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Three Key Matchups: Seahawks vs Cardinals

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The Seahawks host the Cardinals Sunday afternoon in their regular-season finale, and it’s a matchup that in many ways favors the playoff-bound Seahawks. But despite Arizona’s 3-12 record, the Seahawks are taking this week’s opponent very seriously, not just because of the talent on Arizona’s roster, but also because of a very odd trend in this NFC West rivalry.

Dating back to the 2013 season, the Seahawks have gone just 1-4 against Arizona at CenturyLink Field, including three straight home losses to the Cardinals, despite enjoying one of the league’s best home-field advantages in recent years. Meanwhile the Seahawks have been dominant in Arizona during that same stretch, going 5-0-1 in road games against the Cardinals, including a win in Week 4 this season.

As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it, “We have not been very successful against the Cardinals here and it’s important to us to make sure that we are.”

If the Seahawks are going to end Arizona’s three-game winning streak at CenturyLink Field, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday’s game:

1. Seattle’s top-ranked rushing attack vs. a struggling Cardinals run defense.

Despite playing without Chris Carson in their Week 4 game at Arizona, the Seahawks still rushed for 171 yards in that win over the Cardinals, led by 101 yards and two touchdowns from Mike Davis. That game began a continued stretch of running game success that has the Seahawks atop the league in rushing with a 158.5 yards-per-game average. Including that win in Arizona, the Seahawks have rushed for more than 150 yards in 11 of their last 12 games, and would love to keep it going this week, something the Cardinals know will be their No. 1 priority on Sunday.

“We’ve got to do a great job of stopping the run first,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said on a conference call. “… (Chris) Carson does a great job. They’ve committed to running the football and it just shows in the wins that they have.”

Of course saying they want to stop the run and actually doing it are two different things, and run defense has been a struggle for the Cardinals this season. Arizona is allowing a league-worst 151.1 rushing yards per game, as well as a league-high 23 rushing touchdowns, and over the last two weeks they’ve given up 484 rushing yards, including 269 to the Rams last week despite Los Angeles playing without an injured Todd Gurley.

If the Cardinals can play better run defense and keep the Seahawks prolific rushing attack in check, and in turn create more opportunities for their dangerous pass rush, then they have a good shot at making it a game Sunday. But if the Seahawks can control the ground game, they will have a very good chance to win their 10th game this season.

2. Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones vs. Seattle’s pass protection.

For all that has gone wrong for the Cardinals this year, there is still a lot of talent on their defense, which helps explain how they have piled up 43 sacks, the sixth most in the league, despite often playing from behind. Leading the way for the Cardinals is defensive end Chandler Jones, who has 12 sacks this year and 29 over the past two seasons. Since joining the Cardinals in 2016, Jones has sacked Russell Wilson at least once in every meeting between these two teams, totaling 6.5 sacks in five games. He also got Wilson twice in 2012 while playing for the Patriots, meaning he has sacked Seattle’s quarterback 8.5 times in six games.

“Their pass rush is amazing,” Wilson said. “Their record doesn’t show how good their defense really is in terms of the skill level that they have. I mean, they are always tough to play. It starts off with Chandler Jones, him coming off the edge. Patrick Peterson has always been one of the best players in the league. They’ve got great players in the secondary and safety-wise. They can really make plays… They’ve got some of the fastest guys in the league, in terms of playing linebacker, in terms of safeties and corners and D-Linemen. They move really well and they dial it up and you’ve got to be ready to play some football, that’s for sure.”

Further complicating matters for the Seahawks is a bit of uncertainty about their offensive line heading into this game. Left guard J.R. Sweezy is listed as doubtful due to a foot injury, while right guard D.J. Fluker is questionable because of a hamstring injury.

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3. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald vs. Seattle’s pass defense.

OK, so there might be other matchups more crucial to Sunday’s game than this, but we’re dedicating this final key matchup to a legendary player who could be playing the final game of what will surely go down as a Hall of Fame career. Fitzgerald, who at 35 is still Arizona’s leading receiver with 65 catches for 698 yards and five touchdowns, has not yet said if he will play next season or not. Whether Fitzgerald is ready to retire or not, he is still a dangerous pass-catcher, which is why the Seahawks need to worry about him on Sunday, but in case this is it for the 11-time Pro Bowler, Seahawks fans should make sure to watch and appreciate one of the best to ever do it at his position.

“He has been a phenomenal competitor,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “He’s really tough and physical. He’s extraordinarily talented. He’s classy. He’s got great character about the way he plays. The ability to come through to make big plays in tough situations, incredible athleticism. His hands are just—the strength of catch is just amazing. I think you can go back to the playoff games a couple of years ago when he was playing with Carson (Palmer) and making the plays at the end of the game to give them a chance. He’s just a phenomenal competitor. He’s one of the all-timers.”

“He’s just an amazing person, honestly,” added linebacker Bobby Wagner. “I can’t stress that enough, he’s a great guy, a great person. The one thing that I remember, I think it was my second or third year, there was a play on the outside where they got around. Larry had the angle on Sherm (Richard Sherman) and can crack back on Sherm. He could’ve took him out, and didn’t take it and kind of let Sherm know, ‘I could’ve killed you on that one.’ But that’s the type of person he is, he’s not trying to hurt anybody, he isn’t trying to do anything dirty. He plays the game the right way, he’s an amazing person off the field. He does a lot of stuff to help people off the field. He even got one of the people that’s been there for however many years a jersey with his name, and it just shows you how great of a guy he is. He’s a great guy, amazing player—fun to compete with.”

And even though Fitzgerald has amassed 1,986 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns against the Seahawks during his career, count Wagner among those who would like to see the receiver return to the NFL in 2019.

“Hopefully it’s not his last game. Hopefully he comes back and keeps making catches," Wagner said. "Obviously when you’re watching film, you see he's still got it. It’s not like he losing a step, it’s not like he can’t catch routes over the top of corners. His routes are still crisp, he still runs fast. If you watched the Atlanta game, he’s still trying to run people over. He’s still got it, but at the end of the day, it’s all about you and your family. I’m not in that circle.”

The Seahawks and Cardinals will meet for the 40th time in the regular season this Sunday in Seattle. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.

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