Cards Mailbag: Seahawks edition

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
12:00
PM ET
Welcome to #CardsMailbag, a weekly installment that allows you to ask me questions about theArizona Cardinals throughout the week via Twitter @joshweinfuss. I'll answer questions every weekend during the season. Make sure to use the hashtag #CardsMailbag.

@joshweinfuss: It's always a possibility, especially with Bruce Arians' offensive ingenuity, but I don't see it happening. Now, I could see Arizona go with pass from one of the two -- likely Ted Ginn -- off a reverse, as they've done a handful of times this season, but I don't see them going to the Wildcat. And if they did, I would imagine it would be a direct snap to either Kerwynn Williams or Stepfan Taylor. But they'd likely just put Logan Thomas out there for a designed run. He's bigger than all four of the guys we mentioned.

@joshweinfuss: I think, like any player, he has a ceiling, but his is still pretty far away from being reached. You have to take into consideration that he's only been playing football at this level for two years and only been on the active roster this season. Before a hard ceiling can be placed on him, I think we need to give Darren Fells two or three more years, basically the equivalent of going through college, before we can start making judgments on his future. He's improved as a blocker, but now he just has to come around as a receiver and he can be the tight end package that teams drool over.

@joshweinfuss: We'll see what kinds of boundaries Bruce Arians' greatness has this week. If Arizona wins and Ryan Lindley has a solid game, especially on deep passes, then it will be safe to say the bounds are few and far between. As for Jay Cutler, not sure anybody can help him. But if there was one coach who could, it would be Arians but, I think, only under the circumstance of: If Cutler doesn't buy in to what Arians is selling, then he doesn't stick around. Still, as of now, I don't see Arizona going after Cutler this offseason.

@joshweinfuss: I think so. From talking to teammates who played with him in 2012, they've seen a smarter more mature Ryan Lindley. But that doesn't mean it translates onto the field. His arm is as strong as it was coming out of college, but the one area I'm most interested in seeing is if he can make the long throws Arians likes. For his career, Lindley is 1 for 22 on passes 20 yards or longer. That doesn't jibe with Arians' system.

@joshweinfuss: Arizona's combined touchdown-to-interception ratio between Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Lindley and Thomas at home is 12-to-3, and on the road is 7-to-5. As for turnover ratio, Arizona is plus-7 at home and plus-5 on the road.

@joshweinfuss: In the words of Kevin Durant, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is the real MVP. It's tough to argue against him because of what he's been able to do with so much turnover on his side of the ball. At first the conversation was about how free agency and suspensions decimated the defense, but nobody could anticipate the toll that injuries would have, yet Arizona's defense has continued to carry this team as the quarterback has been a turnstile of Palmer, Stanton, Lindley and Thomas. What Arians has done in terms of keeping this team focused can't be overlooked. He got them to buy in to the "next man up" mantra because he proved it to be more than coachspeak. It was something that the Cardinals were seeing play out in real time and it was hard to argue against Arians. But Bowles has been a major reason why Arizona is 11-3.

How Cardinals can beat Seahawks

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Earlier Friday, I wrote about why I predicted the Arizona Cardinals to lose Sunday night to the Seattle Seahawks.

I had plenty of reasons to choose from, and the argument was easy to qualify.

However, I also believe there's a fair and strong argument to make for a Cardinals victory, which would secure them the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, even with a third-string quarterback. It centers on Arizona's rushing game.

The Cardinals have rushed for 284 yards (141 against the Kansas City Chiefs, 143 against the St. Louis Rams) in their last two games, which equals 24 percent of their run total this season. Arizona has committed to the run the last two weeks without Andre Ellington, who was placed on injured reserve Dec. 8 with a slew of injuries.

The Seahawks have struggled when teams can run the ball on them.

They've allowed at least 101 yards in each of their four losses this season (101 to San Diego, 162 to Dallas, 102 to St. Louis and 190 to Kansas City). Even when they've won and given up 100 yards rushing, it hasn't been easy for Seattle. The Seahawks allowed 114 yards to Carolina in a 13-9 win in Week 8 and 140 to San Francisco last week in a 17-7 win.

The more Arizona can run Sunday night, the more the Cardinals can shorten the game, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

Head coach Bruce Arians said Arizona needs to stick with its game plan, regardless of how the run game plays out.

