Establishing the running game and generating pressure on Carson Palmer key to a Seahawks win

To close the gap with the NFC West leading Cardinals, the Seahawks must be able to run the ball and get pressure on Carson Palmer. Winning these key individual matchups would go a long way towards accomplishing precisely that.

As much as any other professional sport, the NFL is a team game.  No one player can be successful without the assistance of others. That said, individual matchups can and do determine winners and losers on a weekly basis.

Sure, superstars Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch could be called keys in every game but let's dig deeper. The goal here is to identify three critical one-on-one matchups (that few others are talking about) which will likely determine whether or not the Seahawks emerge victorious.

Matchup No. 1: Seahawks LT Russell Okung vs. Cardinals DE Calais Campbell

This head to head collision of Seattle's best offensive lineman against Arizona's best defensive linemen perfectly embodies this game, clearly the NFL's most intriguing of the Week 10 slate.

Though he rarely earns the hype of the game's top pass rushers, the 6-8, 310 pound Campbell has emerged as one of the NFL's top defensive linemen. He's been particularly tough on the Seahawks, including sacking Wilson three times (and officially generating three more QB hits) in last year's Week 12 victory in Seattle. He's the clear leader of Arizona's defensive front, helping to keep blockers off of the Cardinals' relatively undersized (but quite speedy) linebacker corps. Perhaps most frightening is that Campbell is only getting better with time. With 40 tackles through the first half of the season, the eight-year veteran is on pace to set a new career high for stops on the year.

After missing the Dallas game with an ankle sprain, Okung returned to practice this week and is expected to start Sunday.  When watching Okung vs. Campbell, the focus for most will be in pass protection - and certainly, protecting Russell Wilson is critical. Blocking in the running game, however, could be just as important to the Seahawks securing a victory Sunday night. The Cardinals enter the game allowing just 90.1 rushing yards per game this season - 4th stingiest in the NFL - and have surrendered just three touchdowns on the ground. Getting Lynch and the running game established isn't just the best way to minimize Arizona's pass rush and playmaking defensive backs, it is also the best defense against Arizona's explosive offense.

Matchup No. 2: Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane vs. Cardinals C A.Q. Shipley

Like the Seahawks, the Cardinals enter this showdown relatively healthy. One significant exception is at center where starter Lyle Sendlein is currently struggling with a shoulder injury suffered in a Week Eight win over the Cleveland Browns. Should he be unable to play, Shipley would get the start.

Even football fans without a vested interest in the game's outcome might enjoy the brawl likely to occur between Shipley and Mebane. In today's game of massive linemen, both are relatively short, relying on their width, leg drive and use of leverage to win at the point of attack. Both players were underrated coming out of college (Mebane at Cal, Shipley at Penn State) and have got by as much on toughness and tenacity as talent.

With Carson Palmer lighting up the sky, the Cardinals' passing attack gets all of the attention but a key change for Arizona this season has been an improved running game. Flashy running backs Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson deserve a lot of credit but so too do Sendlein and former first round guards Mike Iupati and Jonathan Cooper.  Mebane and fellow defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin must be able to hold up inside and allow Seattle's linebackers to flow to the ball unimpeded. Anything less and Arizona might be able to run and pass the ball effectively.

Slowing down Arizona's rushing attack is a first critical step in slowing down its offense. The Seahawks interior pass rushers -- Michael BennettJordan Hill and perhaps Frank Clark -- all possess a significant advantage in quickness and length. Pressuring Palmer - especially up the middle - could be the key to limiting Arizona's high-octane offense.

Matchup No. 3: Seahawks' CBs vs. Cardinals' WR John Brown

The Seahawks must get pressure on Palmer because if he has time, he'll look to Brown, the Cardinals' dynamic deep threat.

For years, any conversation about the Cardinals' receiving corps has essentially started and ended with All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald. Never a true speed threat, age has slowed Fitzgerald even more to the point where he is now at his best as a short and intermediate security blanket. He's still deadly in this role, rejuvenating his career this season after making the move inside to the slot. Brown, however, has emerged as Arians' Arizona-version of TY Hilton (or Antonio Brown) - a speedster with the agility to make defenders miss, as well as the vision and body control to track passes over his shoulder.

The Seahawks have struggled with quicker, slighter receivers like Brown in the past, which has prompted the team to move All-Pro Richard Sherman inside, on occasion. Frankly, there isn't a cornerback on Seattle's roster who can run stride for stride with Brown. The closest to it might be Jeremy Lane, who Pete Carroll was optimistic might be able to return to the field for his first action since the Super Bowl. Aggressive, fluid and fast, Lane is Seattle's best nickel corner and the man likely responsible for slowing Brown if he can play. 
If he can't, Seattle may be left gambling that Sherman or DeShawn Shead will be able to use their height, reach and physicality to re-route Brown, putting an awful lot of pressure on the pass rush and free safety Earl Thomas covering over the top. 


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