As much giggling as is going on among the 12s imagining what might await Arizona’s third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, against the NFL’s best defense Sunday in Glendale, AZ., Cardinals fans may indulge a snicker or several themselves about the Seahawks attempting to protect Russell Wilson behind a beat-up offensive line that gave up seven sacks when the teams met in November.
The decisive match between teams featuring hellacious defenses will come down to which faltering offense is a little bit stronger.
At Wednesday’s practice, several of Wilson’s principal protectors sat out: LT Russell Okung (bruised lung), RG J.R. Sweezy (ankle), C Max Unger (ankle/knee) and TE Tony Moeaki (shoulder). And RT Justin Britt is, ahem, still a rookie.
Hard to know who will heal by Sunday, but Alvin Bailey took snaps in place of Okung. At center was third-string Patrick Lewis, because the second-stringer, Lemuel Jeanpierre, moved over from starting center to guard to replace Sweezy.
The shuffling may be temporary for the week. But even when healthy last month for the season’s first meeting, Seattle’s O-line was bewildered by Arizona’s blitz-heavy defense.
“They are different than anyone in football,” said line coach Tom Cable. “You’ll always see their favorite (blitzes), but they’ll always have a (fresh) package for you. They do a great job of changing up from week to week.”
To hear Arizona coach Bruce Arians tell it, the Cardinals defense should have squished QB Russell Wilson, who Nov. 23 escaped often enough to throw a touchdown pass and lead drives to four field goals in the 19-3 win at the Clink.
“We had seven sacks, but it should have been 11,” he said on a teleconference with reporters. “We let Russell get out of the pocket and make some plays that led to field goals . . . it wasn’t like they thrashed us.”
The counter-punch to the blitz is, of course, a deep ball or three.
“When you blitz, you’re susceptible to (the big play),” Cable said. “I think we’ve done it a number of times to them. What we have to do is find (a weakness), find (our) guy, be in the right protection and get the ball to him.”
They had a big one Nov. 23, when Wilson found WR Ricardo Lockette on a 48-yard pass play to set up a field goal. In Sunday’s game, one big play may be all the Seahawks get, given the conditions of the road and the O-line.
“They’re probably more willing than anyone else that we’ve played to be aggressive and go after you,” said coach Pete Carroll. “They pressure in situations where some teams wouldn’t do it. They’re very bold. (Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) does a great job of getting after it.
“Their attitude is part of their style. You can see it in their players and the chances that they take. They’ve given problems all year long. Later in the game, the more aggressive they get. They’ve had great success in the fourth quarter.”
The Seahawks are eager to repeat something from the win Sunday over San Francisco — a quick vertical pass. Ahead 10-7 in the fourth quarter at the 49ers 10-yard line, Wilson took a two-step drop and drilled WR Paul Richardson on a slant at the goal line for the game-breaking touchdown.
“Guys have come together, as of late,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. “Russell is really been on it. He’s understanding the issues we might be having. We’re also changing things up with some more balls down the field, the quick ones.”
The opportunities to go short or long are predicated on RB Marshawn Lynch’s ability to run. As well as anyone has this season, the Cardinals muffled Lynch in the first meeting — 39 yards on 15 carries. But he did leak out for three catches and 43 yards, which is another way to burn the blitz.
“The better you run, the more styles of passes you can mix in,” Bevell said. “If we have to drop back all day, then we’re in trouble.”
Despite some recent struggling, the Seahawks, at 361 yards a game, are 11th in the NFL in offensive yardage. Arizona, on its third quarterback, is 24th at 322 yards. Given the short-handedness along the O-line, pulling off even a single big play on offense likely will be decisive.
The tooth-pull festival that is the NFC West would not allow otherwise.