BY Art Thiel 07:57PM 12/22/2013

Thiel: Cardinals show how to shut up Seattle

Credit Arizona coach Bruce Arians for a brilliant plan, and the defense for executing it. The Seahawks were exposed, and have one more game to cover up.

Arizona strong safety Tony Jefferson had a big play when he denied Marshawn Lynch a touchdown late in the first half Sunday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Don’t think for a minute that the outcome Sunday turned on officiating calls or bad breaks. The Cardinals beat the Seahawks 17-10 by exposing shortcomings in the offensive line and the return game, and by minimizing their own vulnerabilities. That’s due to good coaching. Suddenly, Pete Carroll doesn’t have just Jim Harbaugh to worry about in the NFC West.Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had the players and the plan to do what was believed nearly impossible this season — beat the Seahawks at the Clink.

“We had a run-defense plan that was outstanding,” he said. “We knew that if (Seattle were) to get the lead, they were going to have to throw. Even with play-action passing, they have to keep trying to run.

“But we were able to get good pressure and chase Russell around. We chased him off his spot on some passes.”

The Arizona defense was so good that even Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin had to marvel.

“They did things we hadn’t seen from them the first time,” referring to Seattle’s 34-22 win in Phoenix Oct. 17. “Sometimes, I’d come to the the line (of scrimmage) and say, ‘They’re in the perfect coverage for this play.’”

NFC West familiarity, it seems, breeds conquest. The Seahawks have lost two of their past three games to teams that know them best.

Besides forcing Wilson into his worst game and first home loss as a pro, RB Marshawn Lynch was held to 11 yards rushing in the second half. When beleaguered QB Carson Palmer pulled his team together for a 10-play, 80-yard drive to the game-winning touchdown with a little more than two minutes remaining, Arians had a rare, great experience — the Clink sellout fell silent as a baby’s sleep.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Arians said. “This is why you play the game — to come into a venue like this (that’s) fantastic, with great fans, and win.”

Jubilation was as justified in the Cardinals’ quarters as vexation was among the Seahawks. Carroll, clearly outcoached, was baffled.

“I don’t know why we had so much coverage on us today,” he said. “The spacing wasn’t there as much as we were used to. The protection was really good. He had plenty of time, but they were covering us up pretty well. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t find guys open.

“You have to give them a lot of credit.”

No problem there. The Cardinals won for the seventh time in the eight games since the Seattle defeat. At 10-5, they are perhaps the NFL’s hottest team with a season-ending shot at San Francisco Sunday and a chance for the playoffs.

Arians was asked to explain the difference between the Seattle games.

“When we played them earlier, we were coming off a very tough loss against San Francisco,” he said. “We only had two days of practice and had to play on a Thursday. We weren’t ready for that.

“I think a week of practice and preparation showed that we were a little bit better than we were then.”

Arians knew the Seahawks run more play-action than any team in the NFL, and trained his guys to read well the keys to the deception. He knew the Seahawks relied heavily on Lynch, and did as others have done lately — load up the box to stop him. But because the Cardinals’ front four is so good and the Seahawks line is so average, even when healthy, Arians confined the rush pressure largely to them, leaving seven to defend the run, and made sure they kept Wilson in the pocket, where he is least effective.

The result was 192 yards of total offense (80 in the second half) that included 10 first downs and seven three-and-out possessions. Wilson was 11 for 27 for 108 passing yards, minus four sacks and 19 yards in losses. Significantly, Wilson had just two runs, one a 27-yarder that was Seattle’s longest rush of the game.

“Our defensive line coach was on us all week,” said Arizona DT Darnell Dockett. “He said, ‘Knock these guys back and make 24 (Lynch) bounce outside. We worked hard at it, and hard work paid off today.”

The apex of the plan and its execution came not at the end of the game but at the end of the first half. Tied 3-3 inside the final minute, Palmer had a pass deflect off DE Chris Clemons into the arms of LB Malcolm Smith, who returned the interception 32 yards to set up Seattle with the easiest sequence of the afternoon. The Seahawks failed.

