. The Cardinals are simply losing five-on-four battles up front, and it shows (they’re currently 29th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate). The worst indictment? J.R. Sweezy is their highest-graded offensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus. This J.R. Sweezy:

Arizona’s disastrous concoction up front will make for a tremendous opportunity for Seattle’s pass rush to get back on track, after an utterly anonymous showing in Week 3 against the Saints. There’s certainly reason to believe they can, as Jadeveon Clowney, Quinton Jefferson, Branden Jackson and Rasheem Green have all had individual moments of promise this season. (Ezekiel Ansah’s status for Sunday is unclear.) Clowney is getting increasingly close to the surreal plays he’s capable of making, and Jefferson continues his quietly great season, as he currently sits sixth in pass rush win rate among defensive tackles. The Seahawks’ pass rush should put their stamp on this game, and only the Cardinals’ pace, not their pass protection, will be able to slow them down.

Mychal Kendricks and K.J. Wright vs Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk

If there’s ever a week for Pete Carroll and the defensive staff to deviate from the plan to keep all three linebackers on the field as much as possible, this would be it. Under Kingsbury, Arizona plays with four wide receivers an absurd amount, with tight end Charles Clay having played less than a quarter of the offense’s snaps. The majority of the Cardinals’ four wide receiver sets are 2x2, with their two best receivers, Kirk and Fitzgerald, aligned in either slot. Both Fitzgerald and Kirk have played over 92 percent of the offense’s snaps, and have run over 84 percent of their routes from the slot. From the inside, both receivers have been used to stretch defenses out, whether that’s vertically:

Or horizontally:

Arizona’s scheme is going to force Kendricks and Wright to try and survive in space, as well as making them open up and run down or across the field. It’s a nightmarish scenario for for a pair of linebackers who thrive at the line of scrimmage or at the second level. We’ve previously seen Carroll use a third safety in specific matchups, and this week, that may have to be the case in addition to Jamar Taylor getting regular snaps.

The past year, since Earl Thomas went down in Week 4 of 2018 against the Cardinals, has been a masterclass in defensive scheming from Pete Carroll. He’ll have to put together his best gameplan yet if he wants to continue to use Wright and Kendricks on a regular basis this week.

Seahawks’ tackles vs Chandler Jones

In a league teeming with dynamic pass rushers, Jones has slid under the radar since his unceremonious trade from the Patriots in 2016. No player has more sacks since 2015 than Jones (56.5), and through three games, Jones is averaging a sack and a forced fumble per contest. Jones has particular joy against Seattle, where his seven game stat line reads like a solid season: 9.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

Unfortunately for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, Jones lines up on either side of the formation, so he’ll see snaps against the rapidly regressing (at least from 2018) Germain Ifedi and the banged up Duane Brown, who’s showing his age through three games, too. Arizona’s offensive line presents a great opportunity for Seattle’s pass rush, but same rings true on the other side: Wilson has been sacked or hit on 33.85 percent of his dropbacks in 2019, with the Seahawks’ line sitting 22nd in adjusted sack rate.

When the Cardinals’ offensive line doesn’t sabotage their offense, they have the firepower and scheme to keep up with any team. Seattle’s pass rush must force Murray and the offense into short throws, rendering the (only) strength of the team ineffective. If the Seahawks are able to do that, while keeping Wilson upright often enough to exploit a dreadful Arizona secondary, they should win with ease.