The Seahawks host the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Lumen Field, a game between a pair of hungry teams looking to bounce back from a loss. At 3-6, the Seahawks know every game from here on out is big if they're going to get back in the playoff hunt, while the Cardinals have lost 2 of 3 since starting the season 7-0. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to AZCardinals.com senior writer Darren Urban with five questions about the Cardinals:
What were expectations for this team like heading into Year 3 under Kliff Kingsbury, and did they become even higher after a 7-0 start?
Urban: There was no question that after last season, there was significant expectations that this team needed to make the postseason. Now, did they grow after 7-0? Perhaps. But then some injuries hit, and it's like any team negotiating a long season – you want to be as healthy as possible, and playing your best football, by season's end. Kingsbury has evolved as a coach for sure, and it helps that Kyler Murray has also seen a nice uptick in both knowledge and maturity. This team was not in good shape when both arrived in 2019. The path has them right about where they should be.
Is there much cause for concern following Sunday's lopsided loss to Carolina, or is that one easy to chalk up to the fact that two of the team's best players, quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, were out with injuries?
Urban: No, the way the Cardinals played against the Panthers wasn't just about Murray and Hopkins. The Cards did just fine without those guys against the 49ers. Are they a better team when Kyler and Hop are healthy? Of course. Significantly so. But neither of those guys play run defense, which has been up and down all season and was most certainly down against the Panthers. Realistically – and the Seahawks had this when Russell Wilson was down – when you have a backup QB, you have to play really well in certain areas, especially turnovers. The Cards had two turnovers on their first three drives (and the other drive ended with a fourth-down stop on their side of the field, so essentially a turnover) and in a hole, that's a tough spot from which to rally with backups. Murray said Wednesday he hopes to play this week and said "I'm pretty close," but I would guess both he and Hopkins will be called game-day decisions again this week, always with the knowledge the bye awaits after this game.
Sunday's loss notwithstanding, Arizona's defense has been outstanding this year. What's allowed that group to take the leap it has from last season to this one?
Urban: They have been ultra-aggressive, and have been able to create some turnovers. Plus, when the offense is right, there is a comforting feeling when you know your team is going to score 28-30 every game. The defense doesn't have to be great. They have to cause some turnovers and if a team drives, they need to hold them to field goals. Then you play from ahead – which the Cards have done a ton of this season – and as a defense, you're set. Markus Golden is having a good season as a pass rusher, Isaiah Simmons is a much better player this season and Byron Murphy is playing at a Pro Bowl level for a cornerbacks corps that's been better than expected. Losing J.J. Watt hurts – he was playing well --- but safety Budda Baker remains one of the league's best. (All that said, the unit had a terrible game against the Panthers and know they need to bounce back quickly.)
How does losing RB Chase Edmonds to injury affect the offense?
Urban: Edmonds is a nice piece of the offense, and they need him back. That said, James Conner is having a much better season than many thought – he leads the NFL with 12 touchdowns – and not only provides them with a short-yardage and goal-line option they didn't have last year, but he's been better in space than I expected too. Eno Benjamin isn't Edmonds, but he has some ability with the ball in his hands. The hope is that Edmonds will be healthy and fresh for the stretch run, and that seems to be where the Cardinals' thoughts are pointed right now.
What are a couple of the matchups you're most looking forward to seeing in this one?
Urban: I am curious to see how Chandler Jones – who has had a lot of good games chasing Wilson – does. He had five sacks in the opener and only one since, but Jones remains a guy teams have to watch for, so whichever tackle he lines up across from will be interesting. I also want to see how they deal with DK Metcalf now that Patrick Peterson is gone. Is it Murphy all the time, or will they use Marco Wilson and/or Robert Alford?
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Cardinals as the two teams get ready to face off during Week 18 at State Farm Stadium.