The Seahawks (2-1) head to Arizona this week to take on the Cardinals (0-2-1) at State Farm Stadium, the first NFC West game of the year for both teams. The Seahawks are 5-0-1 in their last six road games against the Cardinals, having last lost there in their 2012 opener, which was also Russell Wilson's first game. If the Seahawks are going to continue their winning ways in the desert, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Seattle's pass-rush vs. Arizona's offensive line.
The Seahawks' pass rush got off to a great start, recording five sacks in a season-opening win over the Bengals, but they've managed just one sack in the past two games. Seattle's opponents deserve credit for some of that; Pittsburgh has one of the league's best offensive lines, and both the Steelers and Saints did a good job getting the ball out of their quarterbacks' hands quickly. But quick passing game or not, the Seahawks want to find ways to get to the quarterback, and they hope to get that element of their defense going this week against an Arizona offense that has allowed the second most sacks in the league through three games, 16, including eight in last week's loss to Carolina.
"Every week is a good week," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said of getting the pass rush going. "We like to get it done every week. Obviously, there's no better week than the next week, which is this one coming up. We're excited about getting the guys going. Our pass rush has to get going whether it's this week, last week, or in the following weeks for us to be successful."
Two factors that could help the Seahawks' pass rush this week are the sheer number of opportunities they'll get to rush Murray, who averages 45.7 pass attempts per game, as well as the rookie's ability to extend plays with his legs. While Murray's scramble ability can make good things happen for Arizona's offense, it can also present opportunities for pass rushers since he's holding the ball longer at times.
"It's a really good opportunity," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "I think a lot of the teams rushed him a lot. A lot of it too was him escaping and trying to make plays. They were able to get him. We have to be conscious of that. Conscious of him trying to escape the pocket, him trying to extend the plays. He's a young quarterback, so he's not excelled as of yet. He has the potential to extend the play and really be good at it. We have to make sure we're conscious of that."
2. Kyler Murray and the Air Raid offense vs. Seattle's pass defense.
For the second time this season, the Seahawks are facing an offense led by a new head coach, meaning there's an element of the unknown working against Seattle's defense. First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury is bringing the Air Raid offense to the NFL, which will mean a lot of passing, four and five-receiver sets, and fast-tempo offense.
"This is our first look at the air raid offense and what (Kingsbury) has got," Carroll said. "A new program there. A new quarterback. New system. All that kind of stuff. We've looked at it in the offseason, but now it's for real…They have tremendous potential in this offense with a quarterback who's just lights out athletically and commands stuff. He's way ahead of his time. Big time running back, great inside receiver, speed. They go for it."
One element of Arizona's offense that differentiates it from other up-tempo spread offenses is Murray's athletic ability. The 2018 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick didn't run much in Arizona's first two games, but he rushed for 69 yards on just eight carries last week.
"What's enhanced here is the movement of the quarterback," Carroll said. "In any offense that has a quarterback that can move like this, it just causes major issues. It happens to be that they spread you all out so there's a lot of room. You can see why they picked him. You can see why they picked the coach, the whole thing. It all fits together really well."
It will be interesting to see how much Arizona's offense changes what Seattle does defensively. Through three games, the Seahawks have stayed in their base defense (four defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs) for the majority of their defensive snaps. Seattle's trust in its linebacker trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks has allowed the Seahawks to play so much base, but with Arizona using so many receivers, the Seahawks may have to use more nickel and dime packages. Whatever personnel packages it takes, the Seahawks are confident they can get the job done.
"We can play against anything if we put our mind to it," said Wagner, who set a Seahawks single-game record with 19 tackles last week. "I think no matter who we have on the field, base, nickel, whatever you want. We'll be good."
3. Tyler Lockett vs. Arizona's depleted cornerback corps.
While the Seahawks will rely on their running game, as always, there could also be some opportunities for Russell Wilson and the passing game. And the way Tyler Lockett is playing, he very well could have a big role in this game.
After being limited to just one catch in the opener—albeit a big one, the 44-yard touchdown that put Seattle ahead for good—Lockett has 21 catches in the past two games, including a career-best 11 catch, 154-yard game last week.
"He's amazing, he really is an amazing guy," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "His ability to get open. Just his timing with Russ, some of the things they see and feel together are really cool. What is it, 21 in the past two games that we had, 10 and 11?... I can't remember another guy having 21 in two games like that."
Helping Seattle will be the absence of two of Arizona's top corners, Patrick Peterson, who is serving a six-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, and Robert Alford, who broke his leg in the preseason.
In part because of those absences, the Cardinals have allowed 19 explosive passes (16-plus yards) in three games, tied for the fifth most in the NFL.