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Seahawks RB Chris Carson
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Clayton: Seahawks facing 5 days that will define their season

Chris Carson remains the Seahawks' starting running back despite three lost fumbles. (Getty)

On Sunday, the Seahawks begin the five days that will define their 2019 season.

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First they have an important NFC West road game against the Arizona Cardinals, and it will be followed Thursday night with a home game against the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams. If the Seahawks want to challenge for the NFC West title, they need to win these two games.

Clearly, the Seahawks will learn a lot about how good they are in these two games. The Rams have controlled the division for the past two years. The Cardinals are rebuilding with an Air Raid offense and Kyler Murray at quarterback. And the Seahawks need to win at least four of their six division games if they have any thoughts of winning the West or making the playoffs as a wild-card.

Let’s look what is ahead for the Cardinals game.

• The Seahawks are staying with Chris Carson as their starting running back, but he could be pulled if he has another fumble. Carson has put the ball on the field four times, three of which have been extremely costly.

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It’s questionable if Rashaad Penny will be able to play due to the hamstring injury that sidelined him last week; his availability will be a game-time decision. If Penny can’t go, the Seahawks will have C.J. Prosise as the backup. Carson has been working all week to cut down on the fumbles and he has the support of the coaching staff.

• The Seahawks should be able to run the ball in Arizona. The Cardinals are giving up 157 rushing yards per game for an average of 4.9 yards per carry. Mike Iupati, the former Cardinal, returns to Seattle’s offensive line and will strive to get the power blocking at the line of scrimmage. It looks as though Duane Brown should be able to play despite a sore bicep, as well.

• The Seahawks didn’t generate any pressure on New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last week. It’s a must that they get the pass rush going against Murray. The rookie Cardinals quarterback has been sacked 16 times year, second most in the league, including eight times last week against Carolina.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah is questionable to play with a sore back. He was on the field for 19 plays against the Saints but didn’t generate any stats. The Seahawks need Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney to bring pressure from the edges.

• Even though Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likes to stay with the base defense of four defensive linemen and three linebackers because his linebackers are so good, he will have to adjust. The Cardinals use mostly four- and five-receiver sets. That will cause the Seahawks to consider using six defensive backs.

• The Arizona offense is geared to gaining yards, averaging 328 yards per game, 243.7 of which are coming through the air. Murray averages 45.6 throws a game and completes 61.3 percent of his passes. Many of them are short throws – he’s averaging 6.1 yards per attempt.

• One of the missing elements of the Arizona offense is the running game. In three games, the Cardinals have only 56 runs total, and Murray has 14 of those runs.

Running back David Johnson is still making an adjustment to this offense. With all handoffs coming off shotgun, Johnson has yet to get into any kind of running rhythm. He has 133 yards on 36 carries for a 3.7 yard average. He’s grabbed 13 passes for 83 yards, a 6.4 yard average.

• Like the run-and-shoot offense, the Cardinals put their best receivers in the slot. Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk have combined for 38 catches for 458 yards.

• One of the problems the Cardinals are experiencing that is similar to the run-and-shoot days is that they move the ball well between the 20s but struggle in the red zone. The Cardinals have made 11 trips to the red zone but have scored only four touchdowns, a 36.4 percentage that is the third-worst in football.

• Seahawks tight end Will Dissly could have another good day. The Cardinals have given up 23 completions for 348 yards in three games on passes to tight ends, and Dissly has stood out as Seattle’s second-leading receiver with 12 catches for 124 yards and three touchdowns.

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