A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Seahawks game Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle:
**Start physical, stay physical
When Larry Fitzgerald talked about how much he loved playing in Seattle, he noted that a team has two options: To be the hammer, or to be the nail. There are multiple things the Cardinals have to do well to beat the Seahawks on the road, but Bruce Arians and his team understand the formula given that they have won their two of their last three trips. When the game starts, and the crowd is overwhelming and the Seahawks are their physical selves, you have to – metaphorically, of course – punch them in the mouth. Everyone will get a sense of how this game will go in the first half of the first quarter. If the Cardinals are ready, the teams will slug it out. If the Cards don't, they end up as Fitz's proverbial nail.
Spacing out David Johnson, and Smoke
Running back David Johnson might not reach 1,000 yards receiving this season, but considering he's the Cardinals' second-best receiver right now behind Fitz (and maybe the best?), the Cards have to have him produce in the pass game. One problem – the Seahawks will zone it up, and that makes it harder for Johnson to end up with those mismatches the Cardinals crave. Under the circumstances, Smokey Brown – who looked pretty good against the Saints – becomes an important piece.
No DangeRuss escapes from the pocket
The first time these teams played, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson wasn't Russell Wilson. Battling knee and ankle injuries, he obviously couldn't move very well. Those injuries have healed up. Wilson is clearly moving around just fine again, and that makes him dangerous again. The pass rush didn't do enough against the Saints. There will be opportunity against a less-than-excellent offensive line. The key will making sure Wilson is where he needs to be once a Cards' pass rusher beats his blocker.
Holding up, again, on the offensive line
Even in the best of circumstances it is difficult to play offensive line against the Seahawks. It's more difficult still doing it in Seattle. But trying to do it with backups, which is what the Cardinals will have Saturday, is not ideal. The Cardinals tweaked the offense last week to allow Carson Palmer quicker passes so the line didn't have to work as long. The Seahawks will be ready for it. The running game will be crucial, and the Cards have to find a way to make the passing game work even under the circumstances.
The grinches of CenturyLink
It's Christmas Eve, and what gift could be more appropriate for the Cardinals to give the Seahawks than an upset loss. These are rivals, after all, and the Cards have managed to find their way to winning in Seattle two of the past three years. It's not simple this time. The Cards are not healthy, especially up front where it really counts, and there isn't as much on the line for the Cardinals other than playing spoiler. That's OK, though. "We've got nothing to lose," Larry Fitzgerald said. "Why not go up there, lay it all on the line, and make it miserable for them on Christmas."