The Cardinals might be 9-2, but the Seahawks still looked like the class of the NFC West on Sunday, at least when the Cardinals had the ball. Many thought the drop off from Carson Palmer to Drew Stanton wouldn’t be that significant because Palmer isn’t an elite quarterback. It’s true that Palmer has made his fair share of mistakes throughout his career, but let’s be clear about one thing – he is the epitome of a professional quarterback. He knows how to play the position, and the Cardinals took a major step back when he went down with injury.
Stanton sports a 3-2 record and has made a few nice plays as Palmer’s fill-in this season. It would be a stretch to expect too much more out of him. To begin with, his arm isn’t very strong and he isn’t very accurate. That’s a bad combination. He missed several plays against Seattle that could have changed the game. When he wasn’t completely misfiring, he would complete passes with poor ball placement that didn’t allow for yards after the catch. His interception was a very bad play – a total misreading of the coverage.
The Cardinals love to use empty formations and push the ball downfield in this offense. The only problem is that empty formations mean less protection. To complete passes downfield on quick throws requires great anticipation. Say what you want to about Carson Palmer, he is as good of an anticipator as there is in the game. He made up for a lot of Arizona’s offensive line issues when he was the quarterback. Stanton, on the other hand, is not in the same stratosphere as Palmer in this department. The difference showed on Sunday.
Getting to the Quarterback:
The Seahawks have been near the bottom of the league in sacks this season. On Sunday, they got to Stanton three times and put him under duress on several other plays. Part of this was due, as explained above, to Stanton’s inability to read and react like Palmer. Another part of it was that the Cardinals’ offensive line is just not that good (again, Palmer made up for a lot of deficiencies here).
Right tackle Bobby Massie struggled all afternoon with Cliff Avril’s speed rush. Massie does not have quick feet, and he was overwhelmed in 1-on-1 situations vs Avril. In fact, this mismatch was the reason for each of Seattle’s 3 sacks. Each sack came in an obvious passing situation (3rd and 4, 3rd and 10, and 2nd down at the end of the game when Arizona needed to throw). Each time, Seattle aligned defensive tackle Michael Bennett either head up over Massie or on his outside shoulder. Avril aligned outside of Bennett. This ensured 1-on-1 matchups for Avril on Massie and allowed him to rush from a wider angle. That way, Avril’s speed couldn’t so easily be used against him to push him around the pocket. It also served to delay Massie’s reaction at the snap, as he first checked Bennett (aligned right in front of him) before getting to Avril.
Seattle Bounces Back Against the Run:
Last week against the Chiefs was surely a difficult game for the Seahawks to watch with how poorly they played versus the run. You can be sure that stopping the run was a point of emphasis all week in practice. This is why the NFL is so hard to predict on a weekly basis. Vulnerabilities from one game are addressed and often rectified by the next week. Against Arizona, the Seahawks didn’t give an inch, only allowing 38 yards on 17 called runs, not including quarterback scrambles. They dominated the line of scrimmage, and the speed of their linebackers and defensive backs cleaned up any leaks up front. It certainly made a difference that the Cardinals did not have a similar rushing attack to Kansas City. There was much less motion and deception, as Arizona utilized more traditional runs. However, Seattle’s vast improvement against the run was palpable.
It’s the home stretch of the season where contenders get hot and pretenders fizzle out. Both these teams have tough schedules down the stretch, but despite the 2-game lead for Arizona, the NFC West division title is still very much in play.