Setting the Stage:
Cards cinched a playoff spot when Dallas and Philly failed to reach a tie in Sunday's game. Benefitting from a questionable roughing the passer call, home field advantage, stingy defense, stifling field position and a rash of Niner injuries, Seattle pounded out a 17- 7 win over SF and, if they beat Arizona this Sunday, will have a shot at gaining bye and home field advantage. Earlier, the Cardinals took care of business Thursday night by winning a "pitchers battle" over the Rams to reach the 11-win mark. The victory may have come at a bitter cost when Drew Stanton was sacked and hurt his knee. Fortunately, it was only a sprain (i.e. no ligaments were torn) and Stanton is considered day-to-day. No doubt the Cardinal brass is weighing the risk of further injury if they play him right away against the pros and cons of going all-out vs. Seattle and SF to secure a top or high seed. Stay tuned.
Opponents' Last Game:
It was a tight struggle on a tilted field decided by a 4Q killer penalty and a relentless Seattle defense that kept the Niners constantly bottled up deep in their own territory.
SF received. Ellington returned the KO to the Niner 17. A 28-yard run by Hyde was nullified by an iillegal blocking call on the Niners. Gore came right back and gained +15, but a sack by Wright killed off the drive and SF punted from the Seattle 45. Fair catch at the Seattle 10. Seahawks couldn't get much going and punted from their own 19. Ellington returned the punt to the Niner 31. Seattle held SF to 3 & out. Punt was returned for no gain at the Seattle 19.
Two roughing penalties on Reid helped Seattle gain 30 "free yards, and Seattle reached the SF 19 before Hauschka was "good" from 38. Seahawks 3 - Niners 0.
A holding flag on the KO helped keep SF bottled up at their own 15. They led off with a 31-yard completion to Celek and reached the Seattle 19 by the end of the quarter.
First Quarter Score: Seahawks 3 - Niners 0.
Four straight doses of Gore were capped by a TD run from10 yards out. Niners 7 - Seattle 3.
Richardson returned the KO to the Seattle 11. A 47-yard completion to Kearse brought them into Niner territory, but a penalty and sack forced Seattle to punt from the Niner 39, A holding call helped pin the Niners back on their 6-yard line. It was all Gore and Kaepernick but 2 sacks (by K Williams and J Hill) killed the Niner drive and Lee's punt was fair caught at the Seahawk 14.
1:53 till halftime. Wilson squeezed out 10 plays before his pass for Baldwin was picked off by E. Reid who returned it 73-yards with time running out to prevent any further scoring.
First Half Score: Niners 7 - Seahawks 3.
Seattle received. TB on the KO. They managed to move to their own 39 before punting. Ryan's punt was downed at the SF 4. The Niners made it out to their own 16 before Wagner's sack kind of squashed their drive. Lee'spunt was downed at the Seattle 40.
Short passes and heavy doses of Marshawn Lynch were highlights of a 10-play TD drive finished off by a 4-yard run by Lynch. Seattle 10 - Niners 7.
KO was returned to the Niner 18. Another sack by Hill forced Niners into a 3 & out. Punt was returned to the SF 44. Wilhoite injured on the play. Wilson scrambled for +19 to reach the SF 10 to end the quarter. .
Third Quarter Score: Seattle 10 - Niners 7.
A bogus roughing the penalty on the fourth play of the quarter extended the Seattle possession and set up a 10-yard completion to Richardson to expand the Seattle lead to 10-points. Seattle 17 - Niners 7.
A holding call on the KO once again pushed SF back to its own 7.SF used up 14 points (& 7:39) to move all the way to the Seattle 38 and coming away with zero points. They failed to convert a 4th & 1 and turned over the ball. 5:30 left.
Seattle took a couple of sacks and was forced into a 3 & out, punting from their own 9. SF took over at their own 45 but was held to a 4 & out. Seattle took over at their own 49 and ran out the clock.
- Seattle 17 - Niners 7
Seattle started out sluggish, but gathered momentum in the second half to expand their lead to ten points by game's end.
Wilson completed 12 of 24 passes for 141 yards, 1 TD and one interceptions.
Kearse led the "Hawks with 5 catches followed by Richardson (3 catches/one TD) and Baldwin (3 catches).
