I gotta admit it. I underestimated these Arizona Cardinals. I shouldn’t have. Last week they dropped 38 points on the Cleveland Browns in a decisive home win. Outside of an earlier game against these Cardinals, Seattle hasn’t really won a decisive match all year, as most of their 11 wins have come down to a single score. That is why many have been pumping the brakes on Seattle being a serious Super Bowl contending team this year.
The truth is that Seattle was limping into this match, and on top of that, they just lost two key veterans this week to drug suspensions. I should have been more alerted to the possibility of an outcome such as this.
On Saturday I had written about the Al Woods suspension and how that might impact this already thin defense. I noted that for Seattle to win this game against these Cardinals, they would probably need Russell Wilson to pull off another MVP level performance, or this Cardinal team could come into Century Link field and steal one from Seattle. What I didn’t anticipate was the notion that Seattle could loose this badly, and when I think about the fact that Kyler Murray left the game midway through the third quarter with a leg injury, and was replaced by Brett Hundley, I shutter that Seattle could have easily gotten even more smoked by Arizona by a score much greater than the 27-13 final.
For Seattle to pull off a win against the healthier and more rested San Francisco 49ers, they are going to have to play a fantastic game against their talented division rival. They will now have to do it without their starting left tackle, their top two running backs, their third best receiver, their starting free safety, and quite possibly still no Jadeveon Clowney and Shaquill Griffin, who are arguably their two best defenders. If there is ever a time for Russell to have one of his most stellar performances, next Sunday Night will be it. That’s what they will need to beat the 49ers. The Russell Wilson that showed up against the Cardinals will not get it done.
But let’s get into this game.
I was debating whether or not I would even include a “good” section in this piece, but the truth is there were positives to take out of this game. The starting defensive series forced Kyler Murray to go three and out, and they brought instant pressure. Then after Arizona punted, Russell Wilson led the offense of one of the prettiest, most fluid scoring drives they have had all season, and he capped it with a short play action touchdown toss to fullback Nick Bellore. When these things happened at the top of the game, it seemed like Seattle was going to perhaps roll away with another easy victory against a lesser division opponent. It was only after this that all the ugly Game of Thrones stuff started to happen.
For as bad as the offense and defense played at times in this game, special teams actually had a really decent game. Jason Myers connected on his field goals (including a 51 yarder), Michael Dickson had two nice punts the ball goal close to the Arizona goal line, and perhaps the play of the game was Rasheem Green’s blocked field goal that reserve safety Marquise Blair almost returned for a score. For a fleeting moment, it felt like that block and return was going to be the catalyst for Seattle climbing out of the hole and sneaking out another come from behind win, but sadly, nope- didn’t happen.
Travis Homer did a decent job running and catching the ball when Seattle lost Chris Carson and CJ Prosise to injuries.
Tight end Jacob Hollister had himself another nice game catching critical passes to keep drives alive, and was clearly Russell Wilson’s preferred target in this game.
Defensively, I thought Bobby Wagner, Rasheem Green, Poona Ford, Jarran Reed, and Bradley McDougald were making some positive plays, but because this defense surrendered 27 points and 420 yards, it was kind of hard to pick out the positives. Best I can say is that some guys made some plays here and there.
The Kenyon Drake 80 yard touchdown run that instantly tied the game 7-7 on the first play of Arizona’s second possession was just awful to watch. A Pete Carroll coached defense should never have that happen. Drake is a good player, but that should never happen ever. Against the 49ers, Seattle will have no chance of winning if they give up chunk plays like that. Zero chance.
Additionally to poor play on both sides of the ball, Seattle got shockingly Game of Thrones style hit by the injury bug in this one. In the first half of the game, they lost their pro bowl level running back Chris Carson with a hip injury that will sadly end his season, and then a few plays later, they lost his backup CJ Prosise to a broken arm, and his season is now also over. For a team that loves to run the ball, this is devastating. They may have to radically change their whole offensive approach heading into the last game of the season, and the playoffs. Travis Homer looks like a nice young back, but at 5-10 and 200 pounds, he is probably not the featured runner that they would prefer.
