For the better part of four seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have ranked among the league's best home teams, consistently scoring victories at the University of Phoenix Stadium under head coach Bruce Arians.
There is one team, however, that Arians is 0-3 against at home, and that franchise travels to Arizona Sunday for a key division showdown.
The 5-1 Seattle Seahawks routed the Cardinals by 30 points in 2015, 29 points in 2014, and scored a 12-point victory in 2013 against Arians' squad, and current defensive coordinator James Bettcher knows Sunday night's matchup represents a statement game for a Cardinals' club in desperate need of a critical win.
"Another opportunity to play on national TV, the reality is more importantly it's a division game against a team that has come in here the last three seasons, ran the ball on us and created explosives in the passing game and those have been the things that have been a theme the last three games," Bettcher said.
The Seahawks jumped out to a two-game advantage in the NFC West after six games in large part due to dominant defensive performances that have Seattle's defense ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed per game.
However, Seattle's offense has been up to the task as well, led by gutsy performances from quarterback Russell Wilson, who is completing 65.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for five touchdowns compared to just one interception.
Surprisingly, the normally mobile Wilson has just 35 rushing yards on 21 attempts this season, but part of his inability to run the ball can be traced back to a sprained MCL injury he suffered against the San Francisco 49ers in week three. While Wilson hasn't appeared to play at full speed since his injury, he hasn't missed any games and the Cardinals believe that his dual-threat capabilities will be on display this week.
"I thought obviously a couple of games ago, they were probably more selective with what they were doing with him in the run game," Bettcher said. "But I thought watching this last week, he was back running the zone read and if the read was there for him to keep it, he would have kept it. I just don't think some of the reads worked out that way. But he looked like was healthy and ready to roll and we anticipate him to be 100 percent and give us his best game."
Aside from keeping an eye on Wilson's ability to take off and run, the Cardinals will have their hands full against the Seahawks because of a rejuvenated Jimmy Graham who is finally fitting into the Seahawks' offense the way the team envisioned when it acquired him.
Graham had a highly productive career with the New Orleans Saints prior to a 2015 trade that sent Graham to Seattle where his production dipped last season.
Graham is the only tight end aside from Rob Gronkowski of New England to record multiple 1,000-yard receiving and 10-touchdown seasons and he has become one of Wilson's most consistent targets of late.
"Jimmy is healthy finally, I think, that was a pretty tough injury to come back from and he's a threat, we all know what he's done when he was in New Orleans," Bettcher said. "It's vertical threats, it's intermediate throws, it's all that kind of stuff so I think that's probably a part of the reasons they're doing a lot of the things they're doing."
Over the past three weeks, Graham has been targeted 26 times and caught 18 passes for 304 yards. Graham only has one touchdown catch in that span, but it's clear the Seahawks are using him to open up the rest of their offense which has eased matters for a banged up Wilson.
On Thursday, Bettcher said the Cardinals will have specific plans for Graham tailored by downs and distances as well as for key situations that arise throughout the game.
"You'll see some different guys on Jimmy, certainly," Bettcher said. "By field position, by situation of the game, you'll see some different matchups as you start watching and you'll see how those matchups unfold."