Six Points: Cardinals vs. Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks overcame a three-game deficit over the final six weeks to win the NFC West Division title in 2014 and hope to make another late-season charge starting with Sunday night's matchup against the visiting Arizona Cardinals.

Seattle bludgeoned the first-place Cardinals twice down the stretch by a combined 54-9 last season en route to its second straight Super Bowl appearance. Arizona holds a two-game lead atop the division this time around and, unlike last season, has a healthy Carson Palmer at quarterback entering the pivotal clash.

The Cardinals feature one of the league's most potent offenses, ranking second with an average of 32.9 points per game, while the Seahawks appear to have regained their swagger on defense in allowing only five field goals over their past two contests.

Here are three keys to the game for both the Cardinals and the Seahawks.

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1. Test the Legion of Boom

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has been shadowing the opposition's No. 1 wideout and will likely draw the assignment of covering Larry Fitzgerald, but the Cardinals still have plenty of weapons. John Brown has used the bye to heal his sore hamstrings and he showed his explosive ability with a 10-catch, 196-yard performance at Pittsburgh in Week 6. Michael Floyd, who struggled early after having surgery on three dislocated fingers, has a touchdown reception in each of his last three games.

2. Slow down Jimmy Graham

Seattle's tight ends torched the Cardinals in both meetings a year ago and now the Seahawks can roll out Graham, who has a team-high 38 catches and has been targeted 27 times over the last three games. The Cardinals may not have the reputation of the Seahawks' vaunted secondary, but they are tied for the league lead with 13 interceptions. Safety Rashad Johnson has four of those picks, matching his career high that he set last season.

3. Come hard with the blitz

The Cardinals are near the bottom of the pack with only 13 sacks in eight games, but it's important to note that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was taken down a league-high 31 times through the first seven games. Arizona is better equipped to apply pressure with the return of outside linebacker Alex Okafor, who had a team-high eight sacks last season but missed the past three games. Veteran Dwight Freeney could play a key role in obvious passing situations.


1. Crank up Beast Mode

Marshawn Lynch should be fresh due to the combination of the bye week and missing 2 1/2 games because of injuries, so it's time for the Seahawks to ride their workhorse running back. Seattle needs Lynch to produce more than in just the ground game, though. Third-down back Fred Jackson has done next to nothing since he was imported from Buffalo, so Seattle might consider a few well-timed screen passes to Lynch to slow a defense that is likely to come after Wilson.

2. Pressure Carson Palmer

Despite the success of Arizona's ground attack, it's not coach Bruce Arians' style to employ a conservative game plan. Seattle's defense has been at its best when ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril and linebacker Bruce Irvin are getting into the backfield, with the trio accounting for 14 1/2 of the team's 20 sacks. Palmer missed both matchups against the Seahawks last season due to injury, but he was intercepted four times in his last visit to Seattle in December 2013.

3. Get some production from the wide receivers

Yes, Graham is the centerpiece of the passing game but the tandem of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse has fallen off the radar following strong starts to the season. Baldwin had seven catches in each of his first two games but has managed a total of 17 receptions in the past six contests. Kearse has only seven catches over the past five games, so the season debut of second-year speedster Paul Richardson is coming at an opportune time for the Seahawks.