Seattle needed Russell Wilson to take this game over, and he didn’t. I don’t think he was helped by the play calling. When the score was 20-10 in the fourth quarter, and it was third and three in the red zone, Brian Schottenheimer called a ridiculously conservative run play to bang tiny little Travis Homer inside. I don’t think the hulkish Chris Carson would have converted that with the way Arizona snuffed it out. This is a perfect example of not letting your best player in Russell Wilson make the play and taking the ball out of his hands. This is type of play calling dumps gasoline onto the fire of Schottenheimer critics. When that play happened, I think I officially joined that party. Just put the fricking ball in the hands of your MVP level player and have him make the play. Don’t leave doubts on the field. Instead, he called a play that had little chance at success and they settled for a field goal. Boo!
After a great opening series, Seattle’s offense stalled when they went a bit pass happy and the Cardinals anticipated the short passes, and then got instant pressure on Wilson. Once the sacks started happening, it kind of opened the flood gates against the offense.
Jamarco Jones subbing in for Duane Brown seemed constantly over matched by Arizona sack master Chandler Jones. It was Jones on Jones crime throughout most of the game, and I couldn’t help but second guessing the coaching decision to not have George Fant (a much better athlete than Jones) playing left tackle instead. Fant has proven capable there in the past.
In the third quarter, Russell Wilson looked like he was on his way to making magic happen again for Seattle when he hit David Moore on a third and eleven pass that Moore took up field to run with only to have the ball knocked out of his hands by the villainous Chandler Jones. Had Moore hung onto the ball, it would have been a 21 yard gain and would have put Seattle well on their way towards a scoring drive. Moore needed to not fumble there. On top of the injury and suspension bugs, Seattle has been snake bit all season long by offensive players fumbling the ball. They can not win against San Francisco, or in the playoffs, if this continues.
It was 11:55 left to go in the fourth quarter when Tyler Lockett caught his first ball, and it was the only pass that he caught. DK Metcalf didn’t catch a pass on only had one target. Those are your two best receiving options on the team. Arizona completely took them out of the game. Schottenhiemer needs to go back to the play books and figure out a way to not have that happen again. Seattle needs both of these guys active to win moving forward, and probably now more than ever with no Chris Carson.
The missed tackles of a slow running backup quarterback Brett Hundley in the fourth quarter that kept Arizona’s alive on offense and got them another score to ice the game was the sign of a tired and beaten down defense. It reminded me of that playoff loss in Dallas last year. Suddenly, Seattle’s defense looked and felt old. This can not happen in the playoffs if Seattle wants to advance.
This game was a hard pill to swallow. I had a sense in his Friday press conference that Pete Carroll might’ve been nervous about this one. He wasn’t getting Jadeveon Clowney, Shaquill Griffin, and likely wasn’t going to have Duane Brown. He probably looked at the tape of Arizona’s big win against the Browns and saw the ways that they could attack his injured team.
It felt to me that when the game was clearly to be placed in Russell Wilson’s hands in the second half to try to win it, the play calling got conservative. Carroll may not have wanted to risk further injury or screw ups. The problem with that is that you are not really coaching to win, you’re just coaching to not make a mistake. I think that is likely why Schottenheimer called that awful run play on third and three inside the red zone in the fourth quarter.
With no Chris Carson, Seattle most likely needs to get more creative on the offense to have any chance of winning against the 49ers next Sunday Night, and into the playoffs. Playing it safe, when you have the uniqueness of Russell Wilson at the quarterback position, is likely not a winning receipt. He got you to 11 wins. I say let him do his magic, and if that magic falls short, so be it.
The truth of the matter is that this roster was never a really deep one heading into the 2019 season. It had some nice pieces with a lot of uncertainties behind and around them. Once those pieces started ending up on the injured reserve, or spending multiple games on the sidelines, it felt like this was going to be a really tall order for this team to be a true contender.
That all said, while things still feel dire after this ugly loss, if Seattle can find a way to beat the 49ers, they can still win the division, and gain a potential first round bye. That scenario could mean getting key veterans healthy and ready for the divisional round. In short, there is still a lot on the table for this team to take, if they can just get right against their division rival next Sunday Night.
Can they do it?
If they put the ball in Russell’s hands, I think they can, but it is going to take a huge collective effort. They can’t continually give up big chunk plays, they can’t turn the ball over, they need to scheme better, and the players need to make plays while playing within themselves. If they can do these things, they can win the NFC West, and it will most suredly be a glorious thing to watch.
This is my Christmas wish, anyhow.
Really hope it comes true so that this stinker can be long forgotten.