The Seahawks head to Arizona this weekend in a battle of two of the NFC's top teams, a game the represents Seattle's first NFC West test of the season. The Seahawks are looking to improve upon a 6-0-1 road record against Arizona dating back to 2013, but know this year's version of the Cardinals presents a lot of challenges.
If the Seahawks are going to improve upon a franchise-best 5-0 start, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday night's game:
1. Arizona quarterback Murry vs. Seattle's entire defense.
The Cardinals have a number of weapons to worry about on offense, including DeAndre Hopkins, the league's leading receiver, and running back Kenyan Drake, who is coming off of a 164-yard, 2-touchdown rushing performance last week.
But when it comes to trying to slow down Arizona's offense, it all starts with 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who leads all NFL rushers with 7.3 rushing yards per carry, and leads all quarterbacks with 370 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
"You can't watch this team without watching Kyler Murray and seeing his effect on the game," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's a game-changer. Athleticism, poise, playmaking ability, all of that, and they've got guys around him."
Linebacker K.J. Wright said Murray is "Most definitely the quickest player that we're going to face this year," and said his running ability calls for the defense to be extremely disciplined.
And while Murray's passing numbers aren't all that spectacular, he's more than capable of making big plays in the passing game, particularly if a defense puts a lot of effort into stopping the run. That showed up last week when Murray hit Christian Kirk for an 80-yard score, and has been a part of his game throughout his first two seasons, with three of his touchdown passes covering 69 or more yards and 10 of them going for 20 or more yards.
2. Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf vs. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Metcalf is only five games into his second season, and already teams are showing him the type of respect given to some of the game's elite pass-catchers. That was on display earlier this season when New England had reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephone Gilmore shadow Metcalf throughout the game, and it occurred late last season when the Cardinals put Peterson on Metcalf.
"In my mind, I feel like I must be doing something right," Metcalf said of teams putting top corners on him.
It remains to be seen if Peterson will shadow Metcalf this time around, but those two should definitely go at it plenty of times on Sunday night. Last season, Metcalf was held without a catch while Peterson covered him, and while Metcalf was matter of fact about that, saying, "He kind of took me out of the game," Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was quick to point out that the entire offense struggled that day and Metcalf's lack of production wasn't strictly the result of that matchup.
If they go head-to-head this weekend, Metcalf feels like he's a much improved player from the one Peterson saw last year, and that has been evident in his consistent production this year, with Metcalf putting up at least 90 receiving yards in every game this season, giving him 496 and five touchdowns through five games.
"He's studied me, I've studied him," Metcalf said. "It's just a big matchup, we're going to see who wins."
And while Metcalf is confident he can produce against anyone—he had four catches for 92 yards and a score against Gilmore—he also knows getting that kind of attention can help his fellow receivers.
"I know that just opens up the offense even more for guys like Tyler (Lockett), Freddie (Swain) and D-Mo (David Moore) to show what they can do."
3. The battle in the red zone.
If this game comes down to the wire—and it's a Seahawks game, so why wouldn't it?—there's a decent chance that the winner of the game could be the team that performs best in the red zone.
Through six weeks, the Seahawks have converted 16 of their 18 (88.9 percent) red zone trips into touchdowns, the highest mark in the league. No. 2 on that list is Arizona, which has scored touchdowns on 16 of 20 red zone possessions. While Russell Wilson's arm has been a huge part of Seattle's red-zone success—he has thrown a league-high 19 touchdown passes, including 13 in the red zone—Murray has used his legs in the red zone, scoring four of his six rushing touchdowns from inside the 20, including runs of 1, 2, and 1 yard.
Defensively, the Cardinals have the statistical edge, allowing touchdowns on 41.7 percent of their opponents' trips to the red zone, the second lowest mark in the NFL, and a big reason why Arizona ranks second in scoring defense this season. Seattle, meanwhile, ranks 17th, allowing touchdowns on 64.7 percent of red-zone possessions, but the Seahawks defense has also shown a knack for getting big stops when they need them most in the red zone, including a game-clinching stop at the goal line against New England and a fourth-down stop against Minnesota that opened the door for a Wilson-led game-winning drive.