It is Week 18 and the Arizona Cardinals have corrected last year’s wrongs and their playoff aspirations no longer hinge on the final regular-season game. The Cardinals have already clinched a playoff berth, while the Seattle Seahawks are staring down the end of their most successful era in pro football. Against the Seahawks, who will finish in last place in the NFC West, the Cardinals must make choices regarding continuity and experimentation in their final test before their first playoff appearance since 2015.
This Seahawks team is not the same as those that have run the NFC West for the last decade. For a banged-up Cardinals squad, this could be a chance to rest some players and try some different stuff. However, this is a Cardinals team that is striving for some consistency and trying to get right before the playoffs start, after losing three of their last six games. Arizona would love to have some momentum going into the postseason, but they need to protect themselves from injuries as well. How to approach the Seahawks clash in Week 18 is the most difficult conundrum facing Kliff Kingsbury, but the Cardinals must make choices to preserve both their form and health going forward.
Arizona Cardinals Have Choices To Make Against Seattle Seahawks in Week 18
Continuity Is Vital for Cardinals Offense
There is a reason some NFL teams tend not to sit their starters in otherwise-inconsequential games. Beyond respect, it is a simple matter of continuity; teams want to keep their best players hot and rolling. This is especially true for Arizona’s offense. The group put up some poor performances in December as Kyler Murray worked his way back from injury. Fortunately, back at AT&T Stadium, the Cardinals got the ‘Texas football legend’ edition of Kyler Murray back. He helped Arizona beat the Dallas Cowboys with both his arms and his legs, and the offense looked solid against the NFL’s most statistically efficient defense.
The group has recovered some semblance of what made them the most potent unit in football. It is integral to the success of this team that this productivity is retained into the postseason. Keeping it rolling against a Bobby Wagner-less Seattle defense might be a good opportunity to do that.
However, there will be some barriers. Namely, that the Cardinals expect to be without both James Conner and Chase Edmonds this week. Conner missed out in Dallas, while Edmonds struggled with a core injury. Speaking to the media this week, Kingsbury said assertively that “if they can play, they’ll play.” Both need to be firing in the playoffs but, perhaps more importantly, they also need to be healthy. Acknowledging this, the head coach said that “we’re going to try to be smart (with Conner and Edmonds),” commenting on needing them ready, in health and form, for the playoffs.
If Kingsbury is without both for the first time this season though, he will turn to Eno Benjamin and ‘Catch of the Year’ candidate Johnathan Ward to carry the load. That would offer Kingsbury a chance to rest his stars and further examine his depth at running back for the playoffs.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called arguably his best Cardinals game last week against Dallas, and a similar showing against the Seahawks would be ideal. Furthermore, Joseph is getting some players back, with Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, and new signing Bashaud Breeland all cleared from the Covid list. It is not then, a case of continuity for Joseph, but rather a chance to experiment with his assets and plug some holes in the unit.
Vance Joseph helped the Cardinals win last week’s game with his ability to best utilize his most versatile defenders. Arizona’s defense has some exceptional athletes and this Seahawks game could be a chance to test their limits. The most extreme application would be to see Isaiah Simmons line up over D.K. Metcalf. For all of Arizona’s defensive excellence last week, their understaffed cornerback group struggled. The Cardinals must make choices to protect the group and the defense as a whole. With the status of Robert Alford and Marco Wilson up in the air, and Breeland lacking time in-house, Joseph could choose to pit his most athletic player against Seattle’s most athletic threat. While it would not be the same, Simmons played some corner in college and stacks up well physically against Metcalf where Arizona’s undersized corners do not.
Injuries might force Arizona to fill some gaps. This game against Seattle offers them the chance to figure out just how many ways this can be done.
Cardinals Must Take a Closer Look at Zaven Collins
Everyone’s favorite afterthought, Zaven Collins, popped up as an edge rusher against the Cowboys and made a solid account of himself. His performance, albeit in limited snaps, could warrant a final look from Joseph before the playoffs.
Barring significant injury, Collins will not get any pity snaps in the postseason; it is playoff football. However, if Collins is afforded the opportunity to excel against the Seahawks, then he could yet have a role in the playoffs. With the potential of Simmons moving around some, getting some snaps at that vacated inside linebacker spot will allow a final review of Collins before his season is essentially over at the close of the regular season. He might even pop up on the edge again, where he played some good run defense against Dallas. However, the important thing is that he sees the field this week and is given a chance to carve out a role on this playoff-bound defense.
Injury concerns might take the choice out of Arizona’s hands, but the Cardinals have to keep it rolling. A clean and consistent performance is vital against the Seahawks. That’s not to say, however, that the Cardinals don’t have some leeway to experiment with some other players, out of necessity or curiosity, in what will be Arizona’s final chance to get it right before finally returning to the playoffs.