Seahawks brace for physical battle vs. Cardinals
The last time the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals clashed, it was like a heavyweight championship bout between two brawlers that wouldn't cave, quit or get knocked to the canvas.
In one of the NFL's fiercest defensive battles played all year, it ended without a winner, too, as the October slugfest ended in a 6-6 tie.
Both teams have gone in opposite directions since then. The Seahawks (9-4-1) have a chance to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs while the Cardinals (5-8-1) are just trying to limp their way to the end of a painful, disappointing season after reaching the NFC title game a year ago.
"It was a great game," Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said of Arizona's last meeting with Seattle. "I know a lot of people thought it wasn't, but it was a battle, an NFC West battle. They played really well, we played really well and it came out as a draw obviously. They're not going to change a ton, I assume. They do what they do very well, and they don't change a ton for good reason."
Seattle will clinch a first-round bye with a win plus a loss by the Detroit Lions or a loss or tie by the Atlanta Falcons.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, aren't nearly as strong as they were two months ago, as injuries have left them decimated at several positions. Both starting tackles are out, they no longer have wide receiver Michael Floyd, they lost starting linebacker Deone Bucannon to a season-ending ankle injury and safety Tyvon Branch to another groin injury.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu still isn't close to 100 percent, either, and it's shown on the field after the "Honey Badger" returned from missing four games during a five-game stretch. The Cardinals placed Mathieu on the injured reserve list Friday and promoted Trevon Hartfield from the practice squad.
Arizona still has one of the league's most feared weapons in running back David Johnson, however, who leads all non-kickers in scoring with 17 touchdowns and 104 total points. Johnson, named to his first Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, has an NFL-leading 1,938 yards from scrimmage and is one touchdown shy of setting a single-season franchise record.
It's what Johnson can do as a pass catcher out of the backfield or when the Cardinals line him up outside as a wide receiver where opposing teams start to really scratch their heads.
"He has just become an extraordinary player regardless of where you put him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They happen to have that in their package. He's an excellent route runner. He's a guy that runs routes like a receiver when he's out of the backfield, and he's just a classic triple threat.
"He can do everything. This is as difficult a guy as we play against. The matchups are a problem, and they know exactly what they're doing and how to use him."
Until breaking out last week in a rout of the struggling Los Angeles Rams, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson battled through a four-game stretch in which he passed for just three touchdowns and was intercepted eight times. The Seahawks went 2-2 before rebounding against Los Angeles, when Wilson threw three TDs and was picked off once.
Palmer is coming off one of his best games of the season as he completed 70 percent of his passes (28 of 40) for 318 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Palmer, though, has already been sacked 13 more times (38) than he was all of last season.
Critics have pegged most of the Cardinals' failures this season squad on the shoulders of Palmer and according to coach Bruce Arians, his quarterback has taken too much blame for Arizona's struggles.
"Yeah, he has. He's taken a lot of it, but he's a man, he takes it," Arians said. "Like I've said before, it's more of a product of the people around him than him."
As Seattle methodically goes about its way to try and reach a third Super Bowl in the Pete Carroll era, everyone is waiting to see what All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman will do or say next. During last Thursday's victory over the Rams, Sherman confronted Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell during the game, questioning their play calling.
Specifically, Sherman was upset about a pass play when Seattle was at the Rams' 1-yard line. The pass nearly was intercepted, an eerie memory for Sherman considering that's how the Seahawks fell to the New England Patriots at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz.
"I think sometimes things need to happen like that," Sherman said of the sideline outburst. "People need something to talk about this week, so you're going to talk about that. But it worked out. The way our team works, it worked out. We're moving forward."
Sherman, though, continued his tirade by berating a member of the Seattle media and threatening to have the reporter's game credentials revoked. He later apologized, but Carroll, who met with Sherman for an hour to discuss the sideline outburst, can't guarantee the cornerback won't come unglued again.
"I love this guy and who he is and what he's all about and the man he's grown to be and is going to become," Carroll said. "These are all great lessons and opportunities to learn."
Updated December 23, 2016