Cardinals have make-or-break stretch starting with Seahawks
GLENDALE, AZ (AP) — Kliff Kingsbury still believes his Arizona Cardinals can be one of the NFL’s best offensive teams. He likes his players, likes their demeanor and likes the game plan he and his assistants put together each week. One of these days, he might even get to use it. The problem is the Cardinals have fallen behind so quickly in most games that they’ve immediately had to improvise, throwing out a big chunk of their playbook before the first quarter ends. Through eight games, they’ve trailed 91% of the time. “When you’re playing from behind that much, you don’t even get into your game plan,” Kingsbury said. “You don’t even really get to see what type of team you have.”
Given the fact the Cardinals (3-5) have trailed so much, it’s a minor miracle they’re still talking about making the playoffs. They’re still just two games behind in the NFC West when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Seahawks are the surprise leaders of the division with a 5-3 record. The Cardinals play three division opponents in a row, starting with Sunday’s game. “The sense of urgency’s got to be at an all-time high,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “A lot of guys understand that. They know what’s at stake and they know where we can take this thing or we can let it slip away, but everything is right there for us.”
Seattle has won three straight games, largely thanks to the performance of veteran quarterback Geno Smith, who leads the NFL with a 72.7% completion percentage and is third in the league with a 107.2 passer rating. The teams played each other just three weeks ago, with Seattle earning a 19-9 win.
But the Cardinals are a different team since that game, particularly on offense. Three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins has returned after being suspended the first six games of the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Hopkins has caught 22 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown since his return. He’s already the team’s third-leading receiver despite playing just two games. “It’s different in that they know that he is out there, and they are using the heck out of him,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He has been targeted a ton since he has been back, and he has come through and made terrific plays.”
WOOLEN VS. HOPKINS
When the Seahawks and Cardinals played a few weeks ago, rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen capped the victory for Seattle by intercepting his fourth pass of the season with less than four minutes remaining. The rookie has been terrific and is getting respected to the point he was targeted only a couple of times last week by the Giants.
But in that first meeting against the Cardinals, Hopkins was still sidelined while serving his suspension. And Hopkins has looked to be back in his old form. While Woolen is isolated to the left side of the offense, the Seahawks expect there will be several matchups between the rookie and Hopkins. “There’s nobody that catches the ball better than him. There’s nobody that can make the plays and play on the ball better than DeAndre,” Carroll said. “We are going to be running with him and he still has a chance to make a play. So, it’s a big challenge for our guys. It’s a great challenge for our guys.”
The Cardinals made a big move a few weeks ago, acquiring receiver Robbie Anderson from the Panthers to boost their offense when Marquise Brown went down with a foot injury. But Anderson hasn’t produced in his first two games.
One reason mid-season trades in the NFL are still fairly rare is teams have big and complicated playbooks. Some players take a few weeks to get acclimated. Anderson falls in that category. He has been targeted four times over the past two games, but has zero catches. He was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2020. “I think he’s a very smart player and he understands what we’re doing now,” Murray said. “This is Week Three for him, so he’ll be up to speed by this weekend, for sure.”
WALK(ER) THIS WAY
Seattle rookie running back Kenneth Walker III made his first start in the first meeting against the Cardinals and rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries. He followed up with a career-best 167 yards against the Chargers, but last week was limited to 51 yards on 18 carries against the Giants. Even with the struggles against the Giants, Walker managed a highlight moment with a game-clinching 16-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes. Walker is almost halfway to 1,000 yards as a rookie and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
TURN BACK THE CLOCK
Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt had two sacks last week against the Vikings, providing a flash of excellence that was reminiscent of the early 2010s. Watt was the AP’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, ‘14 and ‘15, but age and injuries have worked to cut his production in recent seasons. He’s on pace for about 10 sacks this year, which would be his most since 2018.
Seattle has made the most of its trips to the desert over the past decade. The Seahawks are 7-1-1 in their last nine road games against the Cardinals. Seattle’s only loss during that stretch was a 37-34 overtime defeat during the 2020 season. Seattle beat Arizona 38-30 in Week 18 last season.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
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