With a first down at the Arizona 3-yard line, Lynch went up the middle for a hard two yards. After a Seattle timeout, Lynch tried right tackle and found nothing, stopped by linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington. On third down, Wilson tried to outsmart Arizona by dropping back, but he missed a short pass to fullback Michael Robinson.

That forced fourth down and a field goal attempt, but not before the Seahawks false-started and were forced to back up five yards — one of nine penalties for 102 yards, another wretched day at football’s criminal court. Then PK Steven Hauschka, Mr. 100 Percent this season (except for a block), banged his gimme putt off the left upright.

A virtually guaranteed six dropped to zero, and a feeling swept over the 68,266 in the house that this was not going to be Seattle’s day.

“We should be able to knock that one in,” said Carroll. “We’ve been great in the red zone. We’ve been doing all kinds of good stuff, and today we just couldn’t get it. We had trouble in all phases with them.”

So true. Now trouble lies ahead. The final regular-season game is Sunday at home against the 7-8 Rams, who already had the Seahawks number defensively Oct. 28, even though Seattle prevailed 14-9. Now the Rams can study an even better plan.

The opportunity remains, as it has for the past couple of weeks, for Seattle, with a triumph, to claim the NFC West title, the No. 1 seed the first-round playoff bye that goes with it. But they must go against another division rival that knows them well, and knows that the Seahawks no longer live in an invulnerable castle upon the Sound.

This is the NFL. Things change fast. Mind your hat, your step and your hopes.


YourThoughts

  • SLinSeattle

    Hats off to the Cards; they executed a very good plan very well. And yes, this Seahawks team has its vulnerabilities.

    • art thiel

      In two sentences, yes.

  • Gerald Turner

    Jeramy Lynn played good again. We are missing a change up back. That was going to be Christin Michel, most teams hit you with 2 backs now, the Cards had their speed back, very scary, where is ours? Turbin is good, but he does not have that burst. Where is Michel, did he get hurt?

    • Bruce McDermott

      Apparently, he can’t pass block or do the other non-running things a back needs to do in this offense.

      • art thiel

        Michael isn’t a disciplined back. They can’t trust him yet.

        • zigzags

          Sure wish we had a change-of-pace back like AZ does. Both their backs looked fresher and more explosive than Lynch. I love Beast Mode, but he’s been carrying the entire load all season long. We need Michael to pull it together because he’s got that explosiveness this offense is missing.

        • sportsguy

          And Turbin who fumbles left and right they can trust him? Every time they have played Michael I have been impressed he has way more explosive speed than Lynch and he should be playing some.

    • zigzags

      Turbin is not good. His weird, spastic juke moves caused him to fall down untouched one time, then fumble the ball untouched another time.

      • sportsguy

        Please do not have Turbin returning kicks at all any more….have Baldwin and/or Lane do it, and not Kearse either he has fumbled too

  • Mazin

    This is the first time that I’ve ever felt concerned about Russell’s performance. He looked scared to throw and scared to run. Maybe scared is too strong a word but he looked more bothered by the pass rush than any other game he’s played with us. He also made about three terrible decisions on the roll throwing against his body that could have easily been picked off that had me jumping out of my seat yelling at the TV.

    I trust Russ more than any other QB that’s ever helmed a team that I played or rooted for but we’ve come to rely on him making a few “QB-fundamental defying” plays a game. He didn’t make those plays today and our offense seemed lost without them. This game was most likely an aberration for R(us)s but our offense has to become productive even with an “average” game out of #3 or we’ll be vulnerable to teams playing outta their minds defensively.

    • Bruce McDermott

      Agreed. Worst game he has played in a long, long time. Several bad decisions, off target throws, unable to make a play when it was needed. Now, how much of this was just a defense that had our number from the start, and how much was Russell, only the tape will tell. But when the offense plays like that, the QB is a major cause, almost by definition.

