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Enemy Confidential: NFC West-Leading Cardinals Seeking Rebound vs. Seahawks

Coming off a tough loss to Cam Newton and the Panthers, the Cardinals have a score to settle after losing their last matchup against the Seahawks at Lumen Field and hope to have their star quarterback back under center after a two-game absence.

In his third season at the helm for the Cardinals and facing mounting pressure to lead the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, coach Kliff Kingsbury couldn't have asked for a better start to the 2021 campaign.

Boasting a top-five offense as well as a rapidly improving top-five defense, Arizona came out of the gates red hot, racing to a 7-0 start as the NFL's lone remaining undefeated team. In the process, Kingsbury's squad picked up multiple signature road victories, including dominating Tennessee 38-13 in the season opener and blowing out the Los Angeles Rams by 17 points.

But since that scorching start, the Cardinals have been befallen by injury misfortune. First, defensive end J.J. Watt suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against the Texans and landed on injured reserve. Then, starting quarterback Kyler Murray injured his ankle in a tight 24-21 loss to the Packers in Week 8 and didn't play each of the past two games. Superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins also sat out those two games with a hamstring injury and remains sidelined.

Though Arizona overcame its bevy of injuries with a surprising 31-17 rout of San Francisco two weeks ago, the same couldn't be said for last weekend, as the short-handed team was done in by turnovers in a 34-10 home loss to Carolina. Losing a fumble and getting stuffed on fourth down on their first two drives, the Cardinals put their defense in tough spots and found themselves down 17-0 after just one quarter, leading to their second loss in three games.

Looking to right the ship and keep pace with the Packers for the top seed in the conference, the Cardinals will hit the road to face the struggling Seahawks at Lumen Field. After seeing their upcoming opponent at their worst last week, coach Pete Carroll expects Kingsbury will have his troops ready to bounce back and knows for his team to start a winning streak, they will have to bring their A-game against a hungry division rival.

"These guys have had a fantastic start to the season. They are firing in a lot of areas, really competitive on both sides of the ball and special teams. You can see why they have been winning," Carroll said on Wednesday. "We have to play some good ball, we have to play some really good ball to have a chance with these guys because they have the firepower, they run the ball a lot, have a nice perimeter game that they work, and they are playing good D. It’s a good matchup and it will be a good challenge."

As the Seahawks prepare for a must-win Week 11 matchup at home, here’s a closer look at their upcoming NFC West opponent, including series history, additions/departures, schematic insight, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the Cardinals.

Series History

45th regular season meeting. The Seahawks hold a narrow series lead, holding a 22-21-1 record against their division rivals from the desert.

After Seattle was awarded a franchise in 1976, the then-St. Louis Cardinals were victorious in the first two matchups and even after relocating to Arizona, the series was lopsided early with the Cardinals winning each of the first five games between the two teams. The Seahawks longest winning streak in the series came from 2004 to 2006 when they beat their rival four straight times. The Cardinals matched that streak in 2008 and 2009 by sweeping both annual matchups in those two seasons. Since 2010, Seattle holds the advantage with a 13-8-1 record, but interestingly, Carroll's team has gone just 6-5 at home during that span.

What's New

Departures: Following 10 seasons with the franchise, the Cardinals allowed cornerback Patrick Peterson to walk in free agency and he signed with the Vikings. Cashing in on a career year, Haasan Reddick also bolted to join the Panthers during free agency and running back Kenyon Drake left to sign with the Raiders. Tight end Dan Arnold signed with the Panthers as well, only to be traded weeks into the season to the Jaguars. Linebacker DeVondre Campbell departed after just one season in Arizona, becoming a starter in Green Bay.

Additions: By far the team's biggest splash of the offseason, Arizona promptly signed future Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt after Houston released him as a cap casualty. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury suffered in Week 7 ended his season prematurely. But the Cardinals made several other moves to bolster their roster with veteran talent, signing former All-Pro receiver A.J. Green and running back James Conner in free agency and trading for standout center Rodney Hudson. Then in October, the team acquired tight end Zach Ertz from the Eagles, providing another weapon for Murray at a position of need. In the draft, Arizona added athletic linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round and found two other early contributors in receiver Rondale Moore and cornerback Marco Wilson in the second and fourth rounds respectively.

