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He Said / She Said: Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals

Saturday, November 14, 2015

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week 10 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (4—4) and the Arizona Cardinals (6–2).

When: 5:30 p.m. PT Sunday, Nov. 15 
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

Rogers: By virtue of taking last weekend off, the Seahawks improved their playoff outlook in almost every possible way. Their potential playoff entry foes, the Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys, all lost on Sunday. This brings the blue birds’ playoff hopes a step closer. The Cardinals did not play, but the only way the Seahawks’ bye week fortunes could have been better is if the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants had also managed to drop their games.

As it stands, this Sunday’s tilt against the Cards will turn the Seahawks season — one way or another. With a win, they’ll be within one game of the division lead. With a loss, they’ll be three games back, with a return trip to Arizona to come at season’s end. If you can have a must-win game in mid-November, this is one.

Jess, with the Cardinals averaging 32.9 points per game, compared to the Seahawks’ average of 20.9 a game, do the Seahawks have enough firepower to keep up with the NFL’s 4th-ranked offense, while facing off against the NFL’s 3rd-ranked defense?

Ridpath: I think we have to take the Cardinals’ offensive ranking with a grain of salt. They were gifted a series of defensive marshmallows in the season’s first half — with five of their six wins coming against defenses buried near the bottom of the rankings (New Orleans at 31st, Cleveland at 29th, San Francisco at 27th, Detroit at 26th, and Baltimore at 24th). Arizona has yet to take on a defense of the same caliber as Seattle — except when they faced St. Louis in week four … and lost.

Still, even if the Seahawks can hold the Cardinals to 10 points fewer than their season average, the sputtering Seattle offense will have to step up their game to keep pace. In the season’s first seven weeks, the term “Seahawks offensive line” became synonymous with the word “sack.” So the fact that they didn’t allow a single sack in week eight against Dallas is significant. It’s an important confidence builder that should give the young line something to shoot for, especially considering they provided their best protection of the season without left tackle Russell Okung (ankle).

The bye week and the rest it afforded could not have come at a better time for Seattle. With Okung and running back Thomas Rawls both expected to be back for this week’s game, the Seahawks’ chances on offense are looking up. In fact, Vegas odds favor the blue birds by three points as of today (which means the two teams are considered about even, after accounting for home-field advantage).

What do you think, Julian? Are the folks in Vegas crazy for thinking Seattle can hold their own against the division leaders?

Rogers: I see what you’re doing here. You’re trying to Carolina Panthers me a second time. You talked me out of picking them to beat the Seahawks by spewing all over their season-to-date accomplishments. You think I’m going to fall for that again?

No, I don’t think the “folks in Vegas” are crazy. (And who says “folks in Vegas,” anyway? Are you running for sheriff in Hillbilly Gulch?) It says that Vegas thinks the rest of the public agrees with your theory — that the Cardinals are playing above their station and the Seahawks are fixin’ to improve.

But yer darn tootin’, Clem. You make an excellent point about the caliber of defenses the Cardinals beat so far in the season. Boy, howdy, you do. Them red birds got their six wins against some mighty wispy defenses. The problem with your tin-starred observation is that the blue birds also got their four wins (book learnin’ tells me that’s two fewer wins) against some bottom-barrel offenses and some defenses not worth a sassafras: Detroit Lions (26th) and San Francisco 49ers (27th) (two of the very same defenses horn-swaggled by the Cardinals). The Dallas Cowboys are ranked 15th and the Chicago Bears are a surprising 9th in overall defense, which is amazing when you consider that I bet you cannot name one player on their defense without looking them up.

I reckon yer fed up to here with my sass, so I’ll call a halt to it. Scout’s honor.

The quarterbacks the Seahawks have beaten so far: Colin Kaepernick (since benched), Jimmy Clausen (since benched), Matthew Stafford (got his offensive coordinator, general manager and team president fired), Matt Cassel (Dallas’ third QB of the season; soon-to-be benched) look like John Wayne compared to Carson Palmer. And I mean John-Wayne-as-Genghis-Khan John Wayne.

Palmer is fifth in passing yards to date, enjoying a dominant season with resurgent veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald (eighth-most catches so far this year). The red birds rely on their second receiver, John Brown, very effectively as well. In their four losses, the Seahawks haven’t faced an aerial attack like the Cardinals offer. The Seahawks’ top quarterback faced so far is the eighth-ranked Andy Dalton (overtime loss). They lost their other three games to the 17th-ranked quarterback (Aaron Rodgers), 30th-ranked Nick Foles and 22nd-ranked Cam Newton.

Throwing for a ton of yards and catches does not add up to a win, of course. What’s gotten the Seahawks is an inability to stop offenses late in the game. It wasn’t that long ago when all we heard about was how the Seahawks couldn’t hold a fourth-quarter lead. That narrative may get resurrected against the Cardinals. Palmer has a fourth-quarter quarterback ranking of 127.0, good enough for third-best in the league.

Clem, before you accuse me of being all hat and no cattle, here’s a serious question: The field tilts for the Seahawks at home, but many of the statistics tilt toward the Cardinals. But being a division game, is this a throw-out-the-records rodeo, especially after both teams have had a bye to figure each other out?

