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Cardinals Ready To Take On Not-So-New And Improved Geno Smith

NFC West battle may hinge on best quarterback play Sunday

Cornerback Byron Murphy knocks away a pass intended for Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf during the Cardinals' win in Seattle last season.
Cornerback Byron Murphy knocks away a pass intended for Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf during the Cardinals' win in Seattle last season.

The Cardinals knew their schedule was littered with high-profile quarterbacks early in the season. Patrick Mahomes. Derek Carr. Matthew Stafford. Jalen Hurts.

And Geno Smith?

Yes, Geno Smith.

When the Cardinals (2-3) travel to Lumen Field for a divisional matchup Sunday with the Seahawks (2-3), they will face the NFL's 2022 biggest surprise.

"I've heard the numbers but watching him all week, he's done some special stuff," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Sometimes guys sit for a while, see the big picture, and learn from the past. He's done that.

"He's playing controlled, reading defenses, keeping plays alive. When you watch it, you can't say it's not real. He's playing his butt off. It's going to be a challenge."

The Cardinals, who have not played against a Seahawks quarterback not named Russell Wilson since 2011, thought with Wilson's trade to the Broncos Seattle might take time to find itself a steady signal-caller.

Instead they already had him. Smith, who had backed up Wilson the last few seasons, leads the league in passer rating (113.1) and completion percentage (75.2) through six games while tying for seventh in touchdowns with just two interceptions. His 1.3 INT percentage ranks 5th in the NFL among QBs with 100+ pass attempts.

For someone on his fourth team in nine seasons and spent most of his career as a backup, Smith has looked like a top-tier quarterback.

But the Cardinals' defense has been solid. Zach Allen has been excellent. J.J. Watt has been disruptive. The pass rush ranks top-five in ESPN's team pass rush win rate, despite the lack of total sacks.

With Joseph's thoughtful adjustments and Byron Murphy continued growth into the star the organization envisioned him to be, the secondary has slowed down three of the best wideouts in Raiders' Davante Adams, Rams' Cooper Kupp, and Eagles' A.J. Brown.

Overall, the defense ranks ninth in points allowed (18.7) and tied-sixth in touchdowns allowed (5). They have also held opponents to 20 points or fewer in the last three games.

"Arizona has a really good defense," Smith told Seattle reporters. "They're sound, present multiple looks, and can expect them to implement more things we haven't seen on tape. It will be a tough matchup; we have to ready for that challenge."

Linebacker Zaven Collins said the secondary will have their hands full with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, No.1 receivers that elevate the pass offense.

But for the Cardinals to even their record on Sunday, Collins acknowledged Smith as the priority.

"Our job is to contain him and keep him in the pocket," Collins said," settle him down because he's playing electric right now. He has a lot to do with how D.K. and Tyler are playing because he can throw the ball to them. He has crazy arm talent. We want to make him one dimensional."