The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle:
An Offense In A Rhythm, In A Place That Can Shatter It
Kliff Kingsbury's offense was much better last week. It didn't hurt knowing you can run the ball at will against a porous defense, but the key to it all – as Kingsbury and players noted – was avoiding negative plays. Sacks. Rushes for loss. Penalties. Prior to the final kneeldown, the Cardinals had just three negative plays against the Browns – for losses of 1, 1 and 3 yards – and one offensive penalty. The Cardinals must play in a venue Sunday conducive to forcing such things. Amazingly, over the years the Cardinals have actually done a very nice job of avoiding too many false start penalties given the potential noise issues. But they do have a rookie quarterback, it will be a cold game, and the Seahawks are battling to keep the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed. The Cards need to find a way to keep moving forward, even if it is just a couple yards at a time, and never backward. They have proven it can be a disaster otherwise.
The Quarterbacks Who Can Make Something Out Of Nothing
Since 2012, the Cardinals have gotten an up-close-and-personal look at a quarterback who can take a play in shambles and break your heart. Russell Wilson has done that many times, and not just to the Cards. It's fascinating now that the Cardinals may just have that guy themselves, and if he can find a way to punish the Seahawks defense in similar fashion. It's been easy to make the comparisons between Wilson and Murray because of stature. But the way the Cardinals and Murray need to find the parallels is in the consistent playmaking when hope looks lost on a particular snap. Murray has that kind of potential. But Wilson has made it an artform, and the Cardinals' ability to mitigate it Sunday is crucial.
When September Turns December
The Cardinals last played the Seahawks in September, a lifetime ago for both teams. At the time, it was unlikely the Seahawks would have been considered the frontrunners for the top seed in the NFC, which they are now heading into the last two games. The Cardinals wouldn't have been considered much either, winless after that Seahawks game to drop to 0-3-1 and filled with questions about what this offense could accomplish. But while the defeat was 17 points, the statistics on the field were all but even, skewed by Murray's one interception – returned for a touchdown by Jadeveon Clowney – and two missed Zane Gonzalez field goals. Now, the Cardinals' offense is in a better place. The Seahawks' defense is beat up, and while there is a lot to play for, this is an improved Murray they will see the second time around. Which could point to yet another interesting trip to Seattle for a Cardinals' team that has made things interesting there consistently in recent years.