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Team Analysis

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 Seattle Seahawks Team Analysis:

INSIDE SLANT
This is pretty much how the West will be won -- the NFC West, that is.

Seattle plays at Arizona on Sunday night in a nationally televised game that will pretty much determine the winner of the division.

Seattle is 10-4 while Arizona is 11-3. But the Seahawks already own a win over the Cardinals. So, if Seattle beats Arizona, the Seahawks move into control of the NFC West needing only to beat St. Louis at home the following Sunday to win the division for a second straight year and third time in five years under coach Pete Carroll.

It also marks a pretty sudden transformation in fate from where Seattle was on Nov. 16, when it had lost at Kansas City to fall to 6-4 and the No. 8 spot in the NFC playoff race.

Seattle remains at No. 5 heading into the weekend. But a win against the Cardinals would put Seattle in prime position to get the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- Seattle would just need to avoid a two-team tie with the Dallas Cowboys.

Despite the meandering midseason in which the Seahawks went 5-4 from Week 2 to Week 11, Carroll said the Seahawks always believed they would end up in this situation.

"Like we had hoped I think somewhere in the middle of the year, we come down to the final part of the season with a lot at stake, a lot at hand," Carroll said. "This is a game that's going to call for everything."

Indeed it probably will, even if the Seahawks are an eight-point favorite due in large part to the uncertainty of Arizona's quarterback situation.

After injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, the Cardinals are starting Ryan Lindley, who a month ago was on San Diego's practice squad.

Lindley has started only four games, all as a rookie in 2012, and has yet to throw a touchdown pass. And now he has to go against the Legion of Boom -- the No. 1 secondary in the NFL.

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman acknowledged that in a normal situation there might be a danger in overlooking Lindley.

"I guess overconfidence would be one," he said of the challenges in preparing for a quarterback for whom there is little film. "But I don't think that's one we're going to have to deal with. I think we're giving them a tremendous amount of respect, and we're going to prepare for him as if he's a starter.

"But I think some teams will be overconfident -- not having tape on him, not thinking they have to worry about him -- and then a quarterback can come out and make some throws that you weren't expecting him to make and catch people off guard. But I don't think we're going to be caught off guard because we're very ready for what he has to offer."

One part of Arizona the Seahawks have plenty of film on is an aggressive defense that ranks 14th overall (350 yards per game) but is third in points allowed (17.4 per game), due in part to forcing turnovers (the Cardinals have a plus-12 turnover differential, tied for second in the NFL) and being tough to run against (the Cardinals are sixth in run defense at 90.4).

Arizona sacked quarterback Russell Wilson seven times when Seattle beat Arizona 19-3 at home in November.

"They're tough, they're winning, they have confidence, they get after you, and at home they're going to have a great crowd, noise and all that stuff," Carroll said. "It's a great challenge for us. Our guys are ... really excited about this opportunity to go do this, but we know we're up against it. I think these are kind of the classic NFC West matchups. Defense is going to get after it and (offenses will) try to run the football both sides and all that. We'll slug it out and see what happens. We're looking forward to it."



SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 16-15, including three wins when the team was the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, Seattle's first game in 1976 was against the Cardinals, a 30-24 defeat at the Kingdome. Seattle has won six of the last nine, including a 19-3 win at CenturyLink Field last month.

NOTES, QUOTES
The Seahawks are apparently in the mood to sign player. Defensive end Cliff Averil and linebacker K. J. Wright received new deals over the last two days.

--Avril signed on Friday -- a four-year contract extension worth $28.5 million with $16 million guaranteed.

He was set to become a free agent at the end of the season, joined the Seahawks in 2013. The 28-year-old pass rusher has totaled 40 tackles, 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles over 29 games with Seattle. He has 20 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this season, and leads the team in quarterback hits with 17.

"Cliff has been instrumental in what we've been building on the defensive side of the ball and we are excited that he'll be with us for another four years," general manager John Schneider said in a statement. "He has been relentless in his approach to the game and his passion for winning is contagious. This is another great day for the Seahawks and the 12s."