    • art thiel

      He’s never scared in football, but he’s human. He knows if they can’t run, much falls on him. Az knows that as well. Wilson played his poorest game against a team that figured out Lynch and the the QB.

  • inplaylose

    sure, the officials seemed absolutely clueless out there, but the better team won. Seahawks were terrible all the way around, in all aspects of the game. defense negated a good performance with penalties, not adjusting to the way the game was being officiated. kicking game was sloppy. Seahawks got outcoached as well – Bevell’s play calling was so bereft of ideas that it seemed the game plan was “Russell Drop Back and Make Stuff Up” and not much more than that. nothing quick on the edges, no screens or moving the pocket. no imagination. not that the line blocked anyone, anyway.
    but this is probably a useful loss for this team at this point. a wakeup call. that game in New York was too easy for them. they cannot just rest on their laurels and coast to the Super Bowl. but they’ve generally shown a propensity of rising to the big moments on the biggest stages this season, so this isn’t that worrisome. yet.

  • Big

    Poor performance by the O line. Great Card D. If only the Hawk O could play as well as the D has been playing. The O misses Rice and Tate is getting shut down. Time to make some adjustments.

    • oldfan

      Maybe a silly idea (though it’s been done before), why not put Sherman or Thomas out there as receivers for a few play? Get some more speed and/or size out there and give defenses something new to worry about. Assuming we get the bye, we’d have time to implement such a plan.

  • ss

    This offense hasn’t been impressive since the Saints game. Furthermore, they don’t strike fear in anyone’s heart. Except for a few short periods this year, they’ve been more lucky than good, demonstrated today by Kearse’s recovery of Tate’s fumble that led to the TD. We just don’t put together consistent bone crushing drives enough to be considered a Super Bowl winning team. That, and the defense’s penchant for extending the opponent’s drives will have us out of the playoffs disappointingly early.

    • sportsguy

      ss I am in total agreement with u…..in fact I have started to prepare myself for this season not to end well…….hope for the best but expect the worst that is our lot in life as a Seattle sports fan

  • RadioGuy

    Can’t put this one on the refs (as a Green Bay fan, I guarantee that happens to everyone, although I blame our DB for not knocking down that pass to Tate last year more than I do the officials) and I wouldn’t call out the Seattle defense, either. The penalties didn’t help, but they were hardly unique to this team. The offense? Another story. That’s two of three weeks Seattle hasn’t gotten it together when they’ve had the ball and they’ve got just one game left to straighten that out.

    And it’s not going to be a whole lot easier next weekend. St. Louis has a mediocre overall record, but they’ve won four of their last six games, including Ws against pretty good teams from Indy, Chicago and New Orleans. Their passing defense isn’t great but they’ve been locking down opponents’ rushing games almost completely since Chris Johnson put up 150 yards against them on Nov. 3. Kellen Clemens has stayed within himself filling in for Bradford and played well enough to win those four games. Watch out for Zach Stacy, too…for a fifth-rounder, he’s shown he’s a decent RB who’s not that far from 1,000 yards. Like Bruce Arians in Arizona, Jeff Fisher’s done a nice job coaching the Rams.

    The Seahawks SHOULD win against St. Louis, but I wouldn’t call a Vegas bookie and put money on it.

    • art thiel

      Rams D killed Seahawks in St. Louis. Fisher’s crew is very bright, and they’re giggling right now.

  • PokeyPuffy

    Nothing personal but I would not mind if Bevel got a head coaching gig elsewhere. This lame showing is not unfamiliar territory….

