John Clayton’s 4 keys for Seahawks’ defense vs Cardinals’ Carson Palmer, David Johnson

Oct 21, 2016, 6:01 AM
Seattle's third-ranked run defense will get another test in David Johnson, the NFL's third-leading ...
Seattle's third-ranked run defense will get another test in David Johnson, the NFL's third-leading rusher. (AP)

On Sunday night, the Seahawks will find out whether they can ride through this season the easy way or the hard way.

They face the rival Cardinals in what is a do-or-die game for coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer. Seattle enters this game like a gambler who’s playing with house money. If the Seahawks lose, they would still have the lead in the NFC West while the Cardinals would have to catch up right away before playing five of their final seven games on the road.

Here are some of the keys to Sunday night’s critical game:

David Johnson vs. Seahawks’ run defense. So far, no team has been able to power through the Seahawks’ run defense when the game is on the line. The Seahawks rank third against the run, giving up 74.6 yards per game and 3.27 yards per carry. The Falcons came to Seattle last week with the hottest two-back attack in football and were limited 52 yards rushing. Johnson has 568 yards and eight touchdowns rushing plus 20 catches for 265 yards. He’s been almost unstoppable. You would have to figure the Seahawks have a good chance of holding him to 60 yards or fewer Sunday night. He’s had only one start against the Seahawks and was limited to 25 yards on 11 carries in the regular-season finale in Glendale last year. Of course, that was a 36-6 Seahawks blowout, so it was not a game that was going to promote good running numbers. The test for the Seahawks’ defense will be their tackling, which has been exceptional this year. Johnson is averaging 2.1 yards after contact. That has accounted for 242 of his 568 yards.

Concerns about Palmer. Palmer is the key to the game and so much pressure is on him. It doesn’t help that he suffered a concussion two weeks ago and missed the first two days of practice this week with a hamstring injury. Though most expect Palmer to play, the question is going to be how well he will do. The Seahawks’ defensive line looks healthy with Michael Bennett expected to play and Frank Clark practicing without limitation after missing the last game with a hamstring injury. Palmer becomes more of a 50-percent thrower when pressured. He and Arians love to throw deep, but lately they are starting to throw a little bit more underneath. The problem is scoring early. It took until Week 6 for the Cardinals to get their first points in the first quarter, which means they’ve spent too much time trailing. Bennett leads the Seahawks with 16 combined pressures and knockdowns. Clark is next with 11.5. Cliff Avril has 11. Also, expect Seattle to continue sending middle linebacker Bobby Wagner on some spot blitzes. He has seven quarterback knockdowns.

Don’t underestimate Arizona’s defense. Despite their slow start, the Cardinals rank fourth on defense, giving up 295 yards per game. They have 18 sacks. They are giving up only 17.3 points a game.

Communication will be key for Seahawks’ defense. Miscommunication in the secondary was a problem in two of the three touchdown drives Seattle allowed against Atlanta. It’s possible that Kam Chancellor might have to miss this game with a groin injury. Kelcie McCray would play for him. The Cardinals’ stadium is loud and the crowd knows how to cause opponents problems. Focus has to be the key. Richard Sherman knows how to be patient. If Palmer works plenty of short routes, the Seahawks’ secondary knows at some point that Arians and Palmer might try a risky deep pass that could be intercepted.

This will be a defining game for both teams.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on

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John Clayton’s 4 keys for Seahawks’ defense vs Cardinals’ Carson Palmer, David Johnson