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Double Coverage: Seahawks vs. Cardinals

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With 91 yards in the first meeting, Marshawn Lynch is one of the few running backs Arizona hasn't shut down. (AP)

By Brady Henderson

The Cardinals were 3-4 after losing to the Seahawks in Week 7. Their defense was allowing 23 points per game while their quarterback had thrown five more interceptions than touchdowns.

To say that Arizona is a different team heading into Sunday's rematch with Seattle would be an understatement. It's been an across-the-board turnaround for the Cardinals, who have gone 6-1 since that loss to Seattle thanks largely to one of the league's better defenses and a resurgent Carson Palmer.

For a closer look at how that happened I reached out to Adam Green, who covers the Cardinals for ArizonaSports.com and lent his insight on the team for this week's edition of "Double Coverage".

Henderson: Greetings, Adam. I'll start with a question about Carson Palmer, who's made a remarkable turnaround since that Week-7 loss to Seattle. The Seahawks sacked him seven times that game, and now they'll have the advantage of playing at CenturyLink Field. How has the Cardinals' pass protection been of late and how big of a concern is that heading into this game?

Green: Hey Brady, good to hear from you. Minus the team's loss to Philadelphia, when Palmer was sacked five times, the pass protection has been better of late. Talk to any of the offensive linemen and they'll say it's due to increased familiarity with each other (left tackle Bradley Sowell was making this third start with the team on Oct. 17) as well as the scheme, and that's likely partially true. At the same time, the Cardinals have not faced a defensive front as talented as Seattle's since then, so it will be interesting to see how much of their recent success is due to their own improvements compared to just having faced lesser competition. Suffice to say, though, it's a very big concern heading into this matchup.

Henderson: I can't imagine there are too many quibbles about the job coach Bruce Arians has done this season, but one of them seems to be his insistence on starting veteran running back Rashard Mendenhall ahead of rookie Andre Ellington. What does each back bring to the table and how should the Seahawks expect them to be used Sunday?

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Speedy rookie Andre Ellington is one half of the Cardinals' backfield duo. (AP)
Green: It's probably been more of an issue within the fantasy football community than the Cardinals', but indeed, it's been a source of questioning this season. The issue is with the term "starter" more than anything else, because while Mendenhall has that designation, Ellington still gets his share of touches. Truth is, Arians and his staff do not believe Ellington can handle 20-plus carries per game, and instead prefer to get him the ball around 10 times in the running game as well as many more as a receiver, where he's spent more time lining up of late. And that's part of the trick with their backfield – Mendenhall is the early-down plodder and goal-line back you'd think he is, though he has looked much more spry the last few weeks. Ellington, on the other hand, is the speed back who can make you pay out in space. Whether it's out of the backfield or after lining up as a receiver, you can expect Ellington to get far more touches than the five he had in the first meeting between the teams.

Henderson: It's been four games since Marshawn Lynch has topped 100 yards rushing, a streak that won't be easy to end against the Cardinals. Who are some of the key players in Arizona's No. 1-ranked run defense?

Green: Unless this game goes sideways quickly for Arizona, chances are Lynch won't top the century mark in this game, either. I spoke with defensive tackle Dan Williams, who is on the field primarily to stop the run, and we talked about how it seems like the Cardinals face an elite running back every single week. He and the team have plenty of respect for Lynch, but Arizona's defensive front of Williams, Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, along with Matt Shaughnessy and Alameda Ta'amu, have done an excellent job stuffing the run. One thing that's certainly helped is the team's secondary, and I note that because their effectiveness in coverage allows defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to bring more of his defense to the line of scrimmage, either to get pressure on the quarterback or help in run support. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington have been excellent, as expected, and veteran John Abraham has been a pleasant surprise in run support, too. It sounds cliché but it's a total team effort for this defense, and they certainly take pride in limiting the NFL's top runners.

Henderson: Alright, Adam, let's make some predictions. I don't see this game at all resembling the blowout from last December, especially with Seattle struggling to run the ball of late and the Cardinals being so stout against the run. All that pressure Arizona is sure to bring is another potential concern for the Seahawks given their issues in pass protection. But the one matchup that sticks out most is Seattle's pass rush against Arizona's offensive. The Seahawks sacked Palmer seven times back in Week 7, and now he's dealing with an ankle injury that figures to affect his already-limited mobility. Seattle's pass rush always has an edge at CenturyLink Field, where it's not going to be any quieter this week with the NFC's No. 1 seed on line. Seahawks 24, Cardinals 14.

What do you think, Adam?

Green: You know, it seems like so long ago when the Cardinals went into Seattle and came away with a 31-20 win, but it was only 2009. Four years. And in those four years, the Seahawks have become one of the most dominant teams in the league and nearly unbeatable at home, whereas the Cardinals hit rock bottom, culminating in a 58-0 loss in the Emerald City last year. While the Cardinals are certainly better than they were that day, it is tough to see Arizona going into CenturyLink Field and beating a team with eyes on home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Final score? I'll say Seahawks 24, Cardinals 13.

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.

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