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December 20, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Seahawks-Cardinals: What to watch

Seattle Times photo/John Lok

Seattle Times photo/John Lok

Here are some things to watch in Sunday’s Seattle-Arizona game from beat writers Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta.

First, from Jenks:

1. Can the offense hit a few big plays down the field? The Cardinals are going to come after the Seahawks with blitzes, as they do every game, and that means the Seahawks will have chances to make them pay with big plays down the field. Two question marks come into play to make that happen, though: 1) Can the offensive line buy Russell Wilson (above) and Co. enough time to allow those plays to unfold? And 2) When Wilson does pull the trigger deep, can his receivers come down with the ball? One or two of those plays might be enough to swing the game.

2. The impact of Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks have struggled to get Lynch going against the Cardinals, and it changes their whole identity when that happens. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell admitted to getting impatient when the Seahawks consistently face 2nd-and-longs, a natural and expected way to operate when you can’t pick up successful yards on first down. If Lynch doesn’t get going, the Cardinals can pin their ears back and come after Wilson.

3. Wilson, in or out of the pocket? That’s one of the things Arizona has done so well the last couple years: keep Wilson bottled up in the pocket. It is one of the hardest things for defenses to do, but it takes away one of Wilson’s greatest strengths. He is at his best out of the pocket, and he has struggled against the Cardinals in the past when they’ve limited that. Can he break their containment and get free enough to pull off some more magic?

And from Condotta

1. Can Seattle’s tackles hold up? Arizona had seven sacks in the first game between the two teams, with end Calais Campbell getting three. The Cardinals move their linemen around a lot so the task for defending him won’t fall strictly to one Seahawk. But rookie right tackle Justin Britt will undoubtedly get his shots against Campbell and will hope for better results than the first time. The challenge is no less on the other side, where starting let tackle Russell Okung is now out with a bruised lung suffered last week and will be replaced by second-year player Alvin Bailey, who has four career regular season starts. Bailey admittedly struggled when playing the second half last week against the 49ers but hopes a week of preparation knowing he will start will make a difference. He started at left guard in the first game against Arizona, which should help with familiarity with what Arizona does defensively. Figure Bailey to often go up against Frostee Rucker, who has three sacks in the last two games.

 2. Can the Seahawks make their Red Zone opportunities count? Seattle’s four-game winning streak hasn’t necessarily been due to increased success in the red zone, something that has been a year-long issue for the Seahawks. Seattle is 23rd in the NFL in scoring touchdowns inside the 20 — 28-57, 49.1 percent. That includes a 5-14 ratio the last four games, 35.7 percent. Even worse the last two games has been blowing opportunities to at convert on opportunities when in field goal range, notably at the end of the first half last week against the 49ers when a final-play interception killed a chance to at least get three. Arizona will present a tough challenge Sunday as the Cardinals rank second in the NFL defensively, allowing touchdowns on just 15 of 37 red zone trips by opponents (40.5 percent) and scores of any kind 75.7 percent of the time, also second. In a game like this, where points figure to be at a premium, Seattle will have to take advantage of every chance it gets.

 3. Can the Seahawks put the game in the hands of Ryan Lindley? Arizona is down to its third starting quarterback of the season after Carson Palmer and his backup, Drew Stanton, were sidelined with knee injuries. Stanton, who started at Seattle, suffered an injury last week and is listed as doubtful, an upgrade from where he was earlier in the week. Lindley will get the start, just the fifth of his career, still searching for his first touchdown pass — he hasn’t thrown any in 181 career attempts. The Seahawks will try to put as much of the game into his hands as possible, which means stifling an Arizona running attack that on paper is hardly imposing — the Cardinals are 28th in the NFL in rushing at 84.4 yards per game. Still, Arizona has revved up its running the last two games, gaining 141 and 143 in wins against the Chiefs and Rams. Whether Arizona can run enough to take some heat off of Lindley figures to be a big determiner in the game.

 

 

 

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