Tale of the tape: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
The Seattle Seahawks and their vaunted defense travel to Arizona for this week's Thursday night matchup against the Cardinals.
Seattle (5-1) shares the top record in the NFC with the New Orleans Saints thanks to a defensive unit that has been among the stingiest in the league against the pass. That doesn't bode well for the Cardinals (3-3), who have had trouble generating any kind of offense so far this season.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
Much has been made about how well Seattle prevents points, but the Seahawks have actually been adept at moving the ball, as well. Behind second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle ranks 10th in total yardage per game (372.7), thanks in large part to a rush attack that averages nearly 160 yards per game. Running back Marshawn Lynch has racked up five touchdowns in six games, while Wilson has added 50 carries for 294 yards to date.
Despite the addition of veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, the Arizona offense has been spinning its wheels all year. The Cardinals rank 26th in yards per game (322.3) - and like Seattle, the running game is the main reason for that. Arizona is gaining fewer than 86 yards per game on the ground, as Rashard Mendenhall (3.3 yards per carry) continues to struggle his way into a time share with the emerging Andre Ellington (7.0 ypc).
The Seahawks are an elite NFL defense in every measurable category. They're allowing the second-fewest yards per game (290.2), and only the Houston Texans surrender fewer yards through the air on a weekly basis (188.3). Seattle has given up just five passing touchdowns while snagging nine interceptions. The run defense isn't nearly as strong, but still ranks 11th in yards allowed per contest (101.8) while limiting opposing teams to three rushing scores.
Arizona's defense has struggled against the pass through the first six games of the campaign, getting burned for 260 yards per game while surrendering 10 touchdowns. The Cardinals do have eight interceptions - tied for seventh-most in the NFL - and find themselves in the middle of the pack in completion percentage against (61). The run defense has been much better, allowing the fifth-fewest yards per game (90.7) on just 3.5 yards per carry.
When it comes to kick-return defense, the Seahawks are a bit of a roller-coaster. They rank third-last in the NFL in kickoff return average allowed at 27.6 yards, but have limited opponents to a league-worst eight total yards on six punt returns. Seattle returners rank 15th in kickoff yardage (23.5) and fifth in punt yardage (11.8). Seahawks placekicker Steven Hauschka has connected on 14 of 15 field-goal attempts, including both kicks in last week's win over Tennessee.
The Cardinals' return game has been mostly terrible so far in 2013, ranked 22nd overall in kickoff return average (22.4) and tied for 23rd in punt return average (5.8). Arizona has been better in defending return attempts, surrendering the fifth-fewest yards per kickoff return (20.6) and ranking 17th in punt return yards against (8.3). Veteran placekicker Jay Feely has been his usual accurate self, converting nine of 10 field-goal opportunities to date.
"Those two guys are really athletic, flying-around type of guys. They're ball hawks. They have a knack for getting to the football. You have to always know where they are, but at the same time, not be afraid to attack them." - Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson on Cardinals defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson
"I don't think it's really fair to the players, especially the veteran players. This is really, really hard on them. There are so many (times) over the course of the last 10 years I've seen guys that could not play on Thursday but could play on Sunday. And that's really hard on a football team." - Arizona head coach Bruce Arians on playing a Thursday night game