"The big thing is if you have negative runs, which we've stayed away from those, is not get away from it," Arians said.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Arizona has 38 negative runs this season, and five came in the last two games.

"You always want positive yardage," running back Kerwynn Williams said. "That's the big thing I look for. I always want to be going forward. I never want to get tackled behind the line of scrimmage. And fortunately I've been able to do that these last few weeks."

He's been tackled for a loss just once this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Williams' 5.2 yards per carry average is the second-highest in the NFL among the nine backs who are averaging at least 17 carries per game the last two weeks.

"I think as an offensive lineman or a tight end, whoever's blocking, and you see that guy coming out of the other side, it gives you energy to keep blocking," Goodwin said. "So hopefully we keep that momentum. It's been pretty hot the last two weeks."

Other reasons I believe Arizona could beat Seattle:
  • The Cardinals are 7-0 at home this season, one of four undefeated teams at home, and play significantly better than on the road, averaging 22.4 points compared to 18.6. Their point margin at home is plus-52. On the road it's minus-9. Seattle has its own struggles away from home in NFC West games the last three seasons, going 3-5 but it's averaging 18.1 points per game while giving up 16.6.
  • The Cardinals are 5-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer this season. They have the best record in the league under those circumstances and are tied for most wins. "We never panic," Goodwin said. "And that's been the biggest thing all year. No matter if we're down by 10 in Dallas ... we never panic. We just stay the course. Coach [Arians] says it every week. It's a 60-minute game so that's what we play."
  • Seattle's Russell Wilson has a 42.4 QBR against the Cardinals' blitz in his career and 67.7 aginst everybody else's pressure. He's been blitzed on at least half of his dropbacks in every game he's faced the Cardinals. In last season's loss to Arizona, he posted a career-low 11.5 QBR. Yet when he was blitzed on 47 percent of his dropbacks in a Week 12 win over Arizona, Wilson was 5-for-6 passing for 70 yards and a touchdown.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sometimes what looks like a coincidence isn't a coincidence at all.

Case in point: As tight end Darren Fells' snaps have increased the last two games, so have the Arizona Cardinals' rushing yards.

Fells
Before Week 14, Fells played a combined 52 snaps this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and Arizona averaged 69 rushing yards per game. When he played 41 snaps in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14, Arizona ran for 141 yards. A few days later in St. Louis, Fells played 44 snaps and the Cardinals ran for 143.

"I think there's a correlation, yeah, between him blocking the edge with his big body and helping us maintain the line of scrimmage and not have it come back at us," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

There were other factors involved in the Cardinals having their two best rushing games of the season, like Arizona committing more to the run game, a new rotation in the backfield of Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor in place of the injured Andre Ellington, and changes on the offensive line with Jonathan Cooper getting the start as the guards were shuffled with Paul Fanaika out.

Sometimes, it's as simple as having just the right combination. While Fells' contributions may fall anywhere on that list, it's tough to ignore the impact of the 6-foot-7, 281-pound former power forward.

"Obvioulsy, Rob [Housler] and John [Carlson] are decent blockers but basically when you got a [former] basketball [player]/tight end [and] offensive lineman in there at tight end, it's a good deal," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "He can catch. He can protect and also he can block, but just having that big frame in there versus those defensive ends is huge, especially when you're playing a 4-3 team like this one."

With him controlling the edges, Arizona has been able to run better inside.

In weeks 1-13, including all 52 of Fells' snaps, Arizona averaged 2.7 yards per carry in between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

With Fells on the field in Weeks 14 and 15, Arizona has averaged 4.48 yards per carry inside.

"As big as he is -- he' 6-7, 280 pounds -- it's like a 6-7, 330-pound offensive tackle at times," tight ends coach Rick Christophel said. "The edge becomes longer. He's not a bad athlete, which helps, and he keeps learning every week."

Fells' road to the NFL took an international detour.

He never played college football, trading in scholarship offers from UCLA, Arizona State and Washington, among others, to play basketball at UC-Irvine. From California, his career took him to Belgium, Finland, Mexico and Argentina. After tiring of the finesse style of European basketball, Fells yearned for the weight room and more -- any -- physical contact.

He landed on the Cardinals practice squad last October as a project for Christophel but was too raw to get called up to the active roster. He was learning how to become an NFL tight end without having played since high school. After last season, Fells began making noticeable progress.

