8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Seahawks -6, Over/Under: 41.5
NFC West Rivals clash tonight in the Desert, as the Arizona Cardinals host the Seattle Seahawks from University of Phoenix Stadium, in a matchup featuring a pair of teams trying to climb back into the division race. As it currently stands, the Seahawks (5-3, 2nd in NFC West) don’t have a ton of ground to make up, as they only trail the Los Angeles Rams by one game in the NFC West, but there is no doubt that this is indeed a team that could use some serious consistency at the moment. Comings and goings could best define the season at this juncture for Pete Carroll’s charges, who have been extremely active in terms of trades this season, acquiring the likes of former Jets’ Defensive Lineman Sheldon Richardson, and most recently Left Tackle Duane Brown from the Houston Texans. It’s with the hope that the latter’s addition will help stabilize the team’s most persistent weakness, the Offensive Line, which has been a glaring issue for years now. Brown, a three-time Pro Bowler and former First Team All-Pro, sat out the first seven games of the term due to a prolonged Contract Dispute, and was promptly shipped to the Pacific Northwest (for a pair of high Draft Picks) once he ended his holdout and voiced his opinion of Texans’ Owner Bob McNair, who made some very controversial remarks about the players during the Owners Meetings weeks ago. The 32-Year Old Tackle made his first start for Seattle in last weekend’s disappointing 17-14 loss at home to the Washington Redskins, in which the Offense struggled mightily to breach the End Zone despite racking up 437 Total Yards, sitting on just Two Points until early in the Fourth Quarter. The man whom he’s chiefly charged with protecting, Russell Wilson (62.0%, 288.1 Y/G, 6.85 NY/A, 17 TD, 6 INT), had to throw the ball more than Carroll and his Staff would prefer, completing 24-of-45 Attempts for 297 Yards, with a pair of Touchdowns and Interceptions apiece, while rushing for another seventy-seven Yards on ten Carries. Though he was only sacked twice (for a loss of Eight Yards), many of the elusive Quarterback’s Rushing Yards came via escaping a collapsing Pocket rather than on designed Rollouts or Bootlegs. No Position Group benefits more from chemistry than the Offensive Line, and as Brown works himself back into game shape and becomes more acclimated to his new surroundings, this could end up being one of the most noteworthy transactions of the campaign when it’s all said and done. But back to that term consistency, which isn’t something that you would expect would be needed on Defense, where the Seahawks have been the league’s standard for the last four years. Simply put, this is not the dominant unit that helped propel this team to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, including a Lombardi Trophy back in 2013; through eight games they’ve largely kept the opposition out of the End Zone yielding just 18.6 Points per Game (5th Overall), but in the process have given up many more yards than we’ve grown accustomed to, relinquishing 322.5 Total Yards (13th Overall), including 213.1 through the air (13th Overall) on 5.7 Net Yards per Attempt (10th Overall), and another 109.4 on the ground (15th Overall) on 4.3 Yards per Carry (24th Overall). While those figures indicate a Defense that has been certainly better than middle-of-the-pack, their decline from dominant to simply good signifies what could be the end of an era in Seattle, with the veritable Legion of Boom no longer capable of making up for their teammates’ shortcomings on the opposite side of the ball. Injuries, along with age, have played no small role in their declining stature, with a number of solid performers occupying the Medical Area of the Training Facility; Edge Rusher Cliff Avril (and his 34.5 Sacks since joining Seattle) have been lost to Injured Reserve since suffering a neck injury in Week Four, while underrated Cornerback DeShawn Shead was given the same distinction after undergoing surgery in the Offseason to repair a partially torn ACL. Furthermore, the aforementioned Richardson’s impact has been delayed with the Lineman suffering an Oblique Injury, while the Secondary could be potentially without both Jeremy Lane (Thigh) and Earl Thomas (Hamstring), with the latter three-time All-Pro Safety sitting out the affair with the Redskins. On such a short week, injuries can be crippling, particularly for a side that has seen their ranks depleted nearly as frequently as they’ve added to them.
