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November 22, 2014 at 12:13 PM

What to Watch: Seahawks-Cardinals

Here are three things to watch in Sunday’s Seattle-Arizona game:

1, The running game. In a something-has-to-give matchup, this game features the best rushing offense in the NFL — Seattle’s, at 174.2 per game — against one of the best rushing defenses — Arizona’s, third in the NFL at 80.5. Arizona has not allowed a 100-yard runner in its last 20 games but now faces Marshawn Lynch, who has 140 and 124 yards in his last two games, averaging almost six yards per carry. Arizona’s defensive line, though, battered the Seahawks in a 17-10 win in Seattle last Dec. 22. And Seattle will play without starting center Max Unger, whose return was credited with further reviving the running attack the last two weeks and is now out 3-4 weeks with knee/ankle injuries. A real key to this for Seattle will be targeting correctly on the Cardinals’ blitzes. Arizona blitzes 40-45 percent of the time, typically, doing so from lots of different angles and just about anywhere on the field. And a key to the success of their blitzes  disguise. Simply knowing where everyone is on the blitzes — which often are done as much to stop runs as create pressure on passes — will be huge for Seattle Sunday. The winner of the game could be as simple as which team wins this battle.

2. Can the Legion of Boom make Drew Stanton pay for taking deep shots? The members of Seattle’s secondary have often lamented this season that opponents rarely throw deep against them. That likely won’t be the case today against an Arizona offense that has made its living hitting long passes. According to Pro Football Focus, 28 of Stanton’s 125 passes have traveled 20 yards or longer in the air (by contrast, just 29 of Russell Wilson’s 291 attempts have gone 20 yards or longer). “He’s not scared of forcing the ball,’’ said Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Taking lots of deep shots is one reason Stanton has a completion percentage of just 53.6. If he keeps with that strategy Sunday, it could afford the Legion of Boom some uncommon opportunities for interceptions — Seattle has just six this season after leading the NFL with 28 a year ago.

3. The Battle in the Red Zone:  In a battle of two of the better defenses in the NFL, points figure to be at a premium. And that will place even more importance on taking advantage of scoring opportunities. Seattle didn’t do that last week at Kansas City, scoring touchdowns on just two of five drives inside the 20. That’s been an issue for Seattle all year as the Seahawks are 20th in the NFL in scoring TDs in the red zone at 53.5 percent (23-43). Arizona, meanwhile, ranks No. 1 in red zone defense overall, allowing points of any kind on just 73.9 percent of red zone possessions, and touchdowns on 12 of 23 (52.2 percent). Seattle, conversely, is a surprising 31st in red zone defense, allowing points on 28 of 29 possessions this year, and touchdowns on 20 of 29.

 

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