The Seattle Seahawks seemingly couldn’t ask for a better opponent to start the season against — an Arizona Cardinals team that picked the least unappealing of two questionable quarterbacks to start behind a tattered line that will be blocking for two running backs coming off knee injuries.
The Seattle defense, which already looks to be in midseason form, has to be licking its chops for the season opener Sunday.
Like the Seahawks, the Cardinals took a quarterback competition to the end of the preseason, but the choice was a lot less enthusiastic than Russell Wilson beating out Matt Flynn in Seattle. Coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to go with third-year player John Skelton over the team’s big 2011 trade acquisition, Kevin Kolb.
“It’s fair to say at this point going forward we feel like the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win right now is John Skelton,” Whisenhunt told reporters.
Skelton would be smart to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald as much as possible. The All-Pro receiver was the reason the Cardinals had a .500 season and the Seahawks finished 7-9 instead of 8-8 last season. His one-handed grab of Skelton’s pass in overtime of the season finale set up Arizona’s winning field goal.
Fitzgerald finished with a season-high nine catches for 149 yards in that game, despite playing the final quarter with a bruised lung, and Seattle coach Pete Carroll hailed Fitzgerald as “an incredible football player,” telling reporters, “He is as good as you can get in this game and he showed it. I just marvel at the things he does.”
But it’s hard for him to do those things all by himself. And, other than first-round receiver Michael Floyd and returning starter Early Doucet, he doesn’t seem to have much help right now.
Aside from the QB situation, the Cardinals are down to backup tackles after left tackle Levi Brown was lost for the season with a triceps injury and backup Jeremy Bridges went out with a thumb problem. They will have three new starters: left tackle D’Anthony Batiste, rookie right tackle Bobby Massie and free-agent right guard Adam Snyder (who has a bum elbow).
It seems like the perfect tuneup game for first-round pick defensive end Bruce Irvin and a Seattle pass rush that is trying to improve on a subpar 2011 season (just 33 sacks).
The Cardinals surely would love to run the ball to keep the pressure off Skelton, but Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both coming off knee injuries and going against a stout Seattle run defense.
It could be a long day for the Arizona offense, which figures to rely on a lot of help from the defense. Of course, that middling defensive unit ranked 18th overall last season and gave up 124 rushing yards a game, and the front office didn’t do much to improve it.
But they have some talented veteran players — linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, safety Adrian Wilson, cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Daryl Washington (who just received a contract extension) — and they are facing a rookie quarterback.
In fact, this is the third straight year the Cardinals will have opened against a rookie QB. They beat Carolina 28-21 in Cam Newton’s debut last season and escaped St. Louis with a 17-13 win in Sam Bradford’s first game in 2010.
Arizona defense coordinator Ray Horton’s pressure defense can cause trouble for young quarterbacks, and the Cardinals surely will try to confuse Wilson as much as they can.
The Seahawks split with the Cardinals last season, winning 13-10 in Seattle in September and then losing that final game Jan. 1 in Arizona, 23-20. That was the Cardinals’ seventh win in the final nine games, with four of the wins coming in overtime. It was a nice rebound from a 1-6 start to get them to 8-8.
With so many questions on offense once again, the Cardinals don’t seem prepared to do any better this season.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.