Meanwhile, with half of the season in the books, it’s safe to say that this certainly isn’t how Bruce Arians imagined his Cardinals (4-4, 3rd in NFC West) would look like. After losing All-Pro Tailback David Johnson to a badly Dislocated Wrist in the Season Opener, the wily Head Coach has now lost his Starting Quarterback, with Carson Palmer (61.4%, 282.6 Y/G, 6.33 NY/A, 9 TD, 7 INT) out for the season after suffering a broken Throwing Arm three weeks ago in an embarrassing 33-0 shutout loss to the division-leading Rams in London, England. It’s simply one of those years for Arizona, who have now seen a number of prominent contributors on Offense land on Injured Reserve, with not only their Starting Quarterback and Tailback, but run-blocking extraordinaire Mike Iupati (Triceps) lost as well. Needless to say, this is a decidedly different looking unit than the potential big play machine that was expected before the season began. Even the brilliant (and unexpected) acquisition of Adrian Peterson (101 CAR, 395 YDS, 2 TD), which briefly gave hope to the Arizona Faithful, was for all and intents and purposes thrown aside with Palmer suffering his respective injury mere weeks after the trade that brought the former Rushing Champion to the Desert. After looking lost in New Orleans, Peterson immediately appeared revitalized by the move westward, averaging 104.7 Yards on 4.2 yards per Carry in three starts with the Cards, a clear improvement over his pedestrian-like 20.3 Yards per Game in the Big Easy. While it’s mystifying to think about just how an Offensive Mastermind such as Sean Payton couldn’t properly utilize a player with AP’s skills, there is no debate as to how much the 32-Year old Tailback has left in the tank. After registering a disappointing eight-one Rushing Yards in two games with the Saints, Peterson already has added a pair of 100-Yard performances to his considerable CV, including gashing the winless San Francisco 49ers for a season-best 159 Yards on thirty-seven Carries. It will be interesting to see if the future Hall of Famer can continue to hold up with such a heavy workload, because with Palmer gone, the only way this Offense is going to be successful is if Arians keeps things grounded, so Drew Stanton (45.5%, 33.5 Y/G, 5.67 NY/A, 2 TD, 2 INT) can take his shots judiciously. The journeyman Backup has spent each of the last four seasons as Palmer’s primary understudy, making ten Starts in his mentor’s place over that period, in which the 33-Year Old has earned a respectable 7-3 record, despite tossing more Interceptions (Twelve) than Touchdowns (Eleven). Again, it should be interesting to see how the Offense will hold up with Stanton pulling the strings; spending both the 2011 and 2013 seasons out of the NFL, the veteran credits Arians for saving his career, as the then-Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, pulled Stanton from football purgatory, charging him with supporting a then-rookie Andrew Luck. Clearly versed in the system as well as can be expected, the real question lies in his ability to execute the Gameplan, and adjust to opposing Defenses as the season progresses. Even with the loss of Johnson, there are certainly no shortage of weapons on the Roster, making the possibility of Stanton exceeding expectations slightly better than lukewarm. While the Completion Percentage (15-of-30, 50.0%) left much to be desired in last weekend’s 20-10 victory at San Francisco, he still managed to throw a pair of Touchdowns, as Arians was all too comfortable to allow Peterson to crash through the home side’s Defensive Front. However, the argument can be made that this group will rarely even look that good, considering they were coming off a Bye Week, with the advantage of extra time to prepare for a bottom-feeding opponent, which is the exact opposite scenario they face tonight. In many ways this appears to be the final days of the Arizona Cardinals as we’ve come to know them these past four years, as Arians and Co. have crafted a veteran team that looks to be on it’s last legs on one side of the ball. With Palmer (38-Years old), Peterson (32-Years Old), Iupati (30-Years Old), and perennial Pro Bowl Receiver Larry Fitzgerald (34-Years Old) all entering the twilight of their stellar careers, and even Arians (65-Years Old) mulling the prospects of retirement, there is likely going to be major rebuilding sooner rather later, which is a shame given how close this team has been to immortality in the past.