The fourth quarter of the Nov. 15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a strange one for the Seahawks defense. They gave up numerous big plays on two 80-yard drives en route to a 39-32 defeat. Sunday’s rematch in the desert provides an opportunity for redemption ahead of the playoffs.
Arizona QB Carson Palmer is the marquee threat. The Cards lead the league in passing yards per attempt at 8.8 and are third in passing touchdowns with 34 (behind the 36 of Tom Brady and 35 by Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles), a big reason why they are favored by 6.5 points.
In the Cardinals’ win at the Clink, Palmer threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns. LB K.J. Wright said that limiting Palmer’s ability to go downfield is crucial.
“We’ve got to force (Palmer) to throw those short passes,” Wright said Wednesday. “You saw in that last game — when they can throw it deep, they can get devastating. We’ve just got to force this guy . . . to throw the check-downs and flow up and tackle them.”
Wright is part of an exclusive group in the NFL this season. He’s among the relative few who have sacked Palmer — the 12-year veteran has been brought down 25 times (Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has gone down 44 times). Wright took a moment to drop some urgency about dropping Palmer.
“They do a good job of protecting him, but you’ve got to get pressure on that guy, because he sits back there, and just wants to chuck the ball deep,” said Wright. “We trust our D-line to get there, and on the back end we’ve got to hold them.”
Sacking Palmer may prove difficult if DE Michael Bennett, who leads the Seahawks with 9.5 sacks and underwent injections to help a chronic big-toe injury this week, is unable to go.
Regardless, taking down Palmer will require a mixture of aggression and intelligence.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” he said. “I think you’ve got to pin your ears back and go, but you’ve got to be smart and understand where he’s going to step up, understand where he’s going to get away.
“He’s not a mobile guy, but he’s not getting hit either. He’s obviously doing something right. I feel like that’s a credit to their offensive line, making sure that nobody gets to him.
“We’ve got to make sure we get in his face and make him move. I feel like if we can make him move, we can chase him down.”
Palmer has never been known for being fleet of foot, and at 36, isn’t getting faster. But he is smart and clever enough to have led the Cardinals to the best regular season in their history and made him at least a co-favorite with Cam Newton for the Most Valuable Player award.
If the Seahawks disrupt Palmer, they can force precious turnovers. Of Palmer’s three sacks against Seattle, two resulted in recovered fumbles, including a 22-yard scoop-and-score by Wagner.
As for the running game, Wagner said that Seattle will trust that it can swarm to the ball carrier, as it has nearly every game this season, regardless of ball-carrier — the Seahawks are third in the NFL, allowing 85.1 ypg.
Recent breakout David Johnson lit up Philadelphia for 187 yards and three touchdowns Dec. 20, may start, or it could be veteran Andre Ellington, who iced Seattle with a 48-yard sprint from a draw play for a touchdown in the first game.
“We can’t let that team be two-dimensional, we need to make them be one-dimensional,” said Wagner. “My job, and I feel like the defense’s job, is to stop the run, then figure out where Carson is trying to get the ball to.”
Frustrating as was the final period for Seattle’s defense, CB Richard Sherman said it reaffirmed what they already knew.
“Guys made a few mistakes down the stretch, but we battled,” said Sherman Wednesday. “We made sure we scored on defense, got a few crucial turnovers. We kept ourselves in the game. There’s nobody in this league we can’t play with.”
The Cardinals’ 39 points were the most against Seattle since the 49ers had 40 in December 2010. Anything close to that total Sunday, and the Seahawks will enter the playoffs with a legion of gloom.
Willson, Sweezy still out
TE Luke Willson and LG J.R. Sweezy were held out of practice Thursday as they remained in the concussion protocol after Sunday’s game. LT Russell Okung, who missed the game with a strained calf, also stayed out of practice.
Returning to limited practice time were SS Kam Chancellor (tailbone) and DE Michael Bennett, who was out of town receiving an injection for his injured big toe. DT Jordan Hill also returned to limited practice.
For the Cardinals, WR Michael Floyd has been out all week with a knee problem, and QB Carson Palmer was limited because of a finger injury.