Avril signed with Seattle as an unrestricted free agent on March 13, 2013, after originally being drafted by the Detroit Lions in the third round in the 2008 draft. He landed in Seattle after turning down a three-year, $30 million offer from the Lions. He is in the second year of a two-year contract worth as much as $15.1 million.

Avril has started 76 of 102 career games played and recorded 203 tackles 52 sacks, 22 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 17 passes defensed and one interception which he returned for a touchdown.

In the postseason, Avril has started two of four games played with seven tackles, two sacks, including 1.5 during Seattle's 2013 Super Bowl run, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

Avril confirmed the deal on Twitter:

"We have something special here in Seattle and I'm happy that I'll be a part of it for a few more years."

Avril's new deal comes just one day after the Seahawks signed linebacker K.J. Wright to a four-year, $27 million contract extension.

Wright also signed a four-year contract extension earlier in the week.

A fourth-round pick in 2011, Wright has started 54 of 58 career games and has recorded 333 tackles, 6.5 sacks, an interception, 14 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

"In the offseason, we identified K.J. as one of our core players moving forward and aimed to keep him as a part of the Seahawks family for a long time," Seahawks general manager John Schneider said in a statement. "The timing of this signing gives us the ability to keep as many of our core players together as we possibly can. Since Day One, K.J. has been a true professional in his daily approach and we are excited for K.J., his family and the 12s to keep him in the organization."

Wright, who has started at outside and middle linebacker, has already tied a career high with 96 tackles this season.

"K.J. is the epitome of a team guy," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "We are excited to reward a player of his caliber for all the hard work he has put in over the years to become an important piece of our defense."

Wright's extension is the first of several contract situations the Seahawks will need to address. Top reserve middle linebacker Malcolm Smith is a pending free agent this offseason, while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will be eligible for an extension on his rookie deal. The Seahawks will also have the option to put a one-year extension tag on weak-side starter Bruce Irvin's rookie contract.

--QB Russell Wilson won his 34th game on Sunday, the most wins for any quarterback in the first three years of his NFL career. He had been tied with Dan Marino and Matt Ryan with 33.

--Seattle has won its last four games by a combined 79-27, which has moved the Seahawks to second in the NFL in scoring defense at 17.3, behind Detroit's 17.0. If Seattle were to again lead the NFL in scoring defense at the end of the season it would be the third straight season the Seahawks have accomplished that feat. The last team to do that was the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings, the famed Purple People Eaters.

--Seattle also ranks first in fewest first downs allowed at 245, or 17.5 per game. Next are the San Francisco 49ers at 18.1.

--Need proof that the Seahawks know how to finish fast under Pete Carroll? Seattle is 10-2 in December the last three years, the wins trailing only Denver's 11, and has a point differential of plus-212, the best in the NFL.



BY THE NUMBERS: 12-5 -- Seattle's record in its last 17 road games, dating to the middle of the 2012 season. Seattle is 4-3 on the road this season and can tie the second-best road record in team history with a win at Arizona, trailing only the 6-2 of last season.



QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I don't know. We've worked real hard to be comfortable in those situations. We don't change to play in those opportunities and I don't want that kind of a moment to change what we are, who we are, so we work hard to understand that. But I don't know. That's just me guessing how it works. I don't know." -- Coach Pete Carroll, on why his Seahawks are 12-1 in prime-time games as they head into another one Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
OFFICIAL FRIDAY INJURY REPORT

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

--Out: T Russell Okung (chest)

--Doubtful: DE Demarcus Dobbs (ankle), C Max Unger (ankle, knee)

--Questionable: TE Tony Moeaki (shoulder)

--Probable: TE Cooper Helfet (ankle), RB Marshawn Lynch (back), WR Paul Richardson (hamstring), G J.R. Sweezy (ankle)

ARIZONA CARDINALS

--Out: G Jonathan Cooper (wrist)

--Doubtful: QB Drew Stanton (knee)

--Questionable: WR Jaron Brown (toe)

--Probable: LB Lorenzo Alexander (knee), DE Calais Campbell (hip), G Paul Fanaika (ankle), WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), LB Larry Foote (knee), S Tyrann Mathieu (thumb), T Jared Veldheer (ankle), RB Kerwynn Williams (knee)

PLAYER NOTES

--C Max Unger (knee/ankle) did not practice Thursday. Unger has Unger has missed four straight games.