"I think he grew a lot from OTAs through training camp," Christophel said. "What I mean by that, he started to understand his role in the offense and what he had to do. With a basketball player's background, a lot of times those guys envision [themselves] sometimes as more as pass catchers but he's taught himself to be a better blocker."

Fells can tell his footwork and hand placement has improved since training camp, but he's learned the most important lesson about blocking for the run: hit before you get hit. Even though right tackle Bobby Massie said he doesn't usually know when Fells is on the field, he's seen the tight end use his size to move defenders out of holes, creating space for Williams and Taylor.

The work Christophel has put in with Fells is finally paying off and Arizona's running game is the biggest benefactor.

"He's a huge body out there at tight end so that's the thing that helps," Massie said. "He's not just a basketball player anymore. He can play football, too. I think that's the thing that clicked in his mind. He's a football player now."
TEMPE, Ariz. – Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton won’t start Sunday night against Seattle but might be available to come off the bench.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians ruled Stanton out as Arizona’s starter, giving Ryan Lindley his first start since 2012. Stanton, who was officially ruled doubtful for the game, will be a game-time decision to determine if he can be Lindley’s backup, Arians said. Arians said he’ll determine Stanton's status at University of Phoenix Stadium. According to the NFL, doubtful means there's at least a 75 percent a player won't play.

Stanton
Stanton did not practice Friday because of limited snaps, Arians said, and was limited in Thursday’s practice.

“He’s made pretty decent progress,” Arians said.

Stanton left Arizona’s 12-6 win over St. Louis on Dec. 11 with a right knee injury and did not return. On Friday, Stanton appeared to have a slight limp and was walking slowly during the open portion of Arizona’s practice.
  • Left guard Jonathan Cooper was also ruled out of Sunday night's game by Arians. Cooper suffered wrist injury against the Rams and has been sporting a cast this week. Ted Larsen will be re-inserted in the starting lineup at left guard. "[His] wrist is not responding with the cast so we’ll hold him off until next week and see how much we can get out of him next week," Arians said.
  • Wide receiver Jaron Brown was the only Cardinals player listed as questionable. Everyone else was probable.
  • Seattle T Russell Okung was ruled out and C Max Unger was listed as doubtful for Sunday night.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Third-string quarterback. Offense stuck in neutral. Defending Super Bowl champs coming to town.

It was enough for ESPN’s 13-member panel of NFL experts to lose faith in the Arizona Cardinals. All but one predicted the Cardinals won’t survive against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Arizona might be coming off two wins in five days, is playing at home where the Cardinals haven’t lost this season, with a defense that gets stronger by the quarter, but it hasn’t been enough to sway belief.

The only expert who picked the Cardinals was Chris Mortensen.

Here’s a look at how the experts predicted this weekend’s game (overall records this season when picking Cardinals games in parentheses):

Eric Allen (9-5): Seahawks
Mike Golic (9-5): Seahawks
Merril Hoge (10-4): Seahawks
Ron Jaworski (8-6): Seahawks
KC Joyner (9-5): Seahawks
Chris Mortensen (9-5): Cardinals
Adam Schefter (7-7): Seahawks
Mark Schlereth (7-7): Seahawks
Seth Wickersham (6-8): Seahawks
Tom Jackson (9-5): Seahawks
Keyshawn Johnson (9-5): Seahawks
Mike Ditka (9-5): Seahawks
Cris Carter (11-3): Seahawks
Even though the Arizona Cardinals are 7-0 at home and have a plus-52 point differential at University of Phoenix Stadium, touchdowns have been tough to come by for Arizona. The Cardinals have scored just two in the past four games and are facing the best defense in the NFL over the past four games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seattle has allowed a league-low 27 points in its past four games. During that stretch, which started with Arizona traveling to Seattle in Week 12, the Cardinals have averaged just 12.5 points per game. And with Ryan Lindley at quarterback, touchdowns might be tougher to come by for the Cardinals. He has an NFL record 181 attempts without a touchdown pass, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Dating to 2012, Lindley’s rookie season, he has completed just 51.4 percent of his passes, the worst rate among the 60 quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts. His QBR is a league low 9.1 over that span. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has said he will let Lindley "sling it," but that might not be the best idea. Lindley is 1-for-22 with three interceptions on passes of 20 or more yards in his career. The Cardinals’ only hope is to run the ball, but with how inefficient their offense has been recently, they will be settling for more field goals, not touchdowns.