Lynch racked up 91 yards on 21 carries. Wilson carried 5 times for 27 yards. Turbin made his hard-running felt gaining 33 yards on 5 carries. Lynch scored one of Seattle's two TD's.
Seattle converted 8 of 14 (57%) third down opportunities while allowing SF to convert 6 of 15 (40%)
Seattle Turnover Ratio was minus-1 (neither team fumbled the ball away - Wilson was picked off once/Kaepernick zero).
Seattle got to Kaepernick 6 times (2 by Hill; one each by Irvin, Wright, Wagner and K Williams).
Wagner led Seattle defenders with 10 tackles, followed by Thomas (8) , Irvin (5) and Wright (5).
Seattle gained 152 net rushing yards (while giving up 140 to SF).
Seahawks gave up just 105 net passing yards (while gaining 138).
Seattle averaged 45 net yards per punt (vs. 39.6 ypp by SF).
Seattle was penalized 7 times for 50 yards. (SF was penalized 8 times for 78).
Seattle won Time of Possession 28:58 to 31:02.
What the Season Stats Do (or Don't) Tell Us
(Note - Published team statistics may not reflect a team's most recent game or even two).
First Downs: Seattle 289/Opponentw 245.
Rushing First Downs: Seattle 127/Opponents 67.
Total Offensive Yards: Seattle 5,062/Opponents 3,813
Yards Per Play: Seattle 5.7/Opponents 4.8
Total Rushing Yards: Seattle 2,363/Opponents 1,233
Sacks: Seattle 29 / Opponents 38
Field Goals: Seattle 29 for 32/Opponents 17 for 20.
Touchdowns: Seattle 36 / Opponents 27
Rushing TD's: Seattle 16/ Opponents 8
Seahawks own a 32:25 to 28:00 time of possession edge over their opponents.
Seattle has a +8 turnover ratio.
Wilson has completed 62.6%) of his throws for 2,897 yards. He's thrown for 18TD's and has been picked off just 6 times and sacked 38 times. He's also Seattle's second most prolific rusher (behind Lynch) gaining 754 yards on 106 carries (7.1 yards per carry).
Lynch is their leading rusher with 1,133 yards on 177 carries (4.4 ypc). He's also 3rd in catches out of the backfield with 34 (4 for TD's).
Baldwin leads all Seattle receivers with 56 catches for 669 yards and 3 TD's. Kearse is the #2 dude, but only has 37 catches for 529 yards (14.3 ypc).
Hauschka has been perfect (20 for 20) inside the forty and 2 for 2 outside the 50, but 7 for 10 between the 40 and 50.
Ryan's total yardage matches that of opposing punters, and his directional punting averages are close to his competition as well.
- Richardson averages a healthy 22.8 ypr compared to 20.6 by opposing kickoff returners.
Opposing punt returners are averaging 14.2 ypr. Walters (8.0) is averaging slightly half of that.
Sacks are spread around. Bennett leads the defense with 6.0 sacks, followed by Irvin with 5.5, Avril 4.5 and Hill with 4.0.
Seattle pass defenders have 10 picks compared to 6 for its opponents. Sherman leads the Seahawks with 3 interceptions. Maxwell is next with 2.
Seattle keeps a FB and 4 pretty good but not great TE's. (Allen isn't listed on the depth chart but does show up on the Seattle roster). Their base offense figures to line up: One RB, One TE, 2 WR's and either a 2nd TE, 3rd WR or FB. On defense, their depth chart has them lining up in a 4 -3 "left-right" (rather than"strong-weak").
WR1..89 Baldwin........10 Richardson....83 Lockette
LT (76 Okung).......... 78 A Bailey
LG 77 Carpenter
C 60 Unger............xx Jeanpierre......65 Lewis
RG 64 Sweezy
RT 68 Britt...............79 Gilliam
TE.....82 L Wilson........84 Helfet.............88 Moaki............87 R Allen
WR2 15 Kearse...........81 Norwood........xx Matthews........19 Walters
QB....03 R Wilson.......07 T Jackson
RB 24 Lynch............22 Turbin.............33 Michael
DE 95 Kelly...........96 K,Martin
NT 92 D. Williams 66 Ta'amu
DT 98 Rucker 72 Stinson
SLB 57 Okafor........53 Keiser
ILB 50 Foote..........54 Demens
ILB 51 Minter..........97 Alexander 56 Carson
WLB 94 Acho...........59 Benard
LCB 21 Peterson.....28 Bethel
RCB 31 Cromartie....25 Powers
SS 22 Jefferson.....36 Bucannon
FS 32 Mathieu.......26 R. Johnson
Matchup: Seattle Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
"Don’t tell me we have any offensive tackles. All we have is four offensive guards and a center. We have no tackles, because you’re not a tackle in the NFL until you can block an end.” - Hugh Millen (who also apparently isn't enamored with the Seahawks’ use of tight end Zach Miller, and said he’s “seen enough” of Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell).
