For roughly the third week in a row, the Seahawks will be headed into a game with both a division title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs up for grabs. However, this time around there's only one playoff scenario that matters: if the Hawks win, they win both the NFC West and the number one seed in the NFC. Simple, no?
Naturally, the Cardinals will be doing their level best to stop the Seahawks from clinching, but that's easier said than done when you have to play them in front of the 12th Man at CenturyLink Field. After a rocky 3-4 start, Arizona has rallied to win six of their last seven games to give themselves an outside shot at securing a wild card berth, but they're still a game behind the two teams currently inhabiting the number five and six seeds (Carolina and San Francisco) so they need to win out to keep that slim hope alive. In short, this is a highly motivated team, one that the Hawks had better not take lightly -- here's how they can avoid doing just that:
1) Stay firm on the offensive line.
The Cardinals have one of the best run defenses in the league, and Marshawn Lynch has been in a slump since mid-November, averaging just 3.16 yards per carry and 54.5 yards per game over his last four starts, A big part of that decline has been some rather subpar run blocking by the o-line, and if they don't get themselves back on track today then Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby will eat them alive. On top of that, they'll also have to figure out a way to keep Wilson from getting beaten up again by Arizona's highly productive pass rush consisting of John Abraham (11 sacks), Dansby (6.5 sacks), Calais Campbell (6 sacks) and Dockett (6 sacks); when the two teams squared off in week seven, they racked up 3 sacks and 9 QB hits. Oh, and they'll need to do it without starting right guard J.R. Sweezy, who is out this week with a concussion.
2) Take control of third down.
Last week in New York, the Seahawks' offense was abysmal on third down. They converted on just 3 of 13 third down attempts (23.08%), mainly because they failed to give themselves manageable distances with which to work. Of those 13 attempts, 8 of them (61.54%) were in low percentage 3rd and 7+ yards to go situations. If they want to stay on track against the Cardinals, their third downs need to be of the short and medium variety, not long and longer.
3) Put the screws to Carson Palmer.
Palmer has never been known as a mobile quarterback, and at the age of 34 he's more stationary than ever. The last time around, the Hawks' stable of pass rushers took advantage of that to the tune of 7 sacks and 13 QB hits, which in turn allowed the defense to hold the Cardinals to a paltry 3 total explosive plays in that game. Michael Bennett and company just need to make sure history repeats itself -- it's damned hard for Larry Fitzgerald to take over a game if his QB can't stay upright long enough to throw him the ball.