BRADY HENDERSON

Double coverage: How Cardinals have fallen since tying Seahawks

Dec 22, 2016, 2:16 PM | Updated: Dec 23, 2016, 11:34 am
The Seahawks and Cardinals tied in October, but they've since gone in opposite directions. (AP)...
The Seahawks and Cardinals tied in October, but they've since gone in opposite directions. (AP)
(AP)

The Seahawks’ December schedule serves up a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change in the NFL.

The two teams that played for the NFC Championship a season ago – Arizona and Carolina — are both under .500 and all but assured of missing out on the playoffs. Green Bay, another perennial conference heavyweight, was 4-6 before winning four straight games. Tampa Bay is a contender after five straight losing seasons.

That should provide some bigger-picture perspective for this Seahawks season and what the team has done under Pete Carroll. As inconsistent as the Seahawks have been this year, mixing occasional clunkers with other performances that make them look like Super Bowl favorites, they’ve been remarkably consistent on a larger scale. At 9-4-1 heading into Saturday’s game against Arizona, Seattle can secure its fifth straight 10-win season. That would equal the number of 10-win seasons Seattle had since the franchise’s inception in 1976 to when Carroll arrived in 2010.

Clayton’s keys: Seahawks need to get running against Cards

Standing in the way of that is a 5-8-1 Cardinals team that entered the season with expectations of competing again for the conference title. Adam Green, who covers the team for ArizonaSports.com, gives us a closer look in our latest Double Coverage piece.

Henderson: Hey Adam, I don’t think many people up here saw the Cardinals falling off the way they have this year, not even earlier this year when they were 3-3 heading into the first meeting with Seattle. What’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what’s gone wrong for them?

Green: Cliff’s Notes? Really, how much time do you have? I remember in the preseason people asked me what could prevent this team from reaching its lofty goals, and I almost always said injury. No doubt injuries have played a role – especially along the offensive line, which at this point has just two starters left from the Week 1 lineup – but in reality, the Cardinals were struggling long before that all took a toll. The easy answer is simply special teams, which you could point to as at least partially responsible for costing them wins against New England and Seattle, as well as a chance in Buffalo and Miami. Split those four and they’re still in the playoff hunt. People don’t often talk about special teams, but coaches talk about it being one of three phases of the game, and for the Cardinals it has let them down more often than not.

Henderson: I’ve seen some headline-making comments from Arizona coach Bruce Arians, including the one about cornerback Justin Bethel being a “failure in progress.” From afar, his approach to publicly criticizing his players seems to contrast quite a bit with that of Pete Carroll, who generally declines to do so to the point that it’s sometimes comical. What’s your take on some of the things Arians has said and how they’ve been received in the locker room?

Green: Like all coaches, styles work when you are winning and get questioned when the losses come. In talking to players, none publicly express frustration over their coach’s refusal to mince words, though it’s tough to imagine players like Bethel, in particular, are happy with that kind of talk. That said, Arians has always done this, to mostly positive results. In fact, earlier this week kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who has been the subject of much of Arians’ ire this season, told me Arians has “always been one guy to keep it real, and I love playing for him, it’s a lot of fun.” The thing is, every player reacts differently, so while Catanzaro and guys like defensive end Calais Campbell and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries may respond well, others undoubtedly do not.

Henderson: It has been all (a 36-6 win in last year’s regular-season finale) or nothing (that 6-6 tie earlier this year) for the Seahawks’ offense in some of the recent meetings with Arizona. How have the Cardinals been playing on defense of late?

Green:  As of the very latest, poorly. Very, very poorly. The Cardinals entered last Sunday’s game against the Saints with what was statistically the best defense in the league, and then they surrendered 48 points while offering little in the way of resistance to Drew Brees and company. The Cardinals have since dropped to fourth, by the way. The truth is, they are a capable defense that can at times get after the quarterback and make plays in the secondary, but the consistency has not been there and the ability to just shut down opposing offenses has been lacking. A big reason for why is the fact that safety Tyrann Mathieu has not been himself this season, and though he has finally returned from a shoulder injury, his impact has been rather negligible. (Editor’s note: Mathieu was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve on Friday.)

Henderson:  What’s your sense of how engaged the team has remained given everything that’s happened – the losing, the Arians stuff and how they’re out of playoff contention – and what do you think this game means to the Cardinals?

Green:  It’s probably a week-by-week, game-by-game, moment-by-moment proposition. All last week, even though they weren’t mathematically eliminated, the Cardinals voiced an understanding that the playoffs were not going to happen, and yet they went out and competed hard in the loss to the Saints. They’ve talked about pride, finishing strong, putting good film on tape, etc. You know, all the clichés teams bust out this time of year. It showed up, to a degree, last week. But they were at home and in the game from the very beginning. What happens if they fall behind early on the road to a superior Seahawks team? The players and coaches can talk all they want about how important it is to beat the Seahawks, but I’ll defer to Week 17 of last season when they said all the same things, about how they would play their regulars and do all they could to win in a game that didn’t matter, only to get run. And that was at home.

Henderson: You asked in your list of questions for me about how the Seahawks are set up for next season. I’ll ask you the same thing: what are some of the key roster decisions Arizona will have to make over the offseason and what’s next for Arians?

Green: I feel confident in saying the Cardinals are going to look quite different next season, with more than 20 players set to become free agents including key players like Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Marcus Cooper Kevin Minter and Chandler Jones. Some will no doubt be brought back, while others are playing their final games for the team. When it comes to decisions, the organization has to decide if this year was a fluke or a sign that their window has closed shut. That determination will guide their offseason, and I for one am curious to see where they go. Early indications are they still believe this team can compete at a high level, and with better play along the offensive line and improved special teams they may be right. As for Arians, he says he will be back next season, and I’ll take his word on that.

Henderson: Prediction time: Seattle’s offense has been too inconsistent and prone to occasional clunkers to feel too confident about the team’s chances of winning in a given week, but this is a game the Seahawks should win. Maybe the biggest reason: They’re at home, where they’re undefeated this season and where their offense has played much better. Seahawks 25, Cardinals 18.

Green: Few games in this recent series have been easier to predict than this one. Though I do not believe the Seahawks are a great team, they are certainly in better shape than the Cardinals, and I can’t imagine Arizona going on the road and coming away with a win. The real question to me is whether or not the Cardinals will be competitive, and I have serious doubts. Final score: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 14.

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Double coverage: How Cardinals have fallen since tying Seahawks