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What to watch for when the Seahawks take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 18

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 8, 2022

By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – It figures that one of the oddest series in Seahawks history also is deadlocked.

Sunday’s Seahawks-Cardinals game in Glendale, Arizona, is the 46th meeting between the teams. The first was also the first game in Seahawks history in 1976, a 30-24 win for the then-St. Louis Cardinals at the Kingdome.

The series now rests at 22-22-1, the tie the only one in Seahawks history.

But unlike most Seahawks series, which feature massive edges for the home teams, this one instead has been a tale of the road wins lately.

Arizona has won six of the past nine games in Seattle, including a 23-13 victory at Lumen Field on Nov. 21, and the Seahawks are 6-1-1 in the past eight games against the Cardinals in Glendale.

Arizona is a 6.5-point favorite and is the only one of the teams with something to play for – with a chance at the second seed in the NFC playoffs – but history and trends favor the Seahawks.

For one last time this season, on to our weekly keys to the game.

Matchup to watch

Rashaad Penny vs. Arizona’s run defense

Penny was just getting back into action when the Seahawks last played Arizona. He had two carries for 19 yards before aggravating a hamstring injury. The Seahawks rushed for just 86 yards on 19 carries in losing to the Cardinals and backup QB Colt McCoy. Penny has become a sensation with three performances of 135 yards or more in his past four games. But in that stretch he rushed for just 39 yards on 11 carries in a loss at Los Angeles. If Penny can have a big game against the Cardinals on the road it could add a lot more validity to his breakout – and possibly help his offseason value – which has come against the middling Texans, Bears and Lions. Arizona ranks fifth in the NFL in points allowed and last week held running back Ezekiel Elliott to 16 yards on nine carries and Dallas to 45 overall in a 25-22 road win.

Player to watch

LB Cody Barton

The Seahawks on Friday ruled out Bobby Wagner, who suffered a sprained knee last week. That will make this the first game Wagner has missed since 2018 and means that Barton will make his first career start at middle linebacker. He has six career starts, including playoffs, at weakside and strongside linebacker. Maybe even more so than Penny, this game could serve as an audition for next year as the team begins its offseason planning. Barton has one year left on his contract, and if he plays well Sunday it might influence decisions in the offseason. Coach Pete Carroll said Friday he hopes Wagner returns in 2022. But the Seahawks could save more than $16 million against the salary cap if he is released, and Wagner would likely have to take a pay cut to stay.

Coaching decision to watch

Running the ball early

The first Arizona loss was the middle of a three-game losing streak that began with Russell Wilson’s return to the lineup, and the Seahawks had 19 rushing attempts or fewer in each game. They had 27 the next week against San Francisco, which kicked off the current stretch of three wins in five games. During that stretch they have run it early and often. True, teams run more once they have the lead. But in the wins against Houston and Detroit, the Seahawks had more runs than passes in the first half in building early leads. That may not be easy to do at Arizona. The best way for Seattle to win this one is to run it early, shorten the game and keep Arizona’s offense off the field.

The X-factor

Finding motivation

Though playing hard should be a given in the NFL, the Seahawks deserve whatever credit you want to give them for showing up ready to go last week against Detroit on the heels of a disastrous loss to the Bears. But that was at home against a team that also had nothing to play for, and had to start a backup QB. This game is different. Arizona has a lot on the line, and the Seahawks are playing out the string – or at most playing spoiler. The first quarter could be telling.

Player who could surprise

Defensive back Ugo Amadi

The Seahawks likely will be down to Plan C at strong safety, as Ryan Neal – who has replaced the injured Jamal Adams – went on the COVID-19 reserve list Thursday and Carroll indicated Friday he won’t make it back. One option for the Seahawks to replace Neal at strong safety is to move Amadi there. Amadi has been the primary nickelback all season and the only one since Marquise Blair was lost in October. They could also use Nigel Warrior or Josh Jones at safety. Jones, who is on the practice squad, has 25 career starts at safety. Either way, Amadi will have a key role. Amadi got his first career interception against Detroit, and wherever he plays Sunday will face an Arizona offense sure to get the ball to tight end Zach Ertz, who had two TDs against the Seahawks in November.

Key stat

Turnovers

The Seahawks can’t blame turnovers for their 6-10 record. They have committed just 11 this season, second fewest in the NFL behind Green Bay’s 10 and tied with the 2018 team for the fewest in franchise history over a 16-game season (this is the first time for a 17th regular-season game). Arizona has committed just 14, fourth fewest in the NFL, but has forced 25, eighth most, and has a plus-11 differential for the season, fourth best in the NFL. The Seahawks have forced just 17 turnovers for a plus-six ratio that is ninth in the NFL. As Carroll said this week, that should have resulted in more wins. Maybe this is one game in which it can.

Prediction

Cardinals 27, Seahawks 17: Arizona’s win over Seattle in November went a long way toward ensuring the Seahawks would not make the playoffs. So maybe the Seahawks can get some revenge and ensure that the Cardinals go on the road in the playoffs. But the home-field advantage might matter for once in this series, especially with the Cardinals having more tangible stakes on the line – and this time a healthy QB in Kyler Murray.

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