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Clayton: Upstart Cardinals present interesting challenge for 5-0 Seahawks

The 5-0 Seahawks face the 4-2 Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday Night Football. (Getty)

During the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks’ annual trip to Arizona has been one of the most eventful in their schedule.

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On the field, the trips have been successful. The Seahawks lost to the Cardinals in Glendale in the 2012 season opener, which was Russell Wilson’s first game in the pros. Since then, the Seahawks have been 6-0-1.

But there has been misfortunate. Basically, the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom ended in Arizona. Richard Sherman’s last game as a Seahawk ended there in 2017 when he suffered an Achilles tendon tear. Kam Chancellor suffered a neck injury there in 2017 that ended his career. Earl Thomas suffered a broken leg in Week 4, 2018 that ended his Seahawks career.

That’s three key parts of the Legion in a two-year period. Unbelievable.

In a year the Seahawks are angling to get to their third Super Bowl under Carroll, it’s probably fitting that the Seahawks have their first NFC West game against the Cardinals, and who knows what to expect. Because of COVID-19 problems with the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday’s Seahawks-Cardinals game has been moved to primetime on NBC. This will be the third time in six games the Seahawks have played in the Sunday night game.

Ironically, the Seahawks-Cardinals game in four weeks is also a primetime game on a Thursday night in Seattle. On Nov. 30, the Seahawks have a Monday night game in Philadelphia after their Nov. 19 Cardinals game. That’s five prime timegames for a 5-0 team. In normal years, five is the max a team can have, but the movement of games because of the pandemic may allow teams to have more than five.

The Seahawks are off to their first 5-0 start in franchise history and have the added benefit of coming of a bye week. The Cardinals, who beat the Dallas Cowboys by 28 Monday night, are coming off a short week after playing Monday.

Before the season, I and many others thought the Cardinals would end up being the most improved team in football. They were 5-10-1 last year. They are 4-2 going into this game, but it’s still a little uncertain how improved they are this year due to their schedule so far.

As good as it is to be 4-2, the Cardinals could have been 6-0. They lost a road game to a Carolina team that is going through a total turnover of the defense. They lost to a bad Detroit Lions team. But they opened the season by going to San Francisco and beating the 49ers. They won easy games against the Washington Football Team and the New York Jets. The Cowboys’ defense was destroyed by the Cardinals in Week 6.

In his second year, head coach Kliff Kingsbury is still trying to adjust and readjust the offense. Last year, he started with a lot of four- and five-receiver sets. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler suggested he get into more running plays. Kingsbury listened and they used a lot of two tight-end sets. This year, the Cardinals have become more of a running team. They are the fourth-best team in football running the ball.

Kenyan Drake has 478 yards and a 4.6 yards per carry average. So much of the running game goes through Kyler Murray, who has 370 yards on 51 carries and has six touchdown runs in six games. The defense has to concentrate on stopping Murray first on the ground. Murray has been inconsistent throwing the ball. Last week, he missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone and overthrew DeAndre Hopkins for what should have been a 20-plus yard gain.

It’s isn’t going to help that Jamal Adams will miss the game with a groin injury. The Seahawks need his ability to chase down quarterbacks and running backs running to the outside. Ryan Neal has done well in his two fill-in starts. The Seahawks need a big game from cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who will play despite having a sore knee. Kingsbury likes to put his main receiver to the left side, so Dunbar will be going to Hopkins a lot Sunday.

Should be an interesting game.

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