The Arizona Cardinals came into Thursday’s game with momentum on their side after a dominating victory against the San Francisco 49ers. The Seattle Seahawks limped into University of Phoenix Stadium coming off a home loss to the Washington Redskins and many defensive starters on the injured list. The Cardinals and Seahawks have traded blows over the last few seasons with both teams getting victories on the road. This game seemed like it could be different with the injuries for Seattle and how poorly the team looked just this past Sunday at home. The Cardinals were poised to make their run towards the playoffs with a backup quarterback and a veteran running back looking to prove he could still be a factor in the NFL. As per the 2017 season, Thursday’s clash went the opposite of what the tea leaves predicted. Here are the three major takeaways from a soul crushing Arizona defeat.
Run Game Gets Stuffed
Coming off a 159 yard performance against the 49ers, running back Adrian Peterson was expected to be a focal point on offense for the Cardinals. On Thursday, Peterson carried the ball 21 times, down from the 37 against the 49ers. That dip is understandable as it is rare to see a running back with back to back 30 carry games in the current NFL. However, the 21 carries came with just 29 yards rushing. The Seattle defense utilized eight players in the box and routinely found penetration from defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The defensive line as a whole controlled the line of scrimmage and allowed the linebackers and safeties to come through and get to Peterson before he could get started.
The Cardinals committed to the run as well as they could. However, as was the case last week against San Francisco, the Cardinals relied on a single play to get the run game going. Using a two tight end set, the offense would put Larry Fitzgerald in motion and line him up one side of the formation, effectively making him an H back. They would then go with a zone run towards the opposite offensive tackle with double teams along the interior. Fitzgerald provided the backside seal block to allow for a cut back lane. The issue was with the penetration from the defensive line. There were a couple of instances where the play worked. Five yards here and a quick burst there, but overall the Seattle defense was there to stop Peterson in his tracks. The injury to left tackle D.J. Humphries only made matters worse. The talented left tackle went down with a knee injury that may cost him the season. If Humphries is out for any extended length of time, it will be tough sledding the rest of the way for the Arizona run game.
Not Helping Stanton
Going into the Seattle game the biggest question mark for Arizona was quarterback Drew Stanton and how he would perform under the bright lights. Stanton completed 24 of 47 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown. The veteran quarterback played well against a tough defense and without a run game to play off. Stanton avoided making any big mistakes and wasn’t brought down very often, getting sacked just twice. Stanton was ready to play, even if there was little help given to the long time backup.
Larry Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 113 yards. Tight end Jermaine Gresham chipped in five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown on a well executed screen pass. Unfortunately that was about all the help afforded Stanton. In a game where the receivers needed to step up, anyone outside of Fitzgerald and Gresham seemed to disappear. Only running back Andre Ellington had more than two catches and the unit suffered from the drops the entire night. Against a tough team like Seattle, plays need to be made to find a way to victory. The Cardinals lacked that ability and did little to help Stanton on offense.
Wilson Made One Play
In the preview for the game, a major point was not just getting pressure on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, but to bring the elusive passer down. For most of the game the Cardinals defense did a solid job of containing Wilson in the pocket while applying ample pressure. The Cardinals finished with five sacks and got many more hits on Wilson. The aim of the pass rush was to maintain lane integrity and collapse the pocket with Wilson inside.
Through much of the night the Cardinals pass rush was successful. When Wilson was able to break containment he was often chased by linebackers Haason Reddick or Chandler Jones. On one particular play, Reddick sliced through a double team and chased down a scrambling Wilson, causing a fumble which flew out of bounds. However, as he has become famous for, Wilson had one moment of soul crushing brilliance. With the Seahawks leading by five, Wilson took a shotgun snap and moved to his left. As protection receiver Doug Baldwin stayed in to block. Two Arizona defenders went after Wilson as he began snaking his way further away from the line of scrimmage. Baldwin then released downfield to give Wilson an option. Wilson lofted a pass high towards the sideline in the direction of Baldwin and safety Antoine Bethea. The safety slipped and a leaping Baldwin made the catch before streaking down the sideline for a 54 yard gain. On the next play the Seahawks scored a touchdown and effectively ended the game.
The Cardinals played a tough game and had their chances against Seattle. Arizona’s defense did what it could against the circus that is Russell Wilson and kept the score tight. Stanton played well and only needed his receivers to make some catches but they failed to do so. In the end, the big play by Wilson was a microcosm of the entire game. Arizona had things scouted well and people where they needed to be to make a play, but Seattle found a way to make their own plays and ultimately found a way to win. The Cardinals are 4-5 on the year and travel to Houston next Sunday to take on the Texans. There are games to play and it remains to be seen if this team can fight back.