Brian McIntyre: Digging themselves an early hole means the playoffs have essentially already started for the Seahawks. At 3-5, they can't afford to lose a single game from this point on, and they certainly can't afford to lose to the Cardinals on Sunday. If they do, the 2009 season is over because it won't get any easier next week when they travel to Minnesota.
AD: Matt Hasselbeck isn't a frail cookie, but he's had more than his fair share of injuries. He hurt his shoulder against the Lions. Jim Mora said Hasselbeck will be limited in practice this week. Will his injury be a factor in Arizona?
BM: Hasselbeck's shoulder didn't keep him from practicing the week before, but it was something that had been bothering him, and he aggravated it making a tackle on the interception he threw against the Lions. He will be limited in practice this week, but will start on Sunday.
AD: Last time the Cardinals and the Seahawks met, the Cardinals defense made its presence known. They limited the Seahawks' big plays and pressured Hasselbeck consistently. The game marked the first time the Cardinals looked like their former post-season self. How do you expect Hasselbeck and the offensive line to respond to the pressure this Sunday?
BM: In a way, the Seahawks have already responded to the pressure.
That day, Kyle Williams, a second-year undrafted tackle from USC, started at left tackle because Brandon Frye was lost for the season to a neck injury the week before. Frye was starting because Walter Jones was still recovering from knee surgery and his replacement, Sean Locklear, was out with a high ankle sprain.
Williams is now on the practice squad, and veteran offensive tackle Damion McIntosh, who signed with the Seahawks a few days before they faced the Cardinals last month, has started on the left side the last two weeks and has played reasonably well. Locklear was healthy enough to dress last week, and could start on the left side this week. Another lineup change up front is the return of left guard Rob Sims, who missed the first Cardinals game with a high ankle sprain.
Even with a healthier offensive line, I still expect the Seahawks to move Hasselbeck around with some play-action bootlegs and rollouts to keep the Cardinals' pass rush off balance. They'll also throw some quick screens and hitches to the receivers and running backs, which proved effective last week against Detroit.
AD: Kurt Warner threw five touchdown passes last week against the Chicago Bears. The week before, he threw five interception passes. That said, Warner is very capable of both Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame performances. What will be the Seahawks game plan to ensure it's the latter?
BM: As is the case with any quarterback, the Seahawks want to put pressure on Warner, preferably with the front four, and either get him to the ground or force him into some bad throws. Seattle's struggled to do that this season, especially on the road. With the returns of Marcus Trufant and Leroy Hill—both of whom missed the first game—and a healthier Josh Wilson, Seahawks head coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley could feel more comfortable dialing up some exotic blitzes to disrupt the timing of the Cardinals' passing offense.
AD: The Seahawks rank 11th in the league in rush defense, allowing a little more than 100 yards per game. Which players have been instrumental in stuffing the run?
BM: That statistic is slightly deceiving, as only five teams have had fewer rushing attempts against then the Seahawks have had, which helps keep the rushing yards allowed figure down. Seattle is giving up 4.4 yards per carry, which ranks 20th in the NFL. However, aside from Frank Gore's monster day (see below) in Week 2, the Seahawks run defense is a unit that hasn't allowed another 100-yard rusher, and only two other teams (Dallas, Detroit) have topped 100 yards rushing total against them. Seattle's front office wanted to get bigger upfront last off-season, the Seahawks signed Colin Cole (6-1, 330) to a five-year, $21.4M deal to play the nose, which allowed the more athletic Brandon Mebane to move to the three-technique to disrupt plays in the backfield. Seattle also acquired Cory Redding from the Detroit Lions to add some size at the end position.
With Lofa Tatupu on injured reserve, second-year middle linebacker David Hawthorne (nicknamed "The Heater") has emerged as the bright spot on the defense, leading the team in tackles in each of his three starts this season. He also leads the team in interceptions (3), has 3 quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles, and has six tackles for a loss. Though prone to the occasional over-pursuit, linebacker Aaron Curry, the fourth-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has also been very good against the run. Curry willingly takes on lead-blockers, allowing others to make tackles, but he's also made some plays behind the line of scrimmage, as well.
BM: Seattle was determined to stop Frank Gore, so they loaded up the box with a lot of 8-man fronts. On two plays, the Seahawks lost gap control up front and free safety Jordan Babineaux took poor angles, resulting in two long touchdowns (79, 80 yards) that put Gore over the 200-yard mark.
Stop those two runs at the line of scrimmage, or limit them to the 10-12 yard gains with better play from the free safety, and Seattle could've won that game.
AD: Why didn't Edgerrin James work out in Seattle? Do you think the Seahawks jersey is the last one he'll wear?
BM: Seattle's offensive line hasn't created many lanes for their running backs. When they were there, though, James just wasn't able to get through the holes quick enough. The wear and tear of ten seasons and nearly 3,500 touches has clearly taken a toll on him, as he lacks the burst that once made him one of the best running backs in the NFL.
James was well-liked in the locker room, and had taken the younger running backs (Justin Forsett, Louis Rankin) under his wing. With the Seahawks at 2-5 (when the move was made), though, and having those young guys they wanted to take an extended look at, it was the right time to waive James. Based on what was seen from him on the field, I would be very surprised to him resurface elsewhere.
The Seahawks will win if...
…they protect Matt Hasselbeck, run the ball effectively, convert in the red zone, and force Kurt Warner into some bad throws. Seattle had five interceptions last week, and turnovers have a tendency to come in bunches. They'll need to create a few of them in order to beat the Cardinals.
The Seahawks will lose if...
…they can't put pressure on Kurt Warner, or get off the field on third downs, and are forced to settle for field goals. Kicking field goals against the Arizona Cardinals is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
What's your prediction and why?
BM: Cardinals, 31-16.
Seattle has struggled to beat good teams anywhere, but on the road, they have yet to show a willingness to put up a fight. As good as Matt Hasselbeck and the receivers are, they haven't clicked in the red zone, and there's no reason to expect that will change this Sunday. That means a lot of Olindo Mare, which means Reebok can go ahead and print those Arizona Cardinals 2009 NFC West Champions t-shirts.
Brian McIntyre is the publisher of NorthwestFootball.net. Amberly Dressler is the publisher of AZRedReport.com.