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5 Qs, 5 As with Revenge of the Birds: Previewing Seahawks-Cardinals on Sunday Night Football

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks are back from their bye week and have an unexpected shift into the primetime spotlight once again, as they’ll be taking on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football. This is Seattle’s first divisional game of the season and it’s a big one if they want to further separate themselves from the rest of the NFC West pack. While the Seahawks are 5-0 for the first time in franchise history, Arizona is a surprising 4-2 and very much in the playoff hunt with second-year head coach/quarterback combo Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray.

To preview this game from a Cardinals perspective, I asked Revenge of the Birds’ Seth Cox some questions and he provided me with in-depth answers on Budda Baker, the Cardinals rushing attack, replacing Chandler Jones, and more.

Q1.) Chandler Jones is obviously a huge loss for this Arizona defense, as he’s been one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL for quite some time. Which players have been tasked with filling his role for the rest of the season?

It starts with Haason Reddick who has turned from mega bust into functional starter. Obviously he’s not on the same level as Jones, but this season he has shown he has use, which is something we could not say before. He has four sacks (tied for his career high), four tackles for loss (eight is his career high) and six quarterback hits (tied for career high) and all of that is in only 226 snaps played. He’s coming on at the right time, but there’s a reason he was a 30% snap player before the injury.

They are also using special teams ace Dennis Gardeck who has become a bit of a tasmanian devil pass rush option. On 26 snaps he has two sacks, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. He’s not an every down player in the least, but if he gives you 15 pass rush snaps a game, they tend to be incredibly high energy and usually effective.

Q2.) Watching the Cowboys game I could not help but be impressed by Budda Baker and Byron Murphy in particular, but that’s my Washington Huskies bias creeping in. What’s your take on Arizona’s largely retooled secondary, and do they look like a blossoming unit with potential to be near the best in the league?

Budda Baker is turning into not only a star, but potentially one of the best defensive players in the NFL. His transition took a bit longer, but he’s starting to have a similar impact to what Tyrann Mathieu has. He plays all over, he’s a heat seeking missile and he’s now creating turnovers. That was really the last step to go from good (Pro Bowl level) to great (potential All Pro). Baker’s maturation is actually one of the highlights of the last three seasons and his re-signing was one of the better moves that Keim has made outside of veteran talent acquisition (Carson Palmer, Jones and DeAndre Hopkins).

Murphy seems to be getting better as well, but he had by far his best game on Monday Night Football and that likely coincides with people becoming enamored with (outside of UW and Cardinals fans). He’s always been at his best when he’s able to play physical and fast. They’ve yo-yo’d him a bit in slot and boundary assignments, but seem like they are finally letting him sink or swim as that dynamic slot cover guy. He’ll have a tough task this week against one of the better players in the league in Tyler Lockett, but this will show how far in the process he is.

Q3.) How would you assess Kyler Murray’s development as a passer in year two? He’s certainly wasted no time developing great chemistry with DeAndre Hopkins but there have been a couple of games this year where he’s undoubtedly struggled with his accuracy and making throws down the field.

Kyler’s beginning to show signs of breakthrough as a passer, while still reminding us constantly that he’s in just game 22 of his NFL career. He’s struggling to find a consistent rhythm with anyone not named DeAndre Hopkins and even struggled with Hopkins on MNF. What he’s doing right now is still finding when and where he can make throws and take risks. His biggest issue continues to be an ability to walk the line. Early in the season he was taking too many risks and trying to fit balls in spots they wouldn’t make it. The last three games he has a 6:1 TD to interception ratio, but has nearly stopped taking all risks on throws. That’s the balancing act he has to find, is when and where to take risks and trust your receivers and when to live to fight another day. It’ll continue to be a process, but he’s on pace for nearly 5,000 total yards and over 40 total touchdowns, so what we (Cardinals fans) need to do is enjoy what he is and how he is growing instead of trying to stack him next to Russell Wilson.

Q4.) Quietly, the Cardinals rushing game has arguably been the best in the NFL dating back to roughly this same point in time last season. They were 2nd in DVOA in 2019 and are 2nd right now. What’s been the key behind that transformation?

The Cardinals running attack is really their bread and butter right now as Kyler works through what we talked about above, but he is also the catalyst to why their rushing attack is so great.

Murray is averaging 7.3 yards per carry while also scoring once every game (six touchdowns so far in 2020).

Then you have a really strong duo of Kenyan Drake who had by far his best game of the season, and the shifty Chase Edmonds.

Drake finally started running hard north and south and grinding runs out until he busted one late on MNF. Seahawks fans know what Drake can do, but we need to see that type of aggressive running more consistently.

Finally, the offensive line just seems to fit what Kliff Kingsbury and Sean Kugler want to do in the running game. They are not consistently dominant by any means, but they do a good job and create solid running lanes. Scheme is a lot of it, but they are putting those players in a place to be successful.

Q5.) The Cardinals won five games all of last season and have already won four this year. Admittedly the schedule gets pretty brutal over the next several weeks, but based on what you’ve seen from this team, do you believe they’ll be able to make the playoffs?

Most people had the Cardinals as a 7-9 win team. I think that is still the trajectory, if they didn’t have those hiccups with the Lions and Panthers (at least one of them) then I think we are talking playoffs.

While 4-2 have them in the playoff picture, they have to show it against the right competition. Obviously the 49ers win is their best thus far, but getting a shot at Seattle will tell us something. The Cardinals keep it competitive or win, you have a legitimate playoff contender, you just beat the one seed in the NFC. Get blown out and it is back to wondering if this team is heading in the right direction and if the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray experiment is something that can win in the NFL. Not that we haven’t overreacted to every loss this far.

Thanks again to Seth for taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out Revenge of the Birds either today or Saturday for my answers to his questions.