Prediction: Seahawks 17, Cardinals 13
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals assistant coach Tom Pratt is a patient man.

He’s been waiting, along with the rest of the coaching staff, for the Frostee Rucker they thought they were signing as a free agent in 2013 to surface. His patience has paid off the past two games.

Rucker, a 31-year-old defensive end, had seven tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Pratt, the Cardinals' 79-year-old pass rush specialty coach, has seen it coming. He saw Rucker’s good hands and quick feet. He saw the burst off the line of scrimmage. He saw how Rucker finished plays.

He saw glimpses, a few plays here, a few plays there. That’s why Pratt continued to wait.

[+] EnlargeFrostee Rucker
AP Photo/Ralph FresoHindered by injuries much of the season, Frostee Rucker has broken out with seven tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble over the past two games.
Last season, it was a matter of opportunity. As a backup behind Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, Rucker played the fewest snaps of his nine-year career in a season in which he played in all 16 games.

This season, injuries have dogged Rucker. A strained left calf suffered during warm-ups for against San Diego Chargers limited Rucker to three snaps in Week 1 and forced him out of the Week 2 game vs. the New York Giants. He’s also been dealing with a toe issue for the last two seasons, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.

“He’s just been one of those guys that we’ve just been kind of waiting for,” Pratt said. “And now it seems like he’s just blossomed here, particularly in the last two weeks.

“He’s had two really good games.”

That’s what Rucker is capable of when healthy. He said a career-high five sacks is a product of opportunity. But it’s more a result of him being as close to 100 percent as he’s been all year.

“That does help being able to run full speed,” Rucker said. “I almost felt like the beginning of the year when I was playing, I was a liability because I couldn’t give it my all and I was almost in the way because I couldn’t run and I couldn’t do the things I know I’m capable of doing.

“But they stuck with me and they let me play and still provide leadership and be in that group, and they let me get through it. And I’m able to play full speed.”

Rucker’s calf injury prevented him from planting and cutting. He couldn’t take on a block. He sees the good fortune of not being placed on injured reserve/designated to return.

The last three months have been tough on Rucker, who found himself in the starting lineup for the first time since 2012, after Darnell Dockett tore his ACL in training camp. His injuries were limiting and his frustration grew, but he assimilated to the starting defensive line by doing what he does best.

“Frostee has always been kind of the 'dirty' player for us,” Bowles said. “Calais [Campbell] and [Darnell] Dockett and Dan [Williams] get all the credit but Frostee does a lot of things in there.

“He does all the right things. He's not a flashy player, but he’s tough. He makes plays and he’s been coming up with some sacks lately. I’m happy for him.”

But what’s gotten into Rucker these last two weeks?

General manager Steve Keim told Rucker he must have found the Fountain of Youth. His teammates on the defensive line think it’s how the football pendulum swings. Sacks, Campbell said, come in bunches, and Rucker has been in the right place at the right time.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Rucker been "an ultimate pro" playing "with pain, he plays relentless, he always does the right thing with the right technique, and he’s so trustworthy."

But Pratt doesn’t think the proverbial light went off for Rucker.

“We knew it was there,” he said. “It was just a question of being able to express himself and that seems to be what he’s going on right now.”

Re-signed to a two-year deal in March, in part because his voice in the locker room carried significant weight with the younger players, Rucker entered the season as a leader one and off the field.

But while he’s been teaching the younger Cardinals, for the first times in Rucker’s career, he's also getting an education beyond what he experienced in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“The school of football has been huge,” Rucker said. “The education has been huge. Teaching people why they’re calling the plays on downs and distances and different things. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of coaches that were very detailed like that, but I talked to a lot of people around the league and they were never coached like that to understand why they’re calling the call.

“At this stage of my career, I need more mental. I want the knowledge of the game and why they’re calling it and that’s what they’re feeding me and it’s been huge.”
video When: 8:30 p.m. ET, Sunday. Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. TV: NBC.

If there's a game to get hyped about this week, it's Sunday night in Arizona.

The NFC West is on the line.

The No. 1 seed in the NFC is at stake.

And the Arizona Cardinals' chance of playing at home through the Super Bowl is at risk.