    • sportsguy

      Bevell won’t get a head coaching job when teams see this pathetic offensive showing.on film

  • oldfan

    As a fan I’ve got to say the Seahawks got what they deserved. They’ve been paying lip service to the penalty problem all year and have never really done anything about it. It’s not so much the PIs and defensive holdings (I see a dozen worse things not get called in other games. Our rep has the refs throwing flags on any contact as the default position), but its the delay-of-games, false starts, offsides, offensive holdings, and moronic personal fouls that are maddening.
    But the real problem, the scary part, is that our offensive line is HORRIBLE! On their best days (first game against SF and against NO) they were mediocre. In the past month they’ve gotten worse as witnessed by Lynch’s fading production and no place for Wilson to scramble to (he’s getting squeezed from both sides!).
    Now comes the Rams front that they’ve always struggled against. Lose this one and we’ll finish second behind the Lions for ugliest collapse by a front runner.
    (On the bright side, when was the last time the favorite won the Super Bowl? After this loss NO ONE will be picking us as the NFC’s top team.)

  • jafabian

    Did not agree at all with the call that the ball hit Baldwin and was intercepted. You could clearly see the ball kick up the rubber from the turf. The Legion’s rep has been working against them lately as they seem to be watched more and more closely by the officials. At some point you have to let the defense play defense. If the Hawks kept the ball Wilson would have gotten them into FG range at least.

    Still, there were problems on the Hawks end. Cam Chancellor’s interception: why is he running it out of the end zone? He should have gone down so they oould have the ball at the 20. Hauschka’s botched FG. The Hawks just couldn’t get to the red zone today. And not having Rice and Harvin really showed today. They should get Robinson involved more in the passing game but his time away from the team might have him not quite ready for that kind of role. I was surprised that Earl wasn’t backing up Maxwell more on the final TD.

    • oldfan

      You can also see the ball meet it’s shadow, that can only happen if the ball’s on the ground. (But a FG wouldn’t have helped – down by 7.)

      I don’t know Cam was thinking, he had no place to go. Not a smart move.

      Botched FG and botched PAT (saved by penalty). What gods did the Hawks anger?

      You are absolutely right about Harvin and Rice. The guys we’ve got a doing a fine job (after all, they were slated to be the 3rd, 4th, and 5th receivers.), but they don’t scare anybody.

      I don’t know where Thomas was, but Maxwell made a great effort, swatting the ball twice. 99 times out a hundred nobody catches that ball. The game just never should have got to that point.

      • zigzags

        Totally agree. Having a big receiver like Rice or a gamebreaker like Harvin would have been huge in this game.

  • Marcus

    The truth…the BARELY better team won yesterday. The Seahawks offensive play calling was atrocious. What happened to short, quick passes. When we called those, amazingly enough we had completions. The offense needs to believe in itself and not always go for the racing down the sidelines “big throw”. The defense was stellar, but it has happened a few times when as good as they are, when it counts most they give up some points (the last Cardinal drive). Most concerning is that we were out coached. We’ve been skating by on a good record and playing fairly well. That’s not going to cut it when you play a good team. We didn’t expect Arizona to be one of those “good teams” and our home streak is now snapped.

    More of the truth…play this same game again 3 times and the Seahawks win 2 of the 4. As lackluster as we were, we’re not going to have Turbin return again and fumble (hopefully he won’t be back returning at all). We’re not going to miss close field goals again. We’re not going to have several near-misses on the deep ball and have Arizona pull in one at the end. Are you going to count on Wilson being that flummoxed again? Are you going to count on Palmer throwing multiple interceptions and the Seahawks put up more points?

    This is a great wake up call, one I’d rather have now than in the postseason. The issues are fixable and it starts with coaching and preparation. We have the talent.

    • art thiel

      As the column mentioned, Carroll was out-gamed by Arians. Football starts at the line, and Arizona’s D-line won — by plan, not by chance.

      • Marcus

        Hey, their D planned a great game, full admission. But was Wilson always hurried? Was he getting sacked nonstop? No and no. The pass protection all in all was quite good. He kept looking for deep routes like against the Saints. The same plays again and again and again because the Seahawks would not adjust. To repeat, call some short passes, get the TEs more involved and Arizona does not win anything performing exactly as they did. Their defense can still play great and still lose the game (see our defense).

