Who Let the Black Birds Out?
Somehow, even with injuries to the starting quarterback, running back, team’s leading pass rusher, and shuffling of offensive line, the Arizona Cardinals find themselves just two games from leading the NFC West. The Cardinals steadied their ship on Sunday by getting an important victory against the 49ers. The defense and offense played a relatively complete game and the momentum gained will need to carry over in a short week. The Cardinals are home this week and welcome the Seattle Seahawks to University of Phoenix Stadium. It is a Thursday game for the divisional rivals. Here are the three keys for a Arizona victory.
Adrian Peterson Needs a Repeat
Against the 49ers, the Cardinals leaned heavily on veteran running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson carried the ball 37 times and finished the day with 159 yards on the ground. The Cardinals will need a similar performance on Thursday against Seattle. The Seahawks have been surprisingly average this season against the run. Against the run, Seattle is giving up an average of 4.3 yards per carry. This translates to roughly 110 yards per game on the ground and a total of seven touchdowns through eight games.
Expect the Cardinals to continue to run behind left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone. Both men have been tremendous in carving out space for Peterson and have brought stability to the Cardinals offensive line. Whether pulling across the formation or kicking out to the outside, Peterson’s best runs have been following the two blockers through massive holes and finding contact in the second and third levels rather than at the line of scrimmage. Against Seattle, the Cardinals will need the run game to do well, or it could be a long game for quarterback Drew Stanton.
Bring Down Russell Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks have a putrid offensive line. Quarterback Russell Wilson is the only reason the unit is not the league leaders in sacks surrendered. On the year Wilson has been sacked just 18 times. However, according to Pro Football Focus, Wilson was under pressure on 34 percent of his drop backs. That number has been the norm for Seattle’s offensive line and it is a testament to Wilson’s escapability that he has not been sacked more in 2017. Against the 49ers, the Cardinals blitzed early and often, finishing the game with five sacks and nearly 20 hits on the quarterback.
The Cardinals have blitzed on roughly a third of their plays. Their propensity to bring pressure and the lack of quality pass blocking means there will be ample opportunities to get to Wilson. The key will be bringing the talented quarterback down when given the chance. Wilson is a magician in the backfield who often escapes the pressure and keeps plays alive far longer than other quarterbacks in the NFL. For Arizona, getting to Wilson is just the first step; getting the quarterback to the ground is an entirely different challenge. If the Cardinals want to win on Thursday, they will need to find a way to bring down Russell Wilson.
Quarterback Drew Stanton made a mistake against the 49ers that cost the team points. In the end it did not play a part in the victory, but it is a mistake Stanton must not make against Seattle. The mistake was an interception in the red zone. Stanton had an open Jermaine Gresham on a post route with inside leverage. A throw towards the middle of the field would have resulted in an easy score. However, Stanton left the ball slightly behind Gresham and was picked off in the end zone. The 49ers run a similar defensive scheme as the Seahawks, but lack the secondary to effectively play the scheme. Seattle is likely going to be without safety Earl Thomas on Thursday, and possibly without cornerback Richard Sherman. Even without both defensive stars, the Seahawks defense will test the Cardinals.
Stanton must be safe with the football. The Seahawks have the ability to score points and feed off their defense’s ability to create turnovers. The run game will play a big part in keeping the pressure off of Stanton, but the career backup will need to make plays to keep the offense going. Stanton has always struggled to be an accurate passer. Seattle will leave receivers open from time to time and Stanton will need to connect on those passes for Arizona to win. The focus will be on receiver Larry Fitzgerald so the pressure will be on the rest of the receivers. Speed receivers typically give the Seattle defense fits, so expect the Cardinals to use John Brown and Jaron Brown on deeper routes. Big plays will be there for the Cardinals; taking advantage of those plays will be the key.
This is a big game for both teams on Thursday. A win for either puts that team squarely in the playoff picture in the NFC. A loss makes it just a bit more difficult to get to the postseason. Arizona has always played Seattle tough and seem to have their number. Injuries are currently on the side of Arizona, likely keeping key Seattle defensive starters out of the game. Expect another slugfest in Glendale. Cardinals 23-19
*all stats courtesy of NFL.com