The de facto NFC West championship game has implications beyond the division, but the Cardinals will play their third-string quarterback, Ryan Lindley, against a defense that’s getting better by the week. The Seattle Seahawks have allowed 27 points in their past four games. By comparison, the Cardinals have scored two touchdowns during that span.

ESPN NFL Nation reporters Josh Weinfuss, who covers the Cardinals, and Terry Blount, who covers the Seahawks, discuss this week’s Sunday night game.

Blount: A few weeks ago, I asked you if the Cardinals could win in the playoffs with Drew Stanton as the quarterback. Things have gotten a little tougher since then. So the question now is: Can they win in the playoffs with a third-string quarterback?

Weinfuss: I really don’t think so. Arizona had a hard enough time scoring with Stanton -- two touchdowns in its past four games -- so I don’t see that changing with Ryan Lindley under center. Bruce Arians says the Cardinals won’t tone the offense down for Lindley but I think they need to, especially long passes. With all that being said, after Lindley came in for Stanton on Thursday night in St. Louis, the Cardinals’ defense held tough and didn’t allow the Rams to score a touchdown. If the Cards do get a win in the postseason, it’ll be because of the defense, not because of their offense.

The Seahawks have won seven of their past eight and seem to be peaking at the right time. How much can that momentum carry them through such a big game like this one?

Blount: Josh, let me put it this way: At no time last year during the Super Bowl run did I see the team on such a high as it is now. It has been an amazing roll after starting out 3-3 and weathering all the fallout from the surprise of the Percy Harvin trade. But all they talk about now is how they are playing for each other and trusting each other. They’ve sort of taken an us-against-the-world attitude that has awakened that special emotional connection that took them all the way last season.

Bruce Arians has done a remarkable job this season, leading Arizona to an 11-3 record despite all the injuries the team has suffered. Is he the NFL Coach of the Year no matter what happens the rest of the way?

Weinfuss: Without. A. Doubt. Just look at what he has done: Taken a team that has lost eight players to injured reserve (including five starters and two significant backups) and had 18 players injured overall (12 starters), who have missed a combined 90 games, and still coach them to an 11-3 record, first place in the NFC West and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with two games left. It’s the type of stuff that Disney movies are made out of. And after all that, the Cardinals are still in the playoffs. It’s downright impressive, worthy of coach of the year.

With Arizona starting Lindley, the game plan won’t be cut and dry, especially with a mastermind like Bruce Arians having 10 days to prepare for the Seahawks. We know they’re very good against the run and the pass, but where is Seattle’s liability?

Blount: I honestly don’t think they have one on defense. Arizona might be able to exploit second-year cornerback Tharold Simon if they line up Larry Fitzgerald against him when Seattle is in the nickel, but Simon is a really talented kid who gets better every week and is making fewer mistakes. The best chance for the Cardinals offense is to show the Seahawks something they haven’t seen from them in the past. And maybe that’s where Logan Thomas can help on a few offensive plays as the more athletic quarterback. More than likely, Arizona will need to get an edge with a big play on special teams or a defensive score, because Seattle's defense is a juggernaut right now.

Josh, the Cardinals enter this game with the better record and are playing at home, where they are 7-0 this season. But it seems few people believe they have much of a chance against the surging Seahawks. What’s your sense of how the players feel? Is it a bit of a rallying point for them or do they seem to have doubts creeping in with the QB situation?

Weinfuss: If they have any doubts, they’re surely not saying anything about them in public. But after talking to a few players this week, I know this team is tired of being disrespected nationally -- especially in Vegas. And that starts at the top. After Thursday night’s win over St. Louis, Arians let off a little steam by saying: “I love it when nobody says you’re going to have a chance to win. I mean there’s an 11-3 team and a team that’s always 8-8. You figure it out.” You can sense Arians is getting tired of the lack of respect, but I think that goes away to a point with a win Sunday night.

Seattle is the No. 1 run team in the NFL and the Cardinals have a penchant for developing schemes to slow down the league’s top runners. At the same time, we’ve seen over the past two years how the Cardinals’ defense can slow down Russell Wilson with blitzes and pressure. How does Seattle counter Arizona’s defensive pressure with their running game Sunday night?

