The 0-2Â Seahawks begin their home schedule versus division rival Arizona, looking to get their season back on track and keep pace in the division. A win potentially puts Seattle in a tie for first, a loss puts them at 0-2 in the division and deeper into the early-season hole.
Urgency is the theme for the Seahawks this weekâ€”fully aware of their situation and hoping that playing at home can temporarily help remedy the problems.
Coming off of a disappointing one-point road loss, the 1-1Â Cardinals are playing their first division game and looking to steal a win in a stadium where they are 3-6 since 2002; they lost 22-10 in 2010, after turning the ball over five times.
Arizona comes to Seattle with a new quarterback, new defensive coordinator and new faces on both sides of the ball. Their goal is to gain an early lead in the division.
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks understand this is a must-win game and are motivated by playing at home.
Handle Arizona's Pressure Package
First-year defensive coordinator Ray Horton brings an aggressive mentality as the former secondary coach in Pittsburgh. Arizona's new 3-4 defense is closely related to Dick LeBeau's scheme.
The Seahawks had unique preparation this week because they played Pittsburgh last week, and the protection schemes for this week will be similar; the game plan was tweaked rather than rebuilt. The Seahawks hope the similarities between the two defenses will be an advantage.
One change for Seattle this week: Veteran left guard Robert Gallery will be out for at least a month, but his replacement is formerÂ Raiders lineman Paul McQuistan. He brings a level of familiarity not on par with Gallery, but he should be a stabilizing presence on the line.
Seattle protected well versus Pittsburgh, but struggled once theÂ Steelers switched from a coverage-heavy gameplan to a pressure package in the fourth quarter; Seattle allowed five second-half sacks.
The Seahawks will get no reprieve from pressure this week.
Tendencies to watch: Five or more rushers on first down; a safety and/or linebacker run-blitz on 2nd-and-mid; two down linemen with stand-up roamers on 2nd-and-mid or 3rd-and-long, with as many as six or seven rushing post-snap; overload blitzes that drop a defensive end or tackle into coverage; they will line up in a 4-3 defense in obvious running situations, mainly on first down;Â Arizona does a good job disguising their blitzes with pre-snap formation and movement, their third down pressure package exemplary of this.
This is another tough matchup for Seattle, especially as the offensive line is still finding itself. Understanding the difference between pre-snap looks and post-snap execution is key. It must maintain assignments, trust its preparation and play with attitude. Otherwise, this will be another confusing game for the offensive line.
Get the Offense on Track Using All of Its Weapons
Seattle is averaging 191.5 total yards and 8.5 points per game thus far, not acceptable to the coaching staff or fans. Week 3 must bring improvement.
Seattle needs to find balance on offense early by moving the football and establishing the run; this will open up the play-action and mobile-pocket passing attack.
Seattle is yet to find a balanced rushing attack; Marshawn Lynch has out-carried the duo of Justin Forsett and Leon Washington 19 to seven. Beating a dead horse here, but a 50/50-ish split is in the best interest of this offense.
This isÂ a tremendously important game for Tarvaris Jackson; he needs to be sharper with his reads, more decisive and aggressive throwing the ball and prove that he can manage the offense and score points.
Jackson needs to get all his weapons involved and string drives together. Seattle needs consistency, continuity and control on offense.
Deep threat Sidney Rice should make his debut, opening up the rest of the field for Mike Williams on intermediate routes and Zach Miller in the short passing game. Seattle needs to establish this trio in the passing game to open all dimensions of the passing offense and the playbook.
An open playbook will help counter Arizona's pressure package and expose the holes in a newly installed scheme; bothÂ Carolina and Washington were able to take advantage of the discontinuity.
Carolina attacked the sidelines with tight ends andÂ receivers when Arizona became overaggressive, rushing outside linebackers or cornerbacks; it also took advantage of Arizona's tendencyÂ to bring pressure and over-pursue on early downs with the inside running game.
Last week, theÂ Redskins were very effective with the screen game on 2nd-and-6 early in the game, which allowed them to later dominate the time of possession battle with a strong running game.
The point here is that the Arizona defense will try to get Seattle's offense playing on its heels and indecisive with play-calling. Â Seattle needs more variety and better execution, or the offense will continue to sputter.
Counter the Cardinals' Offensive Versatility
Arizona's offense has shown it can score points, despite the fact that it has run a league-low 102 plays and is second-to-last in time of possession.
It has found success with the big play in the passing gameâ€”aided by breakdowns or poor tackling by the opponentâ€”to remedy its lack of ball control.
The Seahawks shouldn't have to guess about Kevin Kolb's capabilities, given their pursuit of him over the past 18 months. Seattle must capitalize on the familiarity with Kolb and create a disruptive gameplan. If it doesn't maintain its assignments, Kolb will find open space; Arizona often sends out four or five receivers and Kolb usually has outlets when under pressure.