Star LT Russell Okung is likely to be out with a bruised lung which may put additional pressure on Russell Wilson and his All Pro wheels. (More likely it will place more pressure on the Seahawk run game and Lynch & Turbin. Seattle profiles more as a run-first offense led the mobile Russell Wilson, (who operates more like a "second" RB who can throw than he is a pure pocket passer). He is an ever-present threat to break outside contain and either convert a 2nd or 3rd & long or throw on the run to hit an open receiver on a busted play. The one thing that leaps out at you is his lightning-quickness. Blink an eye and he'll burn you. Fortunately for Seahawk opponents, Wilson lacks a dominant reveiver (like Megatron or Marshall) to throw to. While Baldwin and Kearse are dependible go-to guys who might be Pro Bowl caliber #2 receivers, Seattle lacks a genuine home run threat and a premier TE (Their #3 pass catcher actually is a RB (Marshawn Lynch)
The loss of Okung is the latest hit on Seattle's offensive line that was just beginning to return to health after being shredded by injury.
Last week, the Cardinal defense held the Rams to zero TD's (& just 6 points). On pass defense, they do it with a rotational "back 8" consisting of corners Peterson and Cromartie, safeties, Rashad Johnson and Bucannon (also used in a LB role) and backups (Powers, Bethel, Matthieu and Jefferson) spotted as needed, The Cardinal secondary has been aided by the emergence of a legitimate pass rush led by OLB Alex Okafor. The best way you might describe the Seattle offense is "patient." - They actually gained nearly as much yardage on the ground (152) than they did thru the air (168).
Key Matchups: Okafor vs. Bailey. Wilson vs. "Spy" (possibly Okafor, Bucannon or Matthieu (who returns from broken thumb injury) - Bowes will probably mix it up). Our two corners vs. Baldwin and Kearse. Bucannon or Jefferson vs. Lynch or Turbin. And it will be up to our other guys to watch out for a Seattle "unknown" (like Lockette or Moake).
Matchup: Seattle Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Enter "The Beast." If Carroll thinks he can get away with it, he'll ride the Marshawn Lynch pony relentlessly, controlling the clock, waiting for the inevitable big gain and using Wilson to burst through optional lanes executing the speed-oprtion. Cardinal tacklers will have to protect their gaps and need to square-up, wrap-up and lock-up their tackles. A year ago in Seattle, the Cardinals showed they knew how to defend vs. Lynch and the Seattle running attack. This season, we've remained pretty consistent at stopping the run. Hopefully we'll repeat the effort, but can expect Carroll to look for ways to find new ways to attack us. Nevertheless, look for Arians and Bowles to, once again, emphasize taking away the run in order to make Wilson prove he can beat us with the pass (or scramble).
Key Matchups: Lynch vs. Cardinal Front 3 plus the combination of Foote, Minter and/or Bucannon or Jefferson.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald....19 Ginn...............13 John Brown
LT 68 Veldheer......79 Sowell
LG 62 Larsen..., ....61 Cooper
C 63 Sendlein......62 Larsen
RG 74 Fanaika.......78 Watford
RT 70 Massie........79 Sowell
TE 87 Niklas..........85 Fells
WR2 15 M. Floyd.....13 Jaron Brown
QB xx Lindley........06 Thomas.