Injury Report

Banged up heading towards their Week 12 bye, the Cardinals officially ruled out star receiver DeAndre Hopkins with a hamstring injury as well as guard Justin Pugh, linebacker Tanner Valejo, and running back Jonathan Ward on Friday. Murray looks to be trending towards playing after being limited at practice this week, but he and McCoy are both listed as questionable for Sunday. Safety Budda Baker also is listed as questionable with a heel injury, but coach Kliff Kingsbury expects he will play.

Inside The Scheme

Running Kingsbury's Air Raid offense, the Cardinals employ 10 personnel with four receivers, one running back, and no tight ends more than any team in the NFL at a 21 percent clip. They also use 11 personnel with three wideouts, a tight end, and a running back 48 percent of the time and use 12 personnel with a second tight end 20 percent of the time according to Sharp Football Stats.

Per Pro Football Focus, Arizona has ran zone on 69 percent of its run plays this season and primarily runs wide zone as part of its Air Raid-style offensive attack. Murray has been one of the more effective play action passers in the game this year, currently ranking 12th in the league with 788 passing yards and a 71.9 percent completion rate off of play fakes. He's also thrown on 45 RPOs - sixth-most attempts among quarterbacks - for 425 yards according to Pro Football Reference.

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In a changeup from previous stops in Miami and Denver, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has relied much more heavily on man coverage since taking over as Arizona's defensive coordinator in 2019. The team ranked in the top five for percentage of early down snaps in Cover 1 last season per PFF and has maintained a high man coverage percentage so far in 2021.

Joseph has also dialed up the blitz more than he did earlier in his coaching career, as the Cardinals blitzed at the fourth-highest rate last season and currently rank eighth with a 29.7 percent blitz percentage. While tied for fifth in the NFL with 25 sacks as a team, the extensive blitzing has yielded a 25.1 percent pressure rate, which ranks 12th best in the NFL.

By The Numbers

28.7: Points per game, fourth-most in the NFL

31:09: Average time of possession per game, ninth in NFL

362: Four receivers with at least this many receiving yards in 10 games

70: Red zone touchdown rate, third-best in the league

10: Fumbles in run game, most in the NFL

4.8: Yards per carry allowed defending the run, tied for worst in NFL

17.6: Percentage of drives ending in turnover, third-best among 32 teams

19: Pass plays of 20-plus yards, second-fewest behind only the Bills

67: Missed tackles on defense, seventh-most in the league

6.76: Sack percentage per 100 drop backs by opposing quarterbacks, seventh-best in the NFL

Carroll's Thoughts

--On the growth of quarterback Kyler Murray in his third season in the league: “He has definitely continued to clean stuff up. He’s completing 73 percent of his passes, that’s hard to do this late in the year. He’s really decisive, seems really in control with what they are doing, and they do a ton of stuff. Each week they give you new game plans and he manages all of that. He’s not running a whole lot, he runs when he gets the opportunity, but they are not forcing the issue for him to run the football. They are just doing it really well and he makes them a very dangerous team to deal with.”

--On what veteran running back James Conner has provided Cardinals' offense: “He looks really good, he looks the best we have seen him in the last couple of years. I don’t know if it’s the uniforms or what, but he has done really well and has been really active up inside. He’s an inside runner, but he has done well on the perimeter with some screens and stuff. He has 11 touchdowns, so they are really going to him. He’s a real stud of a guy. Fortunately for them, they have a guy like that, and they are really excited about it, you can tell by the way they give him the football. He’s doing a really nice job.”

--On the Cardinals much-improved secondary: ) “It’s a really good group. Both safeties, led by Budda [Baker] who is a really fine football player. He does a great job in the hole, keeping guys in front of him, and making plays. Their three corners play well for them, so they are strong in nickel. [Byron] Murphy is doing a really nice job, [Marco] Wilson is doing a good job, and they just have a good group, so they are playing consistent football.”