NFL Preview - Seattle (0-0) at Arizona (0-0)|
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Seattle Seahawks are absolutely ecstatic about the
potential of their new quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand,
don't seem too enamored with their old ones.
The next chapter in Russell Wilson's enthralling story begins Sunday at
University of Phoenix Stadium, where the fast-rising rookie leads the Seahawks
into a season-opening battle with the Cardinals in a skirmish between NFC West
rivals with unexpected starters under center.
Wilson, a third-round selection by Seattle in April's draft who wasn't
considered a premium prospect because he's under 5-foot, 11-inches tall,
entered training camp as an extreme long shot to unseat expected No. 1
quarterback Matt Flynn after the Seahawks gave Aaron Rodgers' former
understudy in Green Bay $10 million in guaranteed money back in March.
However, the athletic ex-North Carolina and Wisconsin star won the job with a
string of dazzling preseason performances in which he displayed both rare
playmaking ability and uncommon leadership for such a young player.
The 23-year-old amassed 536 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air
while rushing for 150 yards and another score in guiding Seattle to a 4-0
exhibition record in which the Seahawks outscored the opposition by a
resounding 122-44 margin.
"He's done everything we've asked him," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said
of Wilson. "When [general manager] John [Schneider] was excited about drafting
him and we got the momentum going to make that pick, this is the guy we hoped
that he would be."
When he takes the field on Sunday, Wilson will become the first rookie taken
in the draft's third round to begin a season lid-lifter since Buffalo's Joe
Ferguson in 1973.
Arizona's John Skelton came into the summer as a bit of an underdog due to
financial reasons as well, with the Cardinals having invested heavily in 2011
opening-week starter Kevin Kolb after acquiring the ex-Philadelphia Eagle in a
trade shortly after last year's lockout. But after filling in admirably for an
injured Kolb for most of last season's second half, the 2010 fifth-round
choice was given the opportunity to claim the starter's role outright in an
open camp competition.
Skelton did indeed come out the winner, albeit in a case of being more of the
lesser of two evils after neither he nor Kolb impressed in the preseason.
Their uninspiring efforts caused Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt to hedge on
making a final determination until just over a week before Sunday's contest.
"It?s kind of a weight off my shoulders in a sense because finally the
speculating and the waiting are over," Skelton said. "At the same time, there
is another weight placed on them."
Skelton showed he could handle the pressure in his fill-in duty last season,
directing the Cardinals to a 5-2 record in his seven starts and engineering
four fourth-quarter comebacks in four of his appearances.
One of those victories came against the Seahawks in Glendale during the 2011
finale, a 23-20 overtime triumph in which Skelton threw for 271 yards and
orchestrated a 13-play, 71-yard drive to set up kicker Jay Feely's deciding
That win was one of four in extra time by the Cardinals last season and capped
a 7-2 stretch to close out the campaign.
Seattle also finished 2011 on a strong note, prevailing in five of its final
eight games following a 2-6 start.
Cardinals lead 14-12
2011 Meetings: Seahawks 13, Cardinals 10 (Sept. 25 at Seattle)
Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20 (OT) (Jan. 1 at Arizona)
Seahawks HC Pete Carroll vs. Cardinals: 4-1 overall, 3-1 with Cardinals
Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt vs. Seahawks: 6-4
Carroll vs. Whisenhunt Head-to-Head: Carroll leads, 3-1
Notes: Seattle had won three straight in the series prior to its overtime road
loss in the 2011 finale, but is just 1-5 in visits to University of Phoenix
Stadium since 2006. The Seahawks' lone victory there over that stretch was a
36-18 verdict in 2010. Carroll's first career win over the Cardinals came in
1999 while then at the helm of New England.
BY THE NUMBERS
2011 Offensive Team Rankings
Seattle: 28th overall (303.8 ypg), 21st rushing (109.8 ypg), 22nd passing
(194.1 ypg), 23rd scoring (20.1 ppg)
Arizona: 19th overall (324.5 ypg), 24th rushing (101.6 ypg), 17th passing
(222.9 ypg), 24th scoring (19.5 ppg)
2011 Defensive Team Rankings
Seattle: 14th overall (343.3 ypg), 15th rushing (112.3 ypg), 11th passing
(219.9 ypg), 7th scoring (19.7 ppg)
Arizona: tied 18th overall (355.1 ypg), 21st rushing (124.1 ypg), 17th passing
(231.0 ypg), 17th scoring (21.8 ppg)
2011 Turnover Margin
Seattle: +8 (31 takeaways, 23 giveaways)
Arizona: -13 (19 takeaways, 32 giveaways)
2011 Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Seattle: 47.8 percent (46 possessions, 22 TD, 15 FG) -- 22nd overall
Arizona: 51.1 percent (45 possessions, 23 TD, 13 FG) -- 15th overall
2011 Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Seattle: 48.7 percent (39 possessions, 19 TD, 15 FG) -- 11th overall
Arizona: 39.7 percent (58 possessions, 23 TD, 24 FG) -- 2nd overall
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
A major reason for Seattle's second-half turnaround in 2011 was the production
of running back Marshawn Lynch (1204 rushing yards, 28 receptions, 13 TD in
2011), with the Skittles-favoring bruiser ripping off six 100-yard games in
the final nine weeks while averaging over 23 carries over that span. The
Seahawks may not be able to lean heavily on their workhorse in the opener,
however, as Lynch has been dealing with back spasms during the week and will
likely have a more limited role if he does play. That won't change Seattle's
approach, however, as the team is confident powerful rookie Robert Turbin, a
fourth-round choice in the draft, can step in without a hitch. Coordinator
Darrell Bevell will almost certainly have Wilson on the move throughout the
afternoon as well for a couple of reasons, one to take advantage of the
youngster's outstanding running skills and another to create throwing lanes to
compensate for his lack of height. When Wilson does drop back to pass, expect
him to look often in the direction of talented wide receiver Sidney Rice (32
receptions, 2 TD), now healthy after being limited to nine games last year by
a shoulder injury that required surgery. He was a big factor in Seattle's
narrow win over the Cards this past September, catching eight passes for a
season-best 109 yards. Resurgent veteran Braylon Edwards, back from a knee
problem that reduced him to a mere 15 receptions in nine outings with San
Francisco in 2011, will be opposite Rice with usual split end Golden Tate
sidelined with a sprained knee, while second-year pro Doug Baldwin (51
receptions, 4 TD) emerged as the offense's go-to guy in clutch situations out
of the slot during a solid rookie year.
