Russell Wilson needs to get back on track after a series of poor displays, and Thursday night's game looks like a great opportunity to do it, writes Mark Kirwan...
"You could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason Wilson's been allowed to play a more expansive game this season is because the Seahawks staff know they don't have a defence to compete."
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks
Live on Sky Sports NFL
Seattle all at sea?
Seattle started the season in electric form, carried by newly-granted freedom to quarterback Russell Wilson to make more passing plays early and pick apart opposing defences.
They opened the season 5-0, lost a thriller to Thursday's opponents coming off their bye, then took down the 49ers to sit on 6-1 as Wilson dominated early discussions of potential MVP candidates.
Drowned out by the hyperbole around "letting Russ cook" was the state of their defence. Coach Pet Carroll built their Super Bowl win on a ferocious secondary, but the famed Legion of Boom is a distant memory now.
While Wilson was posting spectacular numbers on offence the defence was allowing points at almost the same rate. They currently rank ahead of only Cincy, Jacksonville and Atlanta in Yards Per Play Allowed, and only Tennessee and Carolina allow opponents to convert on third-down at a better rate.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason Wilson's been allowed to play a more expansive game this season is because the Seahawks staff know they don't have a defence to compete.
Which is what makes Wilson's struggles over the last few weeks all the more concerning. He opened the season throwing 19 TDs and just 3 interceptions, but the ratio has been almost 1:1 in recent weeks, meaning the Seahawks come into this having lost two on the bounce. Neither were especially close.
Rams CB Darious Williams has picked off Russell Wilson twice today! pic.twitter.com/Yj45fnvaE2? The Comeback (@thecomeback) November 16, 2020
Breakout receiver DK Metcalf was shutdown by Jalen Ramsey last week the Rams, taking away Wilson's most potent weapon, while Chris Carson missed the game entirely, and Seattle's improved defensive effort wasn't rewarded as the Rams won 23-16.
Now, the Seahawks are 6-3 going into Week 11, level with Arizona and LA in the race for the NFC West title. In the league's toughest division, Thursday's result could be crucial come January.
Cards play their ace
Where Wilson's MVP chances have faded recently, Arizona QB Kyler Murray's odds are dropping by the week.
Only in his second year, the Oklahoma product is being compared to last year's second-year MVP rushing QB, Lamar Jackson, carrying a threat as both a runner and a passer, just like the Ravens star.
In fact, the Cards may have the better thrower of the two, and Murray is picking up yards on the ground at a rate faster than the Baltimore QB managed a year ago, 7.6 yards per attempt compared to 6.85.
On Sunday, Murray underlined his status as a challenger for the individual awards with the kind of play that marks a special talent. While DeAndre Hopkins leaping above three defensive backs and holding onto Murray's 43-yard Hail Mary heave to beat the Bills is the headline grabber, not all quarterbacks can make that kind of throw let alone find the space and body-shape to do it.
Obviously the catch from Hopkins is nuts but Murray evading pressure and getting this throw off accurately is LUDICROUS pic.twitter.com/h66T6ELT2t? Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) November 16, 2020
It was his first passing TD of the game, but he'd already posted two on the ground, his eighth and ninth rushing scores of the season. The success of his last dice throw also meant they avoided a second consecutive defeat and fourth of the season.
Looking at their record, they arguably should be in a stronger position. Two of their three losses came against a Panthers and the slumbering, sloppy Lions.
Week 10's win over the Bills was just their second victory over a team with a winning record this season, and it came on a miracle play. The other was Seattle in Week 8. Their other four wins were against struggling teams - the Jets, Washington, Niners and a Cowboys team led by Andy Dalton.
This run of opponents suggests their 6-3 may not be the rock-solid form it appears on paper.
I'm inclined to expect a reaction from the Seahawks here. Arizona's record may see them make the postseason, but a soft schedule is a soft schedule and I'm wary of getting carried away by extraordinary plays like Murray delivered on Sunday night.
Further, the Seahawks are surely relieved to be back on home turf after consecutive road games in Buffalo and LA. Their defence is showing signs of improvement. DK Metcalf has been a force of nature this season, and one game against an elite cornerback is not going to change that. If anything, you'd expect him to want to prove something after Week 10's no-show.
The chances of a Chris Carson return from injury look slim this week, but Carlos Hyde is a more optimistic case and would help get Russell Wilson back on an even keel after the roughest run of games in his sensational career.
He's also unlikely to keep this poor run going, and I'd rather be on his side than anyone else's in this game. I don't love the -3.5 handicap, so I'd rather play Seattle 1-13 in the Winning Margin market at 6/4 as these divisional games often come down to one score.
The game has the highest points total of the week, 57.5, and with good reason. The Cardinals have scored 30 points at least in their last five games, and Seattle have only failed to hit 30 points twice this season. Those are good omens and I'd expect this to be a back-and-forth shootout. Over would be my pick at 10/11.
In what should be a high-scoring game there are obviously a lot of TD options, but we'll keep this simple. Kyler Murray's scoring pace and Seattle's porous run defence make shim hard to resist as a scoring pick. He's 13/2 to break the deadlock and you could do worse.
I'd look at another Cards runner, Chase Edmonds, as an anytime option. He has three scores on the season in limited usage behind Kenyan Drake, but the general consensus is he's outplayed the starter and you can see his numbers increase over the season. He's worth a play at 11/4.