John Clayton’s keys: Seahawks need to establish run vs Cardinals

Dec 22, 2016, 12:15 PM

seahawks, thomas rawls...

The Seahawks could have a chance to get their struggling run game going against a 31st-ranked rushing defense. (AP)


It’s still hard to fathom that the Arizona Cardinals will come to Seattle on Saturday with a 5-8-1 record and are out of the playoffs.

Entering the season, I thought the Seahawks and the Cardinals were the two most talented teams in the league. Arizona general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians assembled what they thought was the best team in franchise history. But instead of playing for the playoffs, the Cardinals will be looking to further along a few younger players who they hope will continue to fuel the rivalry between these two NFC West teams. You know Arians would love to beat the Seahawks and effect their seeding status in the playoffs, too.

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Here are a few things to watch in Saturday’s game:

Important to get a good running attack. More than anything else, the Seahawks need to show how well they can run the ball to test what they might do in the playoffs. They need to do it next week because the Cardinals’ defense is the Seahawks’ true test. Next week the Seahawks will finish in San Francisco, and their rushing numbers might be considered a mirage – the 49ers are giving up 176.3 yards a game on the ground. Former Seahawks running back Christine Michael’s best game was against the 49ers in Week 3 when he rushed for 106 yards and averaged 5.3 yards a carry. At that time, people thought the offensive line and the running game had turned the corner, but it was an illusion because of the 49ers’ inability to stop the run. Michael gained no more than 64 yards in any other game this season before being released. The Cardinals are the league’s fourth-ranked defense even though they gave up 48 points in a loss to New Orleans last week. They give up 99.1 yards a game and 3.7 yards a carry. Surprisingly, the Seahawks rank 20th in the league in rushing, which seems better than what the eye has seen this season with their struggles in the running game. They average 101.9 yards a game, which surprisingly is more than playoff contenders Kansas City, Denver and the New York Giants.

Offensive tackles George Fant and Garry Gilliam will get a big test. They will have to handle Arizona’s Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones. One of the biggest surprises of the week was the announcement by Tom Cable that Gilliam will return to the starting lineup ahead of the struggling Bradley Sowell. When Gilliam lost his starting job a couple weeks ago, it looked as though his Seahawks career was over. Not the case. He’s bounced back after being inactive (though healthy), and has regained the starting job. Jones and Campbell have combined for 14 sacks this year. Sowell has allowed five sacks this season, leading the team, while Fant has allowed three-and-a-half. Gilliam has only been charged with one sack allowed.

The key for the defense is to pressure quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer has a history of getting out of sorts if he is pressured early in the game. Like most quarterbacks, when he’s pressured, he can struggle. This year, Palmer has completed 45.4 percent of his passes when pressured. He averages 5.36 yards an attempt when the heat is on, with three touchdown passes and five interceptions. Starting offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Jared Veldheer are on the injured reserve list for the Cardinals, so the line has holes. The Seahawks’ defensive line will try to take advantage.

Larry Fitzgerald isn’t sure if he’s going to play next year. Retirement is on the veteran Cardinals wide receiver’s mind, but most people believe he will continue playing. Let’s hope so. He’s a potential Hall of Fame receiver and one of the best people in the NFL. This could be his last game in Seattle if he decides to retire, though, and Fitzgerald considers CenturyLink Field one of his favorite places in the league. It will be interesting to see if Richard Sherman shadows him during the game. Since Pete Carroll took over the Seahawks in 2010, Fitzgerald has 63 receptions in 12 games for 722 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle. For perspective, that’s less than his production against the Rams and the 49ers. Fitzgerald has 86 catches for 1,123 yards and eight touchdowns against the Niners and 81 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns against the Rams.

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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