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Double Coverage: Breaking down the Cardinals with Arizona Sports’ Kevin Zimmerman

Sep 28, 2018, 9:09 AM | Updated: 9:43 am
Seattle Seahawks...
The Seahawks-Rams game will air on 710 ESPN Seattle and KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. (AP)
(AP)

The Seahawks will face the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Sept. 30 for their first NFC West matchup of the season. With a new head coach and, now, a new quarterback, what kind of team will the Seahawks face when they touch down in Glendale?

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In lieu of our regular “3 players to watch” column, we had a chance to speak to Cardinals reporter Kevin Zimmerman. Zimmerman, of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, took some time to answer a few questions about Arizona’s team.

(I also answered his questions about the Seahawks.)

Rost: The Seahawks – and the rest of the league – will get their most extensive look yet at quarterback Josh Rosen this weekend. There are certainly risks to starting a rookie, but Arizona could also see a boost in fan and player excitement following a strong showing. What has been the reaction been to Rosen being named starter? With so little tape on him, what can you tell us about his skill set and what he brings to this offense?

Zimmerman: Let’s just say the fan reaction has been a 70-30 emotional mix; 70 percent of which is anger toward offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and the previous quarterback, Sam Bradford, and 30 percent of which is excitement to see Rosen play. The offense was that abysmal to start the year, and it was quite honestly hard to tell if that’s a scheme thing or not. That Rosen is the supposed quarterback of the future has only added a little more fuel to the fire.

So, after a 0-3 start, you can imagine people are just hopeful that Rosen can open up the offense. Teams have stacked boxes against running back David Johnson, and Bradford’s inability to complete even short passes off three-step drops was concerning. He hardly even went through his progressions. So with Rosen stepping in, we honestly don’t have a great idea if 1) the offensive line can pass protect, 2) if David Johnson can get more involved, or, 3) if the young receivers and Larry Fitzgerald will be fine.

All that said, you can tell Rosen should make a difference by arm talent alone. His throws have zip. Though he’s no dual-threat quarterback, he showed that he can at least extend plays a bit more in his brief appearance last week, when he scooted for a first-down run. Functionally, he brings hope.

Rost: The Cardinals’ offense has struggled this season, but there have still been some consistent performers on defense. And while the team is winless under current HC Steve Wilks, he still brings well-respected defensive savvy from his time with the Carolina Panthers. Which defensive players could be a real threat to Russell Wilson? What differences have you noticed on this year’s defense, if any?

Zimmerman: Quite bluntly, the defense has not been as good since switching from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 base, particularly at the linebacker positions. Former first-round picks Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick have seen their playing time evaporate, as defensive coordinator Al Holcomb has gone to heavy nickel use with safety Budda Baker playing in the box, plus veteran linebackers Gerald Hodges and Josh Bynes taking most of the snaps.

That said, it’s hard to say if that trend will remain considering the Cardinals looked different in their defensive approach through each of three games so far. Regarding Wilson, I think you have to say pass-rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden (in his second game off return from an ACL tear) are always threats. But they have to be sound and hold the edges, because in Week 1, it was Washington’s Alex Smith who baffled the Cardinals’ second-level defenders just by bootlegging and scrambling around.

Long story short, Wilson could be a big problem, even if Arizona’s secondary has avoided allowing explosive plays, and even if Seattle offensive line isn’t holding up.

Rost: Bobby Wagner said he knows the team will have to find a way to contain RB David Johnson, and that it won’t be an easy challenge. Still, Johnson is off to a slow start this season (a slow start for Johnson, anyway). Maybe this is my fantasy football hope talking, but should we be expecting a breakout game? Or is there a long-term issue with Johnson’s ability to contribute behind Arizona’s offensive line? If so, is the team changing the way they use him?

Zimmerman: There’s some worry it’s a long-term issue. McCoy was asked again Thursday about the lack of David Johnson — the takeaway from a very general non-answer was that game-flow and defensive adjustments have kept Johnson from breaking out.

Indeed, it seems opponents were fine loading up the box and letting Sam Bradford throw down the field if he dared (he didn’t). But Arizona has also really limited Johnson’s use as a slot receiver, optioning to use him as a receiver out of the backfield more. That change was something former coach Bruce Arians actually criticized on the TD Fantasy Podcast this week. Arians even went as far as saying using Johnson out of the slot was key to helping Larry Fitzgerald get going.

In short, Johnson’s just been bottled up and not been helped by the limitations that we assume will be lessened with the quarterback switch. But yeah, if he’s not getting more than 12 carries against the Seahawks, the criticism is going to be pointed more at McCoy after this weekend.

Rost: Care to take a stab at predicting how this Week 4 matchup in the National Football League will go?

Zimmerman: I’ll go as optimistic as possible with this 0-3 team. Josh Rosen opens up the offense and throws a few touchdowns, but a turnover plus a few Russell Wilson scrambles in some type of way end up hurting an Arizona defense that continues to take a few baby steps forward each week. Seahawks win, 24-17.

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Double Coverage: Breaking down the Cardinals with Arizona Sports’ Kevin Zimmerman