On the flipside, Seattle must take advantage of Arizona's tendency to use its offensive line, and sometimes a running back, to block. Coordinator Gus BradleyÂ must mix blitzes, including overloaded pressure and pre-snap/post-snap confusion, and four-man pressures to keep the offense guessing.
The key is not letting Arizona get into an offensive rhythm; the Cardinals are best when successful with the first-down running game.
After having the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half last week, theyÂ immediatelyÂ established the power-running game in the second half on their first drive.Â .
The next drive, Arizona started to spread the field with shotgun, four wide on first down but continued to pound away with the running game from the shotgun. This allowed Arizona to pick up the pace, dictate Washington into playing coverage and create running lanes versus a five- or six-man box. Seattle must not fall into this trap, especially given its propensity to rush with four linemen. Seattle can't allow Beanie Wells to gain chunks of yards and set up 2nd-and-short.
Tendencies to watch:Â Larry Fitzgerald oftenÂ receives the ball whenÂ lined up either isolated on the backside of a three-receiver set or lined up in the middle of three receivers to one side; similar to Pittsburgh, Arizona likes to run on first down using a three-receiver/tight end bunch flexed off the line;Â a second-down audible or motion into a balanced set, especially after the first-down-balanced set run game is established, is a recipe for play actionâ€”as are bunched sets on second down; Arizona liked to spread the field on 2nd-and-long; on 3rd-and-long, look for screens or five-wide sets to open up the middle of the field.
The point: Arizona will run a one-back, balanced set or spread it out with five wide on first down. It is unpredictableÂ and aggressive. Seattle needs to counter with versatility, aggression and discipline.
Play Sharp on Defense and Create Turnovers
While Seattle has gotten consistent, stout play out of the defensive line, the back seven was exposed last week. Furthermore, Seattle has created zero turnovers on defense and getting the ball,Â as highlighted earlier in the week, is a primary focus this weekend.
There are two areas of the back seven that will receive added scrutiny this week; the changes on the linebacking corps and the solidarity of the secondary.
Aaron Curry has been demoted to second string; rookie K.J. Wright is the strong-side linebacker and Leroy Hill should start on the weak side. Wright has proven to be an instinctual, smart football player and his ability to learn the scheme has impressed the coaches. The Seahawks expect his discipline to be an upgrade over Curry; Wright will be crucial in holding down Beanie Wells.
While the entire secondary was exposed last week, the scapegoat was Brandon Browner. Granted, Pittsburgh's speedy receivers weren't an ideal match up for the 6'4" corner, but his inability to jam on the line of scrimmage was worrisome.
This week, he'll be matched up with the 6'3" All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald, the type of matchup Seattle had in mind when it brought Browner to Seattle. Seattle needs Browner to play well this week for Arizona's passing game to be limited. Furthermore, the secondary must play more disciplined as a whole.
Onto the turnovers, which will only come if Seattle can tackle well, maintain its assignments and force the Cardinals into 2nd- and 3rd-and-long. Kolb is somewhat turnover- and sack-prone.
Seattle must play sharp and capitalize on Arizona's mistakes.
Take Advantage of Playing at Home
The Seahawks have faced two tough road crowds and need to take advantage of being at home; not only on defense, but in all phases of the game.
The key on offense will be keeping the crowd on Jackson's side. One way to remedy that is to start quickly. Failing to feed off of the home energy early will give Arizona an advantage.
On special teams, Seattle must maintain its lanes and tackle better than it has in the first two weeks. After theÂ 49ers returned a punt and kick for touchdown in the final four minutes in Week 1, Seattle almost let Pittsburgh break free for a punt return in Week 2.
Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson had a long punt return for touchdown in Week 1, partly due to poor tackling. Forcing a turnover on special teams, like Seattle did in theÂ preseason versusÂ Minnesota, wouldn't hurt, either.
Furthermore, Leon Washington needs to show up for the Seahawks' return game and help Seattle gain solid field position a regular basis.
Offense and special teams will potentially feed off of the defense; Seattle can't let sloppy play and penalties ruin its momentum.
It's no secret that the CLink is the home of opponent false starts. Seattle practiced this week with noise on defense, preparing for the help of the home crowd.
This team is well aware of the importance of performing well at home. The Seahawks must realize that the Cardinals have no problems scoring, but both of their games were decided in the final minutes; Seattle must keep this game close and finish.
This week, the coaching staff and players have talked the talk, but they need to have the same intensity on the field.
Even though it's only the home opener, the team needs to create a do-or-die atmosphere. Pete Carroll's first football "rule" is "always protect the team." The Seahawks must get the 12th man on their side early and protect home-field advantage.