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Rost: What to know about Seahawks and Cardinals, according to Cardinals expert

The Cardinals are under a lot of pressure in the NFC West in 2021. (Getty)

As part of an early look around the rest of the NFC West, my 710 ESPN Seattle co-host Jake Heaps and I have interviewed a few reporters and analysts who cover the Seahawks’ three divisional foes on Jake and Stacy.

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All of these interviews offered up important details and nuggets that Seahawks fans need to know about the most important teams Seattle will face this season. In an unexpected twist, these interviews also taught us a thing or two about the Seahawks themselves.

If you missed the first two editions of this NFC West preview, check out what we learned about the Rams with radio analyst D’Marco Farr and what we learned about the 49ers with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Jennifer Lee Chan.

We wrapped up our division preview with ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, here are three things we learned about the Cardinals – and one thing we learned about the Seahawks:

When it comes to team-building, Cards are kind of like the Phoenix Suns

“I’ve been comparing the Cardinals to the Suns a lot,” Weinfuss said. “The Suns have a good, young nucleus with Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges, and they went and they added the veteran pieces: Chris Paul, and Monty Williams the head coach. Well, the Cardinals have those good young pieces. They have Kyler Murray, they have good runnings backs in James Conner and Chase Edmonds, and they have a great young receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. And they went ahead and added the older veterans to kind of fill out that roster; to fill out the space that they needed that leadership in. So, on paper I think this team looks very, very good.”

The Cardinals’ most high-profile signing may have been the addition of J.J. Watt. Watt’s resume is about as stacked as you can get: he’s been a five-time First-Team All-Pro and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and left his tenure with Houston as the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks. But outside of a stellar 2018 season, Watt’s final years in Houston were marred by injury. Still, even at 32 years old, Watt is expected to be a commanding presence on Arizona’s defensive line.

The Cardinals also signed former fourth overall pick A.J. Green, who had previously spent his entire career with Cincinatti. Green recorded 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of his first five seasons and double-digit touchdowns in three of those. Like Watt, the 32-year-old Green has cooled over the past couple years, but the temptation of signing a healthy Green was too much for the Cardinals to pass on.

“Whether or not these big names can translate to wins is, to me, one of the single biggest questions of the season,” Weinfuss said. “Because if it doesn’t, all it shows is that the Cardinals want to win the offseason. Well, winning the offseason, if it doesn’t win you games, what does it matter?”

There could be a major cleaning house if the Cards don’t make the playoffs

And that last quote from Weinfuss gets to the heart of the issue with Arizona: perhaps no team in the West faces more pressure to make the postseason, at least when it comes to a head coach or general manager staying off the hot seat.

That’s not just because of a surplus of star power combined with a lack of playoff appearances. When it comes to Kliff Kingsbury, that seat got even hotter with last year’s offensive woes.

“Kliff was hired basically in the wake of Sean McVay going to the Super Bowl because Arizona wanted the next young bright offensive mind,” Weinfuss said. “And they thought that was Kliff Kingsbury. But last year when (Kyler) Murray gets hurt, all of the sudden the offense really was very stagnant, very easy to predict, and a lot of defenses started to figure out what they were doing. And there was no pivoting. There wasn’t a change in plan.”

“Last year should’ve been significantly better, so if that improvement isn’t seen again this year and they don’t take that type of jump, I just don’t know how the Cardinals can keep Kliff Kingsbury because you’re working on a valuable rookie contract with Kyler Murray and if you’re just going to waste that,” Weinfuss later added.

Weinfuss predicted a better season for the offense, in large part because Murray is healthier and will have an offseason of work with Hopkins. But time is running out for the Cardinals to win it all while benefitting from Murray’s rookie contract. And fan patience may run thin if the organization can’t win despite having star talent.

“I think there’s been an issue here lately with the Cardinals wanting to win the offseason more than they’ve been wanting to win games,” Weinfuss said. “You can compile a roster of these huge names – an all-star type of cast – but if you don’t do anything with it, what does that show? It shows that you’re being mismanaged, I think, at the highest level. And I think we can pin that one onto GM Steve Keim. So we could see a major cleaning house if they don’t go to the playoffs this after this year.”

A rookie will be shoulder one of the biggest responsibilities on defense

“The biggest thing to watch on the Cardinals defense this year is what’s going to happen at inside linebacker,” Weinfuss said.

The Cards drafted Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson eighth overall in 2020 and Zaven Collins out of Tulsa at 16 overall this year.

“(Simmons) had a rough year, mostly because he didn’t have an offseason,” Weinfuss said. “And then he’s thrown to the fire, struggles for a little bit, came to his own by the end of the season. Then they go ahead and they draft Zaven Collins 16th this year and they basically made him the starting inside linebacker, the MIKE linebacker, before training camp. So, you’re giving a rookie the green dot, which means he’s going to be the quarterback of your defense, and you’re pairing him with a guy that basically had, I mean, he had a pretty rocky rookie season, and really came on in the last half of the season. So combined these guys have one year of NFL experience and they’re going to basically leave the interior of your defense up to them. So I think the Cardinals defense will go as they go.”

The Seahawks will have two big decisions to make each time they face the Cards

It’s a surprise to no one that teams will always look to isolate a bad matchup, but two big-name acquisitions will force teams into a pick-your-poison situation for the Cards: Green and Watt.

Weinfuss is expecting strong years for both players, particularly Green, because neither player has to bear the burden of being the primary focus.

“(Green) has never in his career been a No. 2 receiver. And in this Cardinals offense, DeAndre Hopkins is going to be the guy who’s going to be double teamed … and if the Cardinals are smart and line Green on the opposite side of the line, which is what I’m expecting them to do, he might be seeing one-on-ones all season. And that takes a lot of pressure off somebody. He doesn’t have to worry about being the guy, he doesn’t have to worry about facing No. 1 cornerbacks every week. I really think he’s going to have a monster year because of that…

“J.J. Watt I think is facing a similar situation with Chandler Jones on the opposite side of the defense… if Jones can come back and get off to a good start and play like he was in 2019, he’s going to be seeing a lot of double teams and JJ Watt is going to be seeing a lot of one-on-ones. And the defenses the Cardinals face this year are really going to have to make a decision: Who do you shift the extra protection to? Whoever you don’t double… you’re talking elite pass rushers one-on-one against a left tackle or right tackle. I would bet my money on Watt or Jones every single time.”

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