Ridpath: Clem?? Last time I checked, this column was called “He said / she said.” You could at least refer to me as Clementine. Also, I think your Stetson might be a little too tight for your oversized head. The lack of blood to your brain seems to be turning you into a page hog.

So I’ll trim the fat and be brief: Seattle is gaining momentum heading into the season’s downward slope. At 4–4 they’re only one game off of their 2014 mid-season mark of 5–3. They went on to win seven of their final eight games last year, closing the regular season with six straight victories, including three on the road. In 2013, they won six of their last eight games. Seven of their last eight in 2012. Winning in the latter half of the season is what the Seahawks do. And I’ll think they’ll continue the trend against the Cardinals this Sunday.

The offensive line is showing signs of life. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and K.J. Wright are playing near the top of their games. Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin seem more sure-handed than ever before — the Seahawks lead the NFL in dropped passes rate with a mere 1.8. New Seahawks Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett, and Thomas Rawls are all capable of electrifying plays at any given time. And Russell Wilson is … well, Russell Wilson.

Combine all this with a Beast that’s healthy (for the time being), a Legion of Boom that’s looking truer to form, and schedule that’s heavy on home games, and it’s not hard to imagine the Seahawks making good on Pete Carroll’s vision for a “No Loss November.”

Okay, partner. Enough meandering. It’s time to take off the Stetson, let the blood flow, and make your prediction: Who will win this Sunday, the blue birds or the red?

Rogers: Clementine, it seems your boots have stepped in a part of the pasture known as “the past.” It may be time to scrape some of that off. Fitzgerald is on pace for a 110-catch / 1,412-yard / 14-touchdown season. If any of the Seahawks receivers read that last sentence it probably made no sense to them, since those are numbers they’ve never heard before. If you’re morbidly curious, take a peek at the two names at the top of Football Outsiders’ wide receiver rankings. Then scan downdowndown for a Seahawks receiver.

The last time the Seahawks faced a quarterback/receiver combo approximately as potent as Palmer / Fitzgerald / Brown, (Dalton / A.J. Green / Tyler Eifert), they gave up 331 passing yards and two touchdowns (Dalton rushed for another). The Cardinals’ top three threats outrank each of the top three Bengals.

So do y’all expect the blue birds to make up for the lack of fireworks with the rushing game? Once again, yer boots need some cleanin’. Lynch ranks 44th in yards before contact (1.74). A year ago, he averaged 2.14 yards before contact. Yards after contact reveal an even sadder campfire tale: Last year, Lynch averaged 2.53 yards after contact (the Beast Mode brand) — second-best in the NFL. In 2015, he can only manage 1.90, which ranks 22nd. (Statistics via ESPN Stats and Information.)

Is it the line or the Lynch? Either way, it’s not working like it did in Seattle’s Super Bowl seasons. Also not performing like the Seahawks’ Super Bowl seasons? The Arizona Cardinals. Prediction: Cardinals 27, Seahawks 23.

Ridpath: You make a good point about Arizona’s quarterback/receiver combo being more of a threat than any offense Seattle has faced this season. But again, I think we have to factor in the squishy defenses the Cardinals have played thus far. On paper, the Seahawks have the manpower in both the front seven and the secondary to neutralize almost any offensive threat. They just need to show up and play like they mean it.

It’s a different story for Seattle’s offense. They need to show up and play better than they have all season — particularly the offensive line. Patrick Lewis is healthy and will be back in the starting lineup at center, which could provide a much-needed boost. Lewis, who suffered an ankle injury after being given the start at center over Drew Nowak in week six, was recently praised by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for his skill in communicating line calls. Good communication will be essential in protecting Wilson from the oft-blitzing Cardinals and forging running lanes for Lynch.

It’s easy (and at least partially right) to blame Lynch’s weaker numbers this year on the beleaguered O line. But rookie Thomas Rawls — who has far fewer carries than Lynch this season (69 compared to 103) — is playing behind the same line and putting up much more impressive numbers overall: 5.45 yards per carry (5th) and 2.61 yards after contact (2nd). I can’t think of any reason why we shouldn’t see at least as much of Rawls as we do of Lynch this Sunday.

I have no doubt that the Seahawks can beat the Cardinals. If they get their script just right this Sunday, they will. Playing at home after a bye week with a “very healthy” team sets the stage nicely. Prediction: Seahawks 23, Cardinals 20.

--------------------

Owning up
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: We had no Seahawks game to pick, but I think that if I had had to pick, I would have guessed correctly. I just feel it.

What he got wrong: At season’s outset, I believed the Seahawks would vault into the upper-third of the passing rankings. They remain mired at 26th, which is where they’ve toiled for years.

What she got right: It’s too early to tell, of course, but I predicted that Cincinnati will beat Denver to the second seed in the AFC. After week nine, it’s the team from Ohio that remains undefeated.

What she got wrong: I’m going to fast forward and name one thing that I did wrong this week: I used the word “folks” … and accidentally unleashed a ranch-sized helping of hillbilly speak. I promise I’ll never do it again.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

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