Blount: They have to do what they did in the second half last weekend against the 49ers, and that’s pound the ball inside with Marshawn Lynch and not give up on it if Arizona makes a few big stops. They also need to get a few throws to Lynch on screens or out in the flat. One of Seattle’s best plays is Wilson running to the right, then looking back to the left and throwing it to Lynch slipping out of the backfield. But they also have to keep Arizona's defense honest by chucking it deep a few times when the Cardinals blitz, which they did against the 49ers. The bottom line is it's mano a mano, with Seattle giving it to the Beast and saying, “Prove you can stop him.”

video
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If he gets a chance to make a move and get by Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner on Sunday night, Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams knows exactly what he’s going to say.

It’s not because he’s a master trash talker. Actually, Williams doesn’t even need to get creative.

He’ll dust off his old college smack talk just for Wagner, his teammate at Utah State from 2009-2011.

Williams
“When we used to go at it at practice, he’d always yell, ‘Let’s go,’” Williams said. “And then on the flip side, whenever I used to break (a play on him) I used to say, ‘All day.’”

“I think that’ll probably be the exchange between both of us for old time’s sake.”

Both Williams and Wagner are looking forward to facing each other just like they did in three years of practices, but this time more is at stake. The two became friendly as teammates but got close during drives to and from the airport, especially during one Thanksgiving as a blizzard chased them from behind.

They outran the snow, which eventually caught up to them at the airport, but during the ride they talked about life and built a connection beyond teammates that’s continued as both made NFL rosters -- although it took Williams longer to find a steady job than Wagner.

Williams has been active for four games in this career -- three this season with the Cardinals and one last season as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts. But it’s his last two games, in which he ran for 175 yards, that have made people learn his name.

Wagner, a Super Bowl champion, knew how good Williams was immediately.

“My first impression of Kerwynn, I just remember he came out of the backfield and he showed his speed and then he was able to stop on a dime,” Wagner said. “I was really impressed with how he ran the ball, how hard he ran the ball and how well he was able to see holes and stuff like that.”

Wagner can take some credit for helping Williams develop into the running back that’s rushed for the seventh-most yards in the league in the last two games.

“I feel like he made me a better player going against him every day in college,” Williams said. “I’m proud of what he’s accomplished. It didn’t surprise any of us that know him.”

Wagner said the same thing about Williams.

If Williams gets Wagner one-on-one at any point Sunday night, the memories will come flooding back. And in an instant, Williams will go through his internal catalogue, trying to remember which move Wagner’s most susceptible to.

None might work, however, because it’s been a while since the two squared off, and both have changed as players, Williams said.

But as much as they’ve changed, some things stayed the same three years later.

“I’m looking forward to hitting him again,” Wagner said.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton was upgraded to limited Thursday, a day after not practicing.

Stanton (knee) spent the open portion of practice on a bike and going through exercises with a trainer.

Stanton
Wide receiver Jaron Brown (toe) was also upgraded to limited. Left guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist) and veteran linebacker Larry Foote (knee) did not practice.

Right guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) fully practiced for the first time since before the Atlanta game in Week 13.

“I don’t see anything that’s lingering, unless I missed something,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said of Fanaika. “He looks pretty good. He’s excited to be back out there.”

Fitzgerald (knee) was also upgraded to full.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee), defensive end Calais Campbell (hip), safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) and running back Kerwynn Williams (knee) were all limited.

“I feel good,” Williams said.

NFL Cold Hard Facts

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
7:18
PM ET


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Jeff Saturday breaks down how the Cardinals can beat the Seahawks, how the Cowboys can compensate for an injured DeMarco Murray and how the Broncos can get past the Bengals.
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The NFL Live crew make their picks for Seattle at Arizona.
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ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Seattle at Arizona.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Arizona Cardinals don’t know what it’s like to play the Seattle Seahawks without linebacker Bobby Wagner this season.

But they wish they did.

Wagner
Since the middle linebacker returned from a toe injury against Arizona in Week 12, the Seahawks’ defense has been the best in football, allowing a league-best 6.8 points and 188 yards per game in its last four games. During that stretch, Arizona has scored 12.5 points per game (31st in the NFL) and gained 293.3 yards per game (27th).

While the Seahawks benefited from getting safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Byron Maxwell back from injuries while Wagner was gone, it was Wagner’s return that was the catalysts for the defense’s recent tear.

“I think that’s part of it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I think Bobby’s really helped us. I just think it’s kind of the way the season’s gone. Sometimes you find a connection that makes sense, and I think Bobby’s been in the middle of it for a long time.

