Game Preview: Cardinals at Seahawks

With a win over the improved Arizona Cardinals, the Hawks can clinch a playoff berth.

What: Final NFC West game of the season
When: Sunday, December 26th, 1:15 pm (PST)
Where: Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington

Cardinals Key Players:

QB Josh McCown: Since a three-game benching, McCown has been solid under center. Over his last two games he has completed 61.9% of his passes for 594 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He says the benching allowed him to see some things from the sidelines that have helped him now that he is playing. He is young and emotional but still exhibits good leadership skills. Even with his improved decision-making, he still makes some baffling mistakes and holds the ball too long leading to costly fumbles. He cannot win a game on his own, but he can definitely make plays that keep drives going.

RB Emmitt Smith: Smith just continues to keep the chains moving. Never a breakaway threat even as a young player, he is even more limited now. However, he makes up for that with quick decisions, hitting the hole early and setting up his blocker. He isn't used much in the passing game, but he is also adept at making plays down the field. His 803 yards rushing and nine touchdowns have him poised for his most productive season in three years.

WR Larry Fitzgerald: The rookie out of Pittsburgh hasn't hit on many long plays, something that was his forte in college, but with a healthy Anquan Boldin on the opposite side he is becoming more of a downfield threat. His 51 receptions for 674 yards and six touchdowns lead the team and he should be a big producer in his second season after a year in head coach Dennis Green's system.

DE Bertrand Berry: Berry was selected to his first ever Pro Bowl on Wednesday and he deserves every bit of the recognition. His 12.5 sacks are tied for the league lead and his energy and leadership have helped develop rookie DT Darnell Dockett sooner than most thought possible. He plays strong against the run and is a relentless pass-rusher. He will be a cornerstone for the Cardinals defense in the years to come.

S Adrian Wilson: Wilson was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, but that doesn't mean he didn't deserve consideration. He is a playmaker in the secondary and his 91 tackles lead the team. He is solid in coverage, nabbing two interceptions and his 10 passes defensed rank second on the team. He is a sure tackler that flies around and makes plays all over the field. He is also the emotional leader of the team and plays with a big heart.

Key Matchups:

Seahawks WRs vs. Cardinals DBs: WR Koren Robinson returns after a five week hiatus and his playmaking ability is needed. Jerry Rice and Darrell Jackson have played well but Robinson's explosiveness and deep speed, if he can hang on to the ball, will be an added boost. Third-down specialist Bobby Engram may be the biggest key, as he can exploit the zone coverages that the Cardinals like to employ on passing downs. Wilson along with CBs David Macklin and Duane Starks will be tested by the deep Seahawks receiving corps. Macklin has played well this season but Starks has been a weak link. Both are on the smallish side but they make up for that with strength and toughness. If the Hawks wideouts can consistently get open and make plays down the field, that will open up creases up front for the running game.

Seahawks LT Walter Jones vs. Berry: Berry did not play in the teams' first meeting back in October and he will be fired up for this matchup against his fellow Pro Bowler. Jones just keeps on rolling as one of the best tackles in the NFL and he is almost impossible to get around. His strength and footwork make it impossible to bull-rush and his reach and athleticism allow him to stymie even the best speed-rushers. Berry is relentless and his ability to get pressure on QB Matt Hasselbeck will help disrupt an improving Seahawks passing game.

Seahawks running game vs. Cardinals run defense: The Hawks running game, led by Pro Bowl RB Shaun Alexander, ranks eighth in the league averaging 131.2 yards per game. The Cardinals run defense ranks 27th in the league, surrendering 133.4 yards per game. This battle will go a long way in determining who comes out the winner of the game. If Alexander can keep the chains moving and the Cardinals defense off-balance then Hasselbeck will be able to use play-action to work on long plays down the field. The Cardinals will commit eight and sometimes nine in the box to stop the run and if they can do that, they make the Seahawks one-dimensional and very beatable.

Seahawks LBs vs. Cardinals RB Emmitt Smith: As stated above, Smith is not a game-breaking back, but he is workmanlike in his approach to the game. He hits the hole hard, makes quick decisions and keeps the chains moving. If LBs Chad Brown, Tracy White, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Orlando Huff, Solomon Bates, and Niko Koutouvides can stuff the run better than they have, they have a chance to make McCown win the game. That is something he still hasn't proven he is capable of doing.

News and Notes: This game features the NFL's all-time leading rusher (Smith) and all-time leading receiver (Rice); Berry is the first Cardinal defender voted to the Pro Bowl since 1999; Cardinals still have a chance at winning the division despite their 4-9 record. If the Hawks and Rams lose their final two games and the Cardinals win their last two, they will win the division with a 7-9 record; Cardinals lead the series 7-4, including the last meeting when they beat the Hawks in Sun Devil Stadium 25-17 on October 24th.

Injuries: ARIZONA:
PROBABLE: T Leonard Davis (knee); DT Darnell Dockett (groin); LB Gerald Hayes (illness); RB Emmitt Smith (toe); S Michael Stone (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Russell Davis (hamstring); S Adrian Mayes (shoulder); QB John Navarre (right finger); LB Raynoch Thompson (shoulder)
OUT: CB Renaldo Hill (back)

PROBABLE: QB Matt Hasselbeck (right elbow)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Rocky Bernard (knee); LB Chad Brown (foot)
DOUBTFUL: CB Bobby Taylor (knee); LB Tracy White (hamstring)
OUT: DT Marcus Tubbs (ankle); WR Jerheme Urban (foot); DE Grant Wistrom (knee)

Prediction: Seahawks 28 – Cardinals 24

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at Top Stories