The Seahawks host the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals Sunday night in a game with big ramifications for both teams. The 4-4 Seahawks have work to do to catch Arizona, which leads the division with a 6-2 record, while the Cardinals are hoping to avoid a similar late-season swoon that cost them a three-game lead over Seattle last season, while also proving they have what it takes to knock off the defending conference champs.
To find out more about the Cardinals, we reached out to azcardinals.com senior writer Darren Urban with five questions. Here are his answers:
Q: How is Carson Palmer, at 35-years-old and coming off a serious injury, having a career year? Did he discover a fountain of youth, or are there things going on around him in Arizona's offense that weren't there in previous seasons?
Urban: It's a combination of things. One, Palmer was driven to rehab hard after his knee injury. He had been through it before, so he knew what he needed to do to get back. He also admittedly knows his NFL clock is ticking and he desperately would like to win a title before he's done. He was so diligent in working to get back with his knee that his whole body benefitted; His core and shoulder are probably stronger now and he's in the best shape he's been in since he arrived in Arizona. Finally, the key components of this offense have been around Arians long enough that they understand what needs to be done. Add in all the weapons – three very good receivers, a running game that has produced just shy of 1,000 yards in eight games – and it's shown up in Palmer's production.
Q: This is probably related to the previous question, but what is different about Larry Fitzgerald this year that's allowing such a resurgence? Is he being used differently this season, or is it just having a good quarterback to get him the ball?
Urban: He's being used the same. I think some teams finally believed he no longer had enough to force double-teams, and he's made those teams pay. I think Palmer and he have clicked well (although the two of them were clicking pretty well in the few games together post-Palmer shoulder injury and pre-Palmer knee injury last year.) Fitz is finally fully comfortable and knowledgeable in his new position too. When you can run the ball/play-action, that doesn't hurt.
Q: Are the Cardinals taking an it's-just-another-game approach to facing the Seahawks, or will there be a little extra buzz surrounding a primetime game against the team that beat them twice down the stretch last year to win the NFC West?
Urban: Honestly, I feel it's disingenuous if either side tries to act like this game isn't a big deal. The Cardinals know their recent history against the Seahawks and it's not good. The Seahawks have to know that a loss puts them not only under .500 but three games back (including a loss at home) with seven to play. Again, I can't imagine anyone on either side trying to make this out to be just another game.
Q; The numbers show a very good and very balanced team this season; if there is a flaw to this Cardinals team or reason for concern in the second half, what is it?
Urban: They've had a couple of things that have hurt. Turnovers is one. Not that they turn the ball over a ton, but they've done it in bunches. They have three turnovers (and none forced) in their two losses. Too much to overcome (although they were a minus-four in Cleveland at one point despite having a lead). They know they can't give away the ball. The other issue is a lull here and there, which has cost them again in their two losses. Somehow, I don't think mentally they'll fall into a lull against the Seahawks on national TV. It'll be hard to be anything but focused.
Q: With a tougher second-half schedule, is there any concern in Arizona about the way the team will finish, especially after last season, or is last year written off as a case of too many injuries catching up with the Cardinals?
Urban: I think those are two separate issues. Last year, yes, the injuries cost them –when Palmer went down realistically, and especially when Drew Stanton went down. If you get to your third QB in this league, you are toast. As for the tougher second half schedule, it's hard not to notice. But that's how the league drew it up. The Cardinals know if they are a good team, they'll win their fair share. If they don't, they don't deserve to be in the postseason mix anyway. Given their health, and the play of Palmer, Fitz, Chris Johnson among others, they are equipped to be just fine despite the schedule. They still have to play the games, but they have the roster to compete.