“It was great to get him back.”

It was needed, too.

After a 3-2 start, the Seahawks went 3-2 without Wagner. Heading into Week 12, at 6-4, the Seahawks were teetering on sliding out of the playoff race. Since Wagner's return, however, they’ve won their last four and, with a win Sunday, can clinch the NFC West and are in play for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Seattle struggled to contain the run and get to quarterbacks without Wagner:
  • When he was out, the Seahawks gave up 2.2 touchdowns per game, compared to 1.5 when he’s played this season.
  • Quarterbacks completed 65.6 percent of their passes without Wagner on the field and 61.9 percent when he’s played.
  • The Seahawks have held offenses to 3.24 yards per rush with Wagner, better than the 4.04 yards per rush they gave up without Wagner.
  • With Wagner, Seattle has averaged 2.44 sacks per game. Without him, that dropped to 1.4.

Wagner, who has 35 tackles and one sack in his last four games, said Seattle’s defensive resurgence was simply a matter of getting healthy.

“There were a lot of guys who were playing out of position because of our injuries and stuff like that, so getting everybody back to where they’re comfortable, back to what they’ve been practicing all offseason, and just getting our chemistry and stuff back [has been the difference].”

Confidence also has been a factor, Wagner said, and it’s been growing weekly since the Seahawks beat Arizona 19-3 on Nov. 23.

Seattle has allowed a league-low 27 points in its last four games – better than any four-game stretch the Seahawks had last season. The best four-game stretch was allowing 43 points in Weeks 13-16 in 2013.

“We’ve kind of recaptured the intensity that it takes to play at a really high level,” Carroll said. “We saw glimpses of it early in the year, and we had games where we played really well, and we had games where we didn’t play really well.

“We just hadn’t found consistency yet. It seems like in the last month or so, we’ve done a little bit better, and we’re hoping to put one more game along those same kind of lines, and see if we can get ourselves a win at [their] place.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Leave it to Bruce Arians to throw a wrinkle in an opposing defense’s game plan simply by adding a wrinkle to his offense.

All Arians had to do to force Seattle to scramble a bit before Sunday night's kickoff was announce that his backup quarterback may get a few snaps.

Arians' announcement Monday that Ryan Lindley would start in place of Drew Stanton against the Seattle Seahawks gave Seattle’s Pete Carroll and his staff the go-ahead to start preparing for the third-year quarterback. Then Arians said that rookie quarterback Logan Thomas may be used throughout the game, as well, with his own package of plays.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesQB Logan Thomas brings a different set of skills to the table than starter Ryan Lindley does.
“I think Bruce did a really good job of letting that out because he made us have to go ahead and think about all the stuff (Thomas) could do, as well,” Carroll said on a conference call with the Arizona media.

Carroll said the Seahawks haven’t spent more time this week preparing for Thomas.

“It’s just regular stuff,” Carroll said. “There’s not a quantity amount here. We just work at figuring it out. They can’t both play at the same time and they can’t both be out there, so we just defend the guy that’s on the field.”

Technically, both Lindley and Thomas could be on the field at the same time.

“Not playing quarterback,” Carroll responded.

But the difference between the two is noticeable and distinct, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. In no great discovery, Wagner labeled Lindley as a passer and Thomas as a "run threat." He said the Seahawks won't focus on who the quarterback is, instead they just plan to chase the ball. But Wagner added that Seattle will prepare for different formations and plays that each quarterback may run.

Carroll is more than marginally familiar with Thomas, the Cardinals’ fourth-round draft pick in May. Carroll’s son, Brennan, has been an assistant coach at the University of Miami for the last four years so the elder Carroll has seen his share of ACC football, including watching Thomas when he played at Virginia Tech.

“I thought he was a really terrific competitor, very versatile, huge arm and a tremendous looking athlete who could run with the ball,” Carroll said. “We’re going to try to prepare for all of the things that he could possibly do.”

Thomas has played just once this season, in Week 5 in place of Stanton, who left the game with a concussion. He was 1-for-8 passing in about a quarter-and-a-half.

Taking a smaller playbook into Sunday night’s game should help Thomas if he gets on the field again. But in 11 weeks, Thomas said he’s grown as a quarterback.

“I think just overall knowledge of how things are going and picking up the little things, the little nuances within our offense,” Thomas said. “Little by little getting better and better.”

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