Safety Rashad Johnson makes an interception against the Lions last weekend.
The Cardinals and their excellent secondary will travel up to Seattle this weekend, and comparisons to the 'Legion of Boom' will naturally follow.
The Seahawks' group – headlined by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas – has cemented itself as the most well-known and arguably the best secondary in the NFL. It shut down Peyton Manning in last year's easy Super Bowl win, and Seattle has allowed the third-fewest passing yards per game (215.3) this season.
The Cardinals are without a catchy nickname, but their play this season has also been stellar. While the opposing passing yardage is
high, their 12 combined interceptions are among the league's best, and the ability to play one-on-one in coverage gives defensive coordinator Todd Bowles the freedom to blitz often and stack the box against the run.
"It's a really good group," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You can see that they benefit from the pressure, and they play very aggressive coverage to match up with that, so it's a really good style. I think they are as good as you can get."
While it can be debated which secondary is more talented, safety Tyrann Mathieu said there's no need to compare. The Cardinals have plenty of bragging rights on the line within their own unit.
"I don't think it has too much to do with what those guys are doing in Seattle, or with any other DB group that's doing pretty well this year," Mathieu said. "I think it's more about us competing with each other, getting better within our own defense. We're just trying to be the best DB in our group because I think it's enough competition in our room. We don't have to go outside looking for it."
There is a tight race happening among the Cardinals' defensive backs, one which gets them more animated than any questions about Seattle's group. Right now, Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson lead the team with three interceptions apiece, while Patrick Peterson has two and Mathieu one.
When the regular season wraps up, everyone wants the title of interception king.
"We talk about it each week – who's going to get what?" Powers said. "How many I'm going to get or how many Cro's going to get.
It's definitely a competition, and that's when it makes it really fun, when guys are out there competing for the ball within ourselves."
"With all the great talent we have at this position, you definitely want to be in first so you have some bragging rights over the offseason," Peterson said. "Pull those guys' legs a little bit."
Powers is still smarting over his missed opportunity from last week. The nickel cornerback had a chance to take sole possession of the team lead with four interceptions when he read Lions quarterback Matt Stafford's eyes and jumped a route, but the would-be pick slipped through his hands.
"Matt threw it about 100 miles per hour, but I've got to catch that one because Pat, Cro and Rashad, all those guys, are on my heels," Powers said.
The secondary's ability to get its hands on passes has helped the Cardinals defense allow the third-fewest points per game despite sitting in the middle of the pack in total defense. They've also been dangerous after coming down with the ball, as Johnson's interception return for a touchdown wrapped up the win over the Redskins, and Peterson's did the same against the Rams.
Lately, the group has taken it up a notch. For most of the season the Cardinals were among the worst teams in the league in passing yards allowed, excelling because of a stout run defense and the turnovers.
Over the past three games, they've given up just 183, 216 and 183 passing yards in wins over the Cowboys, Rams and Lions. Cromartie, Johnson, Powers and Tony Jefferson have been consistent all year, and the return to health of Peterson and Mathieu has kicked the secondary into a higher gear. They are versatile too -- Cromartie was being used to rush the passer some against St. Louis, and Powers got his first career sack last week against Detroit on a blitz.
"I thought that's who we were going to be coming into this season when you just looked at the list of guys we had – guys that are smart, guys that can make plays on the ball," Johnson said. "We're finally reaching that potential and playing at a very, very high level."
The Seahawks picked off Carson Palmer four times in the Cardinals' 17-10 upset win last year, but have only six interceptions in 2014. With backup quarterback Drew Stanton under center, Sherman and Co. will unquestionably look to wreak more havoc.
The Cardinals' secondary hopes to do the same, but will be paying less attention to the Legion of Boom and more to the scoreboard.
"Those guys have something good going on over there in their secondary, but we're not comparing ourselves to those guys," Peterson said. "We just want to go out there and do what we need to do to help our team win ballgames. At the end of the day, we do want to play better than those guys, (but) when it all comes down to it, as long as we get the 'W' and play well, that's all that matters."
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