The goal of Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton will be to make Wilson's
debut as uncomfortable as possible, whether by disguising coverages or
bringing blitzes from all angles. He's got a pair of good pass rushers to
count on in the front-line duo of 6-foot-8 end Calais Campbell (72 tackles, 8
sacks, 1 INT), who knocked down 10 passes with his exceptionally long frame
last season, and three-time Pro Bowl tackle Darnell Dockett (51 tackles, 3.5
sacks), while a secondary headed up by imposing strong safety Adrian Wilson
(65 tackles, 1 INT, 17 PD) and immensely gifted 2011 first-round pick Patrick
Peterson (64 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) really came on down the stretch of 2011
after struggling during the early portion of the year. Keep an eye on Daryl
Washington (107 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT), the Cardinals' fastest linebacker
who could be used to spy Russell Wilson to ensure the dangerous scrambler
doesn't break free out of the pocket. Arizona's leading tackler a year ago, he
and Adrian Wilson are also two of the key components of a run-stopping
corps that did a pretty good job of containing Lynch in the two 2011 meetings.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
Considering Skelton's (1913 passing yards, 11 TD, 14 INT) mediocre preseason
and accuracy concerns -- he's only a career 52.6 percent passer in the pros --
and the shaky state of an offensive line that lost left tackle Levi Brown to a
year-ending triceps tear in August, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if
the Cardinals were more reliant on their running game come Sunday. Arizona is
better equipped to utilize a more smash-mouth style than in its two matchups
with Seattle in 2011, neither of which running backs Beanie Wells (1047
rushing yards, 10 TD) and Ryan Williams participated in because of injuries.
Both are ready to go for this tilt, however, with Williams to make a belated
NFL intro after the 2011 second-round pick missed all of his rookie year with
a patellar tendon tear. He'll provide a shiftier alternative to the downhill
style of Wells in the committee procedure. The Cardinals aren't going to
abandon the pass, however, especially when they've got one of the game's truly
elite wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald (80 receptions, 1411 yards, 8 TD).
The remarkable veteran put up better numbers with Skelton at the controls of
the offense as opposed to Kolb last season, including a nine-catch, 149-yard
masterpiece against the Seahawks in the finale. Slot receiver Early Doucet (54
receptions, 5 TD) may be able to create some mismatches against a Seattle
secondary that isn't all that deep at cornerback, but reliable tight end Todd
Heap (24 receptions, 1 TD) may not be much of a factor if he's asked to help
out the pedestrian combo of journeyman D'Anthony Batiste and raw rookie Bobby
Massie at the tackle spots.
Seattle's first order of business on defense will be to stop the run and force
Skelton into obvious throwing situations, and the Seahawks do possess some
quality pluggers in the interior line tandem of nose tackle Brandon Mebane (56
tackles) and onetime Cardinal Alan Branch (34 tackles, 3 sacks) as well as
320-pound end Red Bryant (32 tackles, 1 sack) and hard-hitting strong safety
Kam Chancellor (97 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT). Getting someone other than top
pass rusher Chris Clemons (51 tackles, 11 sack) to pressure the passer will be
a high priority, however, and the team is hoping promising 2012 first-round
pick Bruce Irvin can quickly make an impact. Another high-upside rookie,
second-rounder Bobby Wagner, will be critical in run defense as the club's new
starter at middle linebacker. Seattle has the cornerbacks capable of
physically matching up with Fitzgerald in 6-foot-4 Pro Bowl honoree Brandon
Browner (54 tackles, 6 INT, 23 PD) and the 6-foot-3 Richard Sherman (55
tackles, 4 INT, 17 PD), but 10-year vet Marcus Trufant (23 tackles, 1 INT)
will need to adjust smoothly to a new role as a slot defender in nickel
packages after spending his entire career outside.
Both 2011 encounters between these teams were decided by three points, and
with each expected to play things rather close to the vest with quarterbacks
that are either unproven or erratic, another narrow margin on the scoreboard
seems like a good bet. If that's the case, it's hard to ignore Arizona's
success in tight affairs last season, as all of the Cardinals' eight victories
were by seven points or less and they went 4-0 in overtime. Skelton did
demonstrate a knack for coming through in crunch time during last year's
extended look, while Russell Wilson has yet to prove anything other than he's
a dynamic talent capable of doing damage against vanilla defenses. Though
Seattle seems to have the superior all-around team, Arizona is the one that
appears better suited to survive the challenge that this game will present.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 17
09/07 08:48:26 ET