  • zigzags

    We saw the red flags in NY and SF. Our offense is a major concern, getting worse as the season winds down. The line can’t run-block and Beast has looked mediocre. That affects everything we try to do on offense. I don’t want to hear anything about the refs. This loss is squarely on the awful performance by our offense.

    • jafabian

      I just hope this doesn’t turn into the Seahawks Cleveland Indians game. Back in 2001 in the month of August the Mariners had a 12-0 lead after 3 innings, 14-2 after 5. They were then promptly outscored 13-0 from the 7-11 innings. That game put doubt in the player’s minds and told the league just how to beat the M’s. Hopefully that isn’t the case with yesterday’s game. The next game will tell the tale. If they have a similar showing against the Rams then adjustments will have to be made if they want to go far in the postseason.
      Obviously, teams will have to play HOF defense to beat the Hawks. And if you’re playing in Seattle you have to quiet the crowd quick. Even though they didn’t score much in the first half the Cardinals moved the ball enough and stymied the Hawks offense enough to get the crowd out of the game.

      • zigzags

        Ah yes, remember that game well. My only hope right now is that yesterday wasn’t really a “must-win” game, and maybe the team wasn’t playing with a true sense of urgency. But that’s just grasping at straws…

        Reality is that we were outplayed and overmatched. Our D is the only reason it was a close game. If we want to get to the SB we’ll need to overcome stout defenses like Arizona.

      • art thiel

        Rarely does one game of 162 determine anything. That one didn’t; it was an anomaly.

        But Az’s D did what the Giants and Niners defense did: Win the line of scrimmage at the rush.

    • art thiel

      Az has the D personnel and the coaching to solve for Wilson. Seattle’s O-line isn’t stout enough now at the point of attack to get the critical three-yard 3rd down.

    • Walter Jones+Steve Hutchinson

      True, this pattern has developed across three games. The upcoming St. Louis game might not be the best platform for experimentation, as they’ve always struggled against that defense, and a loss risks their #1 seed. But they have to try something. Screen passes and fullback lead outs from the I-formation, anyone?

      • zigzags

        I’ve been clamoring for that all season… Screens can slow down the pass rush. And since our line isn’t run-blocking as well as they have in the past, let’s get Lynch out in the flat with a couple blockers in front of him and see what happens.

  • oldcrimson

    I reject the idea of ‘good losses,’ but some losses are worse than others. If the Hawks go to work and come out an beat STL, this can be an OK loss. It certainly should give the whole family some much needed humility.
    On Chancellor’s interception, I think those guys are just wired to GO. He should’ve dropped to a knee, but if his aggressiveness cost him 14 yards yesterday, it’s certainly paid off in spades everywhere else.
    The constant downfield incompletions were pretty frustrating, to me and apparently to everyone else. I guess they must’ve just felt like that was the soft spot. A mediocre OL, missing Sweezy, against a great front 7, with Mattiau out…maybe they thought they’d have success. I would’ve thought we’d see more Miller/Willson – maybe Dangeruss just didn’t have the time.
    I disagree that the Hawks aren’t still the best team in the NFC – they’ve got the record to prove it, with wins over SF, Carolina, AZ, NO. But they’ve got major work to do this week to come back Sunday and reassert their spot.

  • Mark Flynn

    Pretty bummed by this loss, and hoping that the team will learn from it rather than write it off as “not our day”. Too many bad things to fix. Protection for Russell, getting Turbin to TUCK THE DAMN BALL IN rather than carry it like a loaf of bread, and play calls for starters. Still thinking we should be able to correct these issues and beat the Rams and start the next win streak at home.

  • Steve62

    Lots of problems yesterday. Wilson was plain bad. His decision making seems to gotten worse over the last three games. The O line got beat again, though some of those problems could have been addressed by better play calling. A big problem that can’t be fixed this season is that our receiver corps is average at best as evidenced by the consistent problems they have creating separation.

