The Seahawks are 11-3 and currently in first place in the NFC West, but they know they need to finish strong to reach their goals, starting with Sunday's game against a Cardinals team that has been more competitive this season than its 4-9-1 record might indicate.
"The Cardinals coming off a terrific game last week against Cleveland," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They really were doing it on all phases. The offense was ripping. The quarterback was on fire. Kenyan Drake was a new addition to the team from when we saw them before, and he's had a huge impact. The fact that he has been able to keep David Johnson on the bench–that's a big impact. They really look like they're firing on all cylinders there. We look at them coming off this game as tough as anybody that we've seen."
If the Seahawks are going to improve to 12-3 and stay in first place, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in the Seahawks' penultimate regular season game:
1. Seattle's deep passing game against a struggling Arizona pass defense.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game had their best performance in over a month in last week's win in Carolina, and while Seattle will want to be balanced, as always, there could be an opportunity for another big day throwing the ball against the Cardinals.
While Wilson has been one of the league's top quarterbacks all season, the Cardinals have struggled to stop opposing passing games. Arizona has allowed the most passing yards in the NFL this season, the highest opponent quarterback rating, the most touchdown passes, the most explosive passes (16 or more yards) and has just seven interceptions. All of those numbers aside, however, the Seahawks know they can't take this defense lightly. Arizona has a lot of talent on that side of the ball, despite some struggles, including Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, who missed the Week 4 game against Seattle due to a suspension.
"The numbers are what they are, but I think this is a really good defense," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "I really do. They play really, really hard for (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph). Chandler Jones is having a massive year. First time we played, Patrick (Peterson) didn't pay. He's playing really well right now. In no way, shape, or form do we really believe the numbers. We think this is a really good defense coming in here. There will be challenges."
2. Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones vs. Seattle's pass protection.
As outlined above, there should be opportunities in the passing game for Seattle, but for the Seahawks to take their shots down the field, they'll need to give Wilson time to throw, and that's never an easy task against Chandler Jones, one of the league's best pass rushers.
Jones, who is in his fourth season with the Cardinals, has recorded double-digit sacks in five straight seasons and six of his past seven, including 15.0 this year and 45 over the past three seasons. The Seahawks did a good job with Jones in the earlier meeting, holding him without a sack—one of only three teams to shut him out this season—but they know that they'll have to be on top of their game to keep him in check again.
"He's just a dominant pass rusher," Schottenheimer said. "He's just so athletic and long and the ability to kind of use his hands to get off blocks. Playing terrific. Playing with a lot of confidence. They move him around some. He's playing some different roles now that (Terrell) Suggs is gone. I think he's getting comfortable with that role, but yeah, he is a guy that we need to be aware of where he is at all times because he can ruin some things."
3. Kenyan Drake and Arizona's rushing attack vs. Seattle's run defense.
The Cardinals made a significant addition to their offense since these teams last met, and running back Kenyan Drake has been a real difference maker for his new team, rushing for 417 yards and five touchdowns in his six games since he was traded from Miami to Arizona. Drake is coming off a huge performance in last week's win over Cleveland, rushing for 137 and four touchdowns on 22 carries, part of a 226-yard rushing performance by the Cardinals, who are averaging over 187 rushing yards per game in their four wins.
Making Drake more dangerous is the threat of quarterback Kyler Murray, who leads the Cardinals with 504 rushing yards on 35 carries.
Kenyan Drake was a new addition to the team from when we saw them before, and he's had a huge impact. The fact that he's been able to keep David Johnson on the bench–that's a big impact.
The Seahawks have allowed only two individual 100-yard rushing performances this season, one by Cleveland's Nick Chub and one by Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, and keeping Drake in check would go a long ways towards Seattle's defense having a successful day on Sunday.