SEATTLE -- The Cardinals are preparing for a rematch with the Seahawks on Sunday, but the location isn't the only thing that's changed.
The offense scored only 10 points in the initial showdown, capping an inconsistent first month of the season. Since that point, the Cardinals are averaging 5.1 more points per game –from 18.5 to 23.6 -- and have surpassed 400 total yards in four separate contests.
While the Seattle defense has barely budged schematically for the past several years, it's been the polar opposite for the Cardinals since the slow start.
"You watch that tape, I guess it was almost three months ago, it looks like a different team," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We're hoping to be a lot better than we were. You have to give them a lot of credit -- they played well and got after us that week -- but we feel like we've come a long way."
The Cardinals (4-9-1) ran a ton of four-wide formations during the first month of the season, but it wasn't particularly effective and put too much stress on rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. The biggest improvement has been the incorporation of a strong running game.
The Cardinals are coming off a 226-yard rushing performance against the Browns, with Kenyan Drake earning the FedEx Ground Player of the Week for his 137-yard, four-touchdown showing. According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals have the second-most efficient running game in the NFL this season.
"We're playing a better brand of football now," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We're running the football more effectively now. And against a team like Seattle, that's going to play their basic coverages against us – they don't do a lot of exotic things – you've got to be able to run the football to get them out of some of the coverage they're going to be playing. If we're able to run the football, we'll be able to throw the football. You can't get one-dimensional up there."
The Cardinals have been dangerous when remaining unpredictable before the snap. Murray was comfortable all game against Cleveland and dominated, finishing fourth in the NFL in Total QBR for Week 15.
After re-watching the tape of the Seahawks game, Murray feels much more confident about the current iteration of the offense.
"Going back and just looking at the beginning of the season, it's tough to watch just because we were, in my eyes, really bad offensively," Murray said. "We didn't really have an identity, and it was tough to just put a drive together. … I think we're better in every aspect from the start of the season until now."
Even if the offense plays better on Sunday, the Cardinals will still have their hands full. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 240 yards and a touchdown in the first matchup and is in the midst of an All-Pro season.
The Seahawks (11-3) have clinched a playoff berth but there is a lot on the line down the stretch, as they could finish anywhere from the top seed in the NFC to No. 6.
The Cardinals' defense is fresh off one of its finest performances of the year, holding Baker Mayfield in check and causing two turnovers, and hopes to build upon it.
"The game plan was simplified, everyone was on the same page, and we played together," inside linebacker Joe Walker said. "When we play together, it works better."
The Cardinals are winless against the vaunted NFC West with two chances remaining. Neither will be easy, as a road game against the Rams awaits in the season finale. First up is the Seahawks and their raucous crowd.
"Going up there is going to be a heck of a challenge," Kingsbury said. "It's an intense, hostile environment. They're playing for the first seed -- they are the first seed -- and we'll need our best game to compete. I know our guys are excited to get up there and embrace that challenge."
Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center