    • art thiel

      Seahawks bosses knew about the WR problem, which is why they went after Harvin and had Rice.

  • James Anderson

    What’s up with Harvin and his injury status? Is it just soreness, a bruised bone? If it’s soreness, this guy may have a credibility issue if other players think he and the coach are being too cautious. He’s gonna be sore after not playing so long. I understand injuries affecting players movement. I think our locker seems filled with guys who are focused on their assignments. I just wonder if after the season ends, no matter what, if some guys are gonna think, he should’ve been out there. Even if it’s to themselves, and not being discussed openly away from the team

    • RadioGuy

      Look at Harvin’s injury history since coming into the NFL. It speaks for itself.

  • Long-Time Fan

    Quote: “Don’t think for a minute that the outcome Sunday turned on officiating calls or bad breaks.”

    This is true, but in the spirit of Pat Riley (and with a nod to Franco Harris), I formally copyright and trademark the term “Immaculate Deflection.”

  • ll9956

    I found this loss quite disturbing. I can’t quite agree with oldfan that the O-line was “HORRIBLE”, but it was pretty bad. (Oddly enough, Paul McQuistan, who earlier missed a number of blocks, seemed to show some improvement.) Terrible protection for Wilson, no holes for Lynch. The penalties are a MAJOR problem. As Mack Strong pointed out, AZ got six first downs via penalty. That’s at least 18 extra plays AZ got that they shouldn’t have. And 2 for 13 on third down conversions just doesn’t cut it. Nothing personal, but I kind of think Turbin’s days as a Hawk are numbered. I seriously doubt the Hawks will retain their No. 1 ranking in the NFL this week. If they don’t play a lot better next week, there’s going to be some very long faces in the locker room next Sunday.

    • oldfan

      I’ll stick with horrible. This is the same unit that pulled it together and was a solid bunch in the second half of last season, so they’ve got to be capable of better. Football is a team sport and every group is impacted by the others, so receivers failing to get early separation and forcing Wilson to hold the ball too long helps make the line look bad. But no line surge on runs, Lynch getting hit in the backfield, and repeatedly getting beat on line stunts and blitzes is entirely on the O-line.
      I’ll give McQuistan however. He’s not great but he’s better than Carpenter. The man is incredibly slow laterally (it’s why they moved him inside from tackle). Guys simply hit the gap and blow right past him.

  • Effzee

    Unfortunately, I feel like much of this year’s awesomeness has been the result of our uber-confidence and strange ability to Jedi Mind Trick the opponents into believing that we were superior and that they were going to lose. It worked for a while, and it has been super exciting! While I still believe we have the most talented roster in the league (from top to bottom), we have glaring weaknesses. Mainly the O-line and WR core. The offensive line has suffered big-time by the high draft pick whiffs on Carpenter and Moffett, and Okung’s fragility. Sadly, O-line probs are the one thing that you can’t have with a pygmie quarterback. And I’m not sure exactly why anyone is surprised at the statuses of Rice and Harvin. I thought they were bad moves when they were made, and I still think so. I saw them both as totally injury-prone and unreliable, their histories showed as much, and both have proven to be painfully true. Rice, in particular. At least Harvin has speed. Rice was basically like a skinny Mike Williams: super tall so you can just huck a ball at him high in the air, but with zero ability to actually get open. I am just extremely worried about the team right now. I feel like we peaked, and are running out of steam. Today, right now, in no way do I expect a Super Bowl trip.

  • Dawgs4ever

    Lynch is overrated. Not quick or nimble enough to hit the small holes that this O-line opens up. He’s great at getting YAC and delivering punishment downfield if he can break through, though. The bigger problem is the O-line. One of the worst in the league. The only reason they haven’t given up more sacks this year is that RW is so mobile.