RB 38 Ellington.....(30 Taylor).............39 Hughes....xx Grice
TE 89 Carlson.......84 Housler
LDE.....72 Bennett........95 Dobbs.........xx King
LDT......99 McDaniel.....xx Robertson
RDT......84 K Williams...97 J Hill
RDE.....56 Avril.............93 Schofield
LOLB...51 Irvin..............57 M Morgan
MLB.....54 Wagner........52 Coyle
ROLB...50 KJ Wright....53 M Smith
LCB.....25 R Sherman...20 Lane..........28 Burley
RCB.....41 Maxwell.......27 Simon
SS........31 Chancellor...23 Jer Johnson
FS........29 Thomas.......35 Shead
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Seattle Pass Defense
With Drew Stanton injured, it will be up to Ryan Lindley to carry the torch (with Logan Thomas in a backup role). Arians maintains that Lindley can make all the throws and is comfortable with a custom-made playbook. He'll have the weapons in Fitzgerald, Floyd and the two Browns along with Kerwynn Williams and various backups as-needed. It seems to me that Lindley tends to fragment his thinking when under pressure. Keeping it together vs. a whithering Seattle defense will be his key challenge. If he can settle down and keep it together, he should be alright.
Seattle's defense - bouyed by the return of Wagner and Chancellor - is now playing as well as any defense in the NFL. Cardinal receivers (including possibly Fitzgerald) look relatively healthy and the offensive line has showed steady improvement throughout the season. It will be interesting to see whether Cooper remains our starting LG when Fanaica returns over on the right side and Larsen is available to take over the guard spot on the other side. I reiterate my opinion that Fitz figures to be more valuable to us healthy in the playoffs than he does playing injured right now. Key question is how much Arians values risking his banged up players while he battlies to secure a Bye and Home Field advantage in the playoffs vs. bringing Fitz, Stanton and others to full health for the playoffs.
Look for this contest to be another "war of attrition" (like the Ram game) where Lindley is asked to keep things close to his vest and mimimize mistakes while the defense bottles up a fairly conservative Seattle offense (and look for Seattle to do likewise).
Key Matchup: Seattle pass rushers seeking to overwhelm. Lindley. Seattle cover guys seeking to outwit Lindley. It will be Wagner, Hill, Bennett v(and others) s. the Cardinal O-line.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Seattle Run Defense
Last week, the Cards relied on below-the-radar runners (like Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams) to gain 143 net rushing yards against a very stingy Ram run-defense. We'll try to do it again Sunday night...and a tough Seahawk run-defense will try to stop us.
Look for Arians to run the ball often enough to set up play action and "scare" Seattle pass rushers enough to keep them from teeing off on Lindley. This Sunday's contest figures to be a head-banger with the running game the focal point.
Key Matchup: Williams vs. Wagner. Cardinal OL vs. the Seattle Front 7.
P/H 09 Ryan
K 04 Hauschka
LS 49 Gresham
KR 10 Richardson
PR 89 Baldwin
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 82 Leach
KR 19 Ginn 12 John Brown
PR 19 Ginn 21 Peterson 12 John Brown
Matchup: Lion Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Hauschka and Catanzaro are both solid in the kicking game. Neither Butler or Ryan seem to be outpunting each other statistically. Richardson is making Seattle fans forget about Harvin, but in terms of big play explosiveness from return, coverage and Punt/FG defense teams, I'd give the edge to Ginn and Arizona.
Key matchups: Ginn, Bethel and Campbell vs. Richardson and other Seattle special teamers.
After a shaky, injury-ridden start, Pete Carroll has regained his team's Super Bowl swagger and now has them contending for top spot in the NFC. He earned his spurs as, perhaps, the NFL's first "New Age" head football coach.
Despite all the injuries Coach Arians is becoming known as "Mr. Smoke & Mirrors" hold continues to hold onto the #1 spot in the NFL. We keep figuring out new ways to win. (Last week it was to prevail over the Rams in a "pitchers' dual"). Go figure. Under Arians, the Cards - like the Energizer Bunny - keeps on ticking without missing a beat.
This one is for all the marbles, with the two coaches circling each other like a couple of Alpha Dogs seeking even the slightest edge.
Whomever wins this one will probably enjoy a first round bye and home field advantage (which we really really don't want to relinquish to Seattle). The "Hawks are starting to play their best football at just the right time. The Cardinals have to make do with a 3rd-string QB and a RB starting his second game. On paper, this game belongs to Seattle. But, last time we looked, paper doesn't win football games. As always, the Cardinal team has to continue to keep its head down, grind away and let the proverbial chips fall. (It may not be the sexiest way to play football, but it's gotten us to 11 wins. Maybe we can come away with Win #12. Sic 'em!