Defense and Run Game Will Provide Success
This Sunday the Seahawks kickoff their 2012 season in Phoenix in a NFC West match up vs the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals had a strong finish to the 2011 season and finished with an 8-8 record. The Seahawks were slightly behind with a 7-9 record, but the feeling this year is different.
All signs point to the Seahawks taking huge strides this year, meanwhile the Cardinals still searching for an identity.
Here are 5 things to watch for this coming Sunday.
Let’s Get Some Pressure!
The Seahawks catalyst these past couple seasons has been passing and pass-rush. We made moves in the off-season to improve both.
We attempted to improve our pass rush by drafting Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick in the NFL draft. We also signed Matt Flynn in hopes of him being our quarterback of the future, but 3rd round pick Russell Wilson shined in the preseason and earned the starting job.
With both positions improving, the pass-rush improvements will be vital this Sunday.
The quarterback situation in Arizona is horrendous. You have Kevin Kolb who was brought in from Philadelphia for 5-years and $63 million dollars.
Quite the chunk of change to throw at a backup quarterback with minute samples from an Andy Reid system that breeds quarterback success.
Then there is the man who won the starting job, John Skelton. What? Never heard of him? You mean you have never heard of the Fordham University stand-out who led the FCS in passing his senior year?
Yea, few have.
After a 6-game losing streak last season for the Cardinals, Kolb went down against the 49ers and Skelton stepped in and led them to a victory. After defeating the division-leading 49ers, he went on to lead the Cardinals to a 5-2 finish and almost made a playoff spot.
Skelton is not the most talented, and his decision-making is lackadaisical at times, but he has proven he can win at the professional level. This is why the Seahawks must pressure him.
Resigning Chris Clemons and bringing in Irvin along with Jason Jones were all huge moves to better the Seattle pass rush.
Let’s hope we can pressure Skelton and put those mediocre decision making skills to the test.
Russell Wilson, You’re My Hero
Since Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks have not been comfortable behind center.
Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst are hardly viable candidates for the starting quarterback position, and the main reason being is poise.
They were often hurried, flushed out of the pocket, or just could not make the necessary throws.
Then there is Russel Wilson. A young man who simply breathes poise and accuracy. The game just seems natural to him. It was encouraging to see Wilson shred the second and third-team defenses in the beginning of the preseason.
Then came the Kansas City Chiefs, and Wilson was given the nod to start against their first-team defense.
Wilson is our starter. The throws he made were pin-point. He threw the ball high, away from the defender and in spots where only the receiver could make them.
He completely ignored the pressure when it would near him, and kept his eyes down the field.
Also, I have yet to see a quarterback look so comfortable on a bootleg. It is what he was born to do.
However, my favorite skill that Wilson protrudes is his ability to throw the intermediate pass.
Quarterbacks all too often get judged on their arm strength and their ability to throw the deep ball. But just hurling the ball down the field is not a successful formula in the NFL. Making those 10-20 yard strikes in between defenders, that is where a quarterback becomes lethal. That is what Wilson can do.
This Sunday will be the third year in a row that the Cardinals have opened their season against a rookie quarterback. Last season it was Cam Newton, the season before that was Sam Bradford. Both resulted in victories for the Cardinals.
While these numbers are simply coincidental and nothing to look into, I think it is safe to say Wilson is coming into a much more developed situation in Seattle than those other rookie QB’s.
If the Seahawks run the ball and can set up play-action, he should be successful in Phoenix.
Arguably the most exciting match up in this season opener is between the kick-returners. Leon Washington for the Seahawks has 7 career kickoff-return touchdowns, second in NFL history (one behind Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs).
Leon is explosive with a low center of gravity, and every time he touches the ball it gets your blood flowing.
This Sunday Leon may not be the most exciting returner to watch.
Patrick Peterson came into the league last season as a rookie and burst onto the scene with his return game.
In week one against the Carolina Panthers, late in the fourth quarter Peterson took an 89-yard punt-return to the house to give the Cardinals the lead for the win. Peterson continued on to an NFL record-tying 4 punt returns in his rookie season.
Peterson received First-Team All-Pro honors and made it to the Pro-Bowl in his very first season.
Both returners are going to be essential in setting-up field position and possibly even putting points up on the board. How the opposing teams handle these players could possibly determine the game.
Push that Line of Scrimmage
The Seahawks’ running game is the heart and soul of the squad.
Marshawn Lynch, along with offensive line coach Tom Cable, have given the Seahawks a toughness about them they have never been known for.
We typically have been a finesse, west coast offensive football team in the past. Suddenly Pete Carroll steps in and completely changes the personality of the team, preaching defense first and running the football. The team has bought into the scheme, and it is starting to show.
Over the last seven games last season there was no other player that had more rushing yards than Lynch.
The offensive lineman were gaining comfort in Cable’s system and it boasted great success. Cable loves lineman with great size and high athleticism – James Carpenter 6’5, 321 lbs and John Moffit 6’4, 319lbs both selected in 2011 NFL draft after acquiring Cable – and doesn’t necessarily look for production at the college level.
He likes potential, and likes moving pieces into places they can play. It is for this reason that when Carpenter and Moffit went down with knee injuries, players stepped in and the line didn’t miss a beat.
You can’t overstate the importance of health on the offensive line, and Cable seems to have a secret of consistency that is a rare commodity at the professional level.
While Lynch may be out Sunday due to back spasms, I have faith in Robert Turbin and his biceps to fill in nicely for Lynch with solid production.
When there is a rookie quarterback at the helm of the offense, there is no greater confidence builder than a solid running game.
Let’s get it going and get it going early.
When you play the Cardinals, retaining Larry Fitzgerald is typically step-one in the game plan.
Fitzgerald is a top 3 receiver in the NFL and has arguably the greatest hands the league has ever seen (although Cris Carter may disagree).
He is the only weapon the Cardinals have, and because of this he is often found crowded by defensive secondaries with double and triple coverages. When the Cardinals had Anquan Boldin, he drew some of the attention away from Fitzgerald and he had some of his best years.
Since Boldin’s departure to Baltimore in 2010, Fitz has been left to fend for himself.
Still posting solid production – 80 rec. 1,411 yds. 8 td last season – it is still a drop from his past production.
The Cards drafted Michael Floyd out of Notre Dame with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft in hopes of filling that void Boldin left in the receiving corp. But until he can prove him self a viable option, Fitz will be receiving the blanketed coverage.
Fitzgerald has had more career receptions (102) and receiving yards (1,371) against Seattle than any other team. With this young defense boasting a solid secondary and putting pressure on the unproven John Skelton, the Seahawks have a good chance at retaining Fitzgerald.
And doing so has been proven successful in the past.