--LT Russell Okung (bruised lung) did not practice Thursday. Okung was hurt last week against the 49ers.

--G J.R. Sweezy (ankle) did not practice Thursday. Sweezy was hurt against the 49ers but did not miss any action. However, he has not practiced this week.

--WR Paul Richardson (hamstring) did not practice Thursday, apparently suffering the injury in practice the day before. Richardson is also the kick returner.

--TE Tony Moeaki who hurt his shoulder against the 49ers, has yet to practice this week.

--TE Cooper Helfet has been a full participant in practice this week and appears ready to play for the first time since spraining an ankle on Nov. 23 against the Cardinals.

--RB Marshawn Lynch sat out practice Wednesday with a sore back, his usual custom.



GAME PLAN:
Defensively, the Seahawks need to put the game solely in the hands of Ryan Lindley, who is essentially Arizona's fourth-team quarterback and is now filling in for the injured Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.

Lindley will be making just the fifth start of his career and first since 2012 and Seattle's goal will be to take away the running game and make him make plays. Arizona isn't the greatest running team but likes to do it a lot and has taken to that idea more than ever the last few weeks. Arizona rushed for an average of 142 yards the last two weeks in wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams. Arizona mixes in some zone blocking schemes, and the task against that is to remain patient and not allow cutback lanes.

The Cardinals say they won't vary from their vertical passing game, so the Seahawks can also expect to get tested some downfield.

Offensively, the Seahawks need to find a way to keep a relentless Arizona pass rush off Russell Wilson, who was sacked a season-high seven times in the initial meeting. Wilson was able to take advantage of that rush a few times in the first game with bootleg runs and keeping the ball on some zone reads. But that also exposes Wilson to hits.

Arizona is one of the heaviest-blitzing teams in the NFL and Seattle will have some one-on-one chances in the passing game and also needs to take advantage of those.

Another key is getting a lead. Arizona has outscored foes 102-40 in the fourth quarter this season, a key reason the Cardinals have been so successful in close games. But Seattle led the opener 19-3 going into the fourth quarter and then was able to sit on that lead and ride it out.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Seahawks Ts Justin Britt and Alvin Bailey vs. Cardinals DE Calais Campbell: Campbell had three of Arizona's seven sacks when the teams played in Seattle last month, leading a Cardinal defense that pressured Russell Wilson all day long. Arizona brings pressure from all over, but is sure to attack Seattle's edges particularly hard. Britt, a rookie, has struggled all season in pass protection, while Bailey, a second-year player, is expected to get the start at left tackle in place of the injured Russell Okung.

--Cardinals S Deone Bucannon vs. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: The Cardinals did one of the best jobs of any team all season in limiting the running of Marshawn Lynch in the first game, holding him to 39 yards. But Seattle was able to get an effective running game going due largely to Wilson, who had 73 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 40. Bucannon a rookie, seemed to get a little better read on Wilson as that game wore on, though, and will again be called upon to act as something of a spy on the Seattle quarterback. Wilson has not been running quite as much in recent weeks, but he might need to against the Cardinals.

Seahawks pass rush vs. Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley: Lindley, a third-year player, will be making his first start since 2012 and only the fifth of his career in one of the biggest games in Arizona history. Seattle's defense has been as effective the last four weeks rushing the passer as at any time this season, including getting a season-high six sacks Sunday against San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Lindley isn't anywhere near as mobile as Kaepernick.

 

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