5 Matchups to Watch as Seahawks Battle Cardinals in NFC West Opener
Aiming to remain the NFC's only undefeated team and move to 6-0 for the first time in franchise history, the Seahawks will take their No. 1 ranked scoring offense to the desert to take on a surging Cardinals squad in their NFC West opener.
Coming off a bye week, Seattle should be well rested and though safety Jamal Adams won't return after sitting out the past two games with a groin injury, the team looks much healthier heading into this pivotal contest. As for Arizona, Kliff Kingbury's team is riding a wave of momentum after a 31-10 beatdown in Dallas on Monday Night Football and should be close to full strength as well.
As the two rivals prepare for the first of two games against one another in a five-week span, here's five critical matchups to watch at State Farm Stadium.
--Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson versus Cardinals safety Budda Baker: Now in his fourth season, few defenders have been more disruptive through the first six weeks than Baker, who has evolved into a Jamal Adams-type weapon for Arizona. Through six games, he has 45 tackles, 2.0 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble, stuffing the stat sheet and looking every bit like the First-Team All-Pro he was in 2019. Much as opponents have to game plan for Adams, Wilson will have to keep tabs on the whereabouts of the dynamic defensive playmaker every single play, as he's a superb blitzer who excels in the box as a run defender and also can make plays as a single-high safety. Due to Wilson's excellence and the weapons at his disposal on the outside, the Cardinals may not be able to play Baker near the line of scrimmage quite as often, but this has the makings of a tremendous quarterback versus safety chess match between two of the game's premier talents.
--Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and running back Kenyan Drake versus Seahawks linebackers Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Cody Barton/Jordyn Brooks: Coach Pete Carroll wouldn't confirm who would start for Seattle at weakside linebacker this weekend, but regardless of whether Barton or Brooks plays alongside Wagner and Wright, the trio of 'backers will be tested by a challenging rushing attack featuring read options and a heavy dose of wide zone and perimeter-oriented run concepts. A phenomenal athlete who is a nightmare to tackle, Murray has rushed for 370 yards and four touchdowns thus far, both first among quarterbacks. The Seahawks will have to have a linebacker spying on him at all times due to his incredible mobility. Drake produced his best game of the season against the Cowboys last Monday with 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Seattle knows what he's capable of, as he exploded for over 160 rushing yards in Arizona's Week 16 upset at CenturyLink Field last December. Slowing down both ball carriers will be key to grounding the Cardinals' high-powered offense.
--Seahawks receivers DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and David Moore versus Cardinals cornerbacks Patrick Peterson, Byron Murphy, and Dre Kirkpatrick: After ranking 31st in total pass defense in 2019, the Cardinals have made tremendous improvements in coverage this season and currently rank 12th in total pass defense. They've allowed only a 62.4 percent completion rate by opposing quarterbacks and surrendered the third-fewest air yards on completions. The biggest reasons for those improvements have been the return of Peterson, who was suspended for six games last season, as well as the growth of Murphy in his second season and the addition of Kirkpatrick in free agency. Last weekend, they held the Cowboys trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup to 166 yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions. But going against Metcalf, Lockett, and Moore, this will easily be the secondary's biggest test, particularly with Wilson firing on all cylinders under center with 19 touchdowns through five games. The most appetizing matchup should be Metcalf, who leads the NFL averaging 22.5 yards per reception, against Peterson, a three-time First-Team All-Pro selection.
--Cardinals receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk versus Seahawks cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin, Quinton Dunbar, and Ugo Amadi: On the flip side, while Arizona's secondary has improved dramatically, Seattle hasn't been able to slow down any opponents in the passing game to this point, allowing an NFL-record 1,852 passing yards through the first five games. Part of the issue has been the lack of continuity, as Dunbar missed two games with a knee injury and Tre Flowers struggled mightily as his replacement. The veteran cornerback returned in Week 5 and will likely see the bulk of his snaps in coverage against the NFL's leading receiver in Hopkins, who primarily lines up on the left side of the formation for the Cardinals. Aside from Dunbar facing a steep challenge trying to cover the perennial All-Pro target, Griffin could also have his hands full with Kirk, who has scored a team-high three touchdowns and found the end zone twice against the Cowboys on Monday. While his overall numbers are down this year, Fitzgerald remains a viable weapon working from the slot and his size and route running savvy could be problematic for Amadi in nickel and dime packages. This will be as difficult of a test as Seattle's secondary will see all season and the unit has to rise to the occasion if the team wants to leave the desert undefeated.
--Seahawks running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde versus Cardinals linebackers Jordan Hicks, Haasan Reddick, and De'Vondre Campbell: Thanks to Wilson's hot start, the Seahawks haven't had to lean much on their ground game with Carson rushing for just 289 yards and Hyde being limited to just 57 yards in three games due to a shoulder injury. That could change this week, however. The Cardinals have been in the middle of the pack defending the run, allowing 116 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, which both rank 16th in the NFL. Those numbers have been impacted by Arizona racing out to big leads in several games and taking the run game away from opponents, including Dallas last Monday. Carson has found success against the Cardinals in the past, rushing for over 100 yards in last year's game in Glendale. Matched up against their linebackers in coverage, he and Hyde may also have a chance to do damage as receivers, as they've allowed 234 receiving yards to running backs this year, the eighth-most in the NFL. Getting the backs involved early could prove to be critical by keeping Arizona's offense off the field with sustained drives and creating downfield opportunities later in the game.