Last December, the Cardinals hosted the Seattle Seahawks and on that day they were suffocated to the tune of 35-6.
A review of that tape and these two teams as they stand today and one thing is abundantly clear: A healthy Cardinals offense in 2015 has found room to breathe. And it’s made all the difference in the world.
OFFENSE NO LONGER OFFENSIVE
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A year ago, the Cardinals were the owners of one of the most battered rosters in professional football. In that late-season game against the Seahawks, the quarterback room was like a crime scene, with a bizarre set of injuries and circumstances thrusting Ryan Lindley into the starting spot with little experience and short time to prepare.
In a cruel bit of NFL irony, Lindley was facing one of the best defenses in football. Throw in a running backs group that was equally short-handed and a banged-up offensive line, and you had the recipe for a football massacre.
A year later, and that Cardinals offense may be as different as any unit in the NFL (offense or defense) since that point. In the chaos of a season ago, the Cards were forced into one of the ugliest brands of offensive football, but they now play as proficient offensively as any team in the league. This weekend’s matchup between these two NFC West foes is a prime example of the potential uselessness of historical stats between football teams — this is a completely different Arizona offense.
In last year’s contest, the Seahawks understood that, with short prep time and a lack of weapons, there was no way Arizona would expose their quarterback to deep dropbacks in the passing game. The Seattle defensive backs mugged the Arizona wide receivers at the line and jammed the box — daring Arizona to do something they weren’t equipped to do on that day (below).
If the Cardinals’ running game was ineffective, there would likely be far less success in the passing game. With no experienced proficient passer behind center, there would likely be no running game. With both, life as a Cardinals blocker gets magically more enjoyable. This is football symbiosis in all its glory.
CAN’T LOAD THE BOX
Against opponents with defenses similarly tough to Seattle’s, the Cardinals have been able to bust some of those same loaded boxes in 2015. Putting more people "down" in the box against the run is typically seen as the remedy to slowing a running game, but against running backs with the pure speed of Johnson, there’s the concern of getting too close to the line of scrimmage and creating bad pursuit angles.
This is less important when the back isn’t as explosive as Johnson because the playside gaps will be narrow and close quickly. But if you have a guy explosive enough to get through the playside hole shot, there’s tons of room in the secondary because the loaded box can cut off backside pursuit tacklers (below).
Does this mean that the Cardinals can take down the Seahawks in Seattle? Not necessarily. But it means the playing field is now level — both talented units at full strength, best-on-best.
The second-highest scoring offense in football against the defense that holds offenses to the second-fewest points-per-game. The Cardinals offense has earned the space to breathe in their offense. The Seahawks must respect and out-execute in that environment to come out on top.
There will be no personnel head-starts in this contest — it will simply come down to who plays the best. And as a fan of football played at its highest possible level, that’s all you can hope for.