CARDINALS // SEAHAWKS OVERVIEW
The Seahawks have less to play for this week than most other teams stationed in the second half of the Main Slate, as they are locked into either the 5 seed or the 6 seed, but Pete Carroll has said that the Seahawks plan to play to win — and unlike other teams that have made similar statements (*cough* — Cowboys), the Seahawks have a track record of taking this approach. Carroll’s team philosophy centers around the idea of competition — of no player’s job being safe, and of every guy having to come to work every day ready to play. Expect Seattle to treat this game like any other game, with none of the starters resting until whatever point in the early- or mid-fourth quarter when starters would be resting in a blowout win at any point in the year. In other words: we should be able to treat this the same way we would treat a midseason “Cardinals at Seahawks” game — a sentiment backed up by Vegas, which has installed the Seahawks as 13.5 point favorites, in a game with an Over/Under of only 38.5. The brunt of this low Over/Under is being carried by the Cardinals, as the Seahawks have a solid Vegas-implied team total of 26.0, while the Cardinals currently sit all the way down at 12.5.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
With the Seahawks allowing the third worst YAC/R rate in the NFL this year, they have been a defense we have been able to attack with passing attacks from time to time — but everything in our exploration of this spot needs to be filtered through the lens of the awful Arizona offense, which is on pace to average under 250 yards per game and under 14.0 points per game, each of which is a stunningly low mark that creates very little optimism for this unit heading into next year. The Cardinals are expected to clean house after this week, but it’s fair to wonder how many additional pieces this team needs to put in place on the field before they are ready to be competitive. Josh Rosen has recent passing yardage totals of 136 // 105 // 149 // 240 // 132 // 87. He has ceded snaps to Mike Glennon at the end of each of the last two games. He has not thrown a touchdown pass in over a month, while losing one fumble and throwing three interceptions in this stretch.
The Cardinals’ opportunities for improvement have been further hampered by their lack of weapons, as 35-year-old future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and undrafted rookie Trent Sherfield represent the only weapons seeing remotely-valuable targets at the moment. Sherfield has recent target counts of 7 // 5 // 6, and you could theoretically take a shot on him in the hopes that he continues to produce at a high rate of efficiency. Fitz has seen recent target counts of 9 // 8 // 9, going for 55 // 82 // 53 yards in this stretch. The coaching staff appears to be going out of their way to send Fitz out on a high note (if this is indeed the end of his illustrious career), as they dialed up a Fitz to David Johnson pass play last week on the heels of “Larry” chants from the home crowd (which went for Fitz’ first career passing touchdown), and they will surely make it a point once again in this spot to get him another seven to nine looks. Since the midway point of the season, only three teams are allowing more yards per pass attempt to wide receivers on throws in the short areas of the field than Seattle, creating some opportunity for Fitz to matter yet again this week on the avalanche of short-area throws he is seeing. He’s not a sexy name to click at this point in his career, but a look through the game logs should remind you that he has been a stronger price-considered option most of the year than most are giving him credit for.
Behind Fitz and Sherfield, this broken passing attack is simply “guessing and hoping.” There are safer, higher-upside spots than this.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
The Cardinals’ run offense has been practically nonexistent this year, with Arizona ranked 25th in adjusted line yards, 32nd in run offense DVOA, and 32nd in yards per carry. David Johnson has failed to crack 50 yards on the ground in three consecutive weeks, and he has three or fewer receptions in five of his last six games. The matchup is a positive in this spot (Seattle ranks 32nd in yards allowed per carry, as this team is perfectly content giving up rushing yards between the 20s), but only five teams have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to running backs than the Seahawks have allowed, and the Seahawks rank fifth in time of possession, while Arizona ranks 32nd — creating a tough path to volume for the Cardinals’ talent-wasted back.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
As we expected in this space last week: the Seahawks did not unleash Russell Wilson with a pass-heavy game plan even with the high-powered Chiefs in town, instead holding him under 30 pass attempts for the ninth time in the Seahawks’ last 13 games. Since the Seahawks shifted to a run-first approach in Week 3, Russ has topped 31 pass attempts only once, and he has thrown the ball 26 or fewer times on eight of 13 weekends. While Russ is playing the best football of his career (with a strong 8.1 yards per pass attempt, and with an awesome 34 : 6 touchdown to interception ratio), it appears likely that this game will turn into a double-digit win for Seattle. This team has five double-digit wins on the season, and in those games, Russ has pass attempt totals of 26 // 23 // 17 // 17 // 20. A bet on the Seahawks’ passing attack is a bet on the Cardinals keeping this game close. As such, rosters that bet on Seattle racking up big numbers through the air should also bet on some pieces from the Cardinals on the other side.
David Moore has become an afterthought in this offense across the last month, with only two catches for 16 yards across his last four games. He has solidified his standing as the third option in this attack by producing these disappointing numbers in spite of seeing 12 targets in this stretch.
In the meantime, Doug Baldwin (recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 6 // 12) and Tyler Lockett (recent target counts of 2 // 6 // 2 // 5) continue to produce when given opportunities to do so. Neither of these guys should be considered even a little bit safe, but with this offense rarely throwing to running backs and tight ends, there should still be space for Baldwin to see another five to seven targets and for Lockett to see three to six targets even if this game is a blowout. As long as Baldwin (shoulder) plays this week, he’s the best bet for production — especially as he will largely avoid Patrick Peterson with his slot-heavy role. Lockett could find his way to useful production if Russ hits him for another touchdown or downfield shot. If Baldwin misses, it will be Lockett stepping back into the slot-dominant, number one role in this attack.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
Arizona has gotten worse and worse against the run as the season has moved along, and they are now no longer simply “bad against the run because they are facing heavy volume,” but are instead “bad against the run because they are bad against the run.” This team ranks 27th in DVOA against the run and 27th in yards allowed per carry. No team in football has allowed more rushing touchdowns to enemy backfields. No team has allowed more yards. No team has faced more attempts. On the season, the Cardinals have allowed over 2000 rushing yards. The average line against the Cardinals has been 27.6 running back carries and 134.1 running back rushing yards per game.
This sets up tremendously well for a Seattle team that is about to become the first NFL offense in years to run the ball more times than they have thrown the ball — with this approach emphasized even more heavily at home (55.51% rush play rate) than it is on the road (49.90%).
With Rashaad Penny set to return this week, he should slide back into the number two role behind Chris Carson (Penny had carry counts of 8 // 4 // 7 // 8 in his last four healthy games, while Mike Davis went only 4 // 4 // 4 // 3 in that stretch), while Carson (17 // 16 // 13 // 22 in that stretch) should operate as the clear leader in this committee. There are three major issues here from a DFS perspective, however:
1) When Penny is healthy, Carson tends to see fewer touches (25 // 22 // 27 carries in the last three games in which Penny was inactive or saw zero touches, but only one game north of 17 carries in his last six contests with a healthy Penny).
2) With these backs primarily dependent on yardage and touchdowns for their production, volume is important for feeling comfortable with the play.
3) Volume concerns are further heightened by the risk that the Seahawks could use this ultimately meaningless Week 17 game as an opportunity to get Penny a bit more run than normal.
Consider all of these backs to be risky bets this week. Carson has the clearest shot at upside, while Penny is an interesting large-field piece on the assumption he could get 12 to 16 carries this week. Davis is simply a hope-things-break-his-way option.
While Larry Fitzgerald has not shown his ceiling across the last couple months, he has consistently shown his high floor, and the ceiling is still high enough on sturdy volume and YAC potential for him to stand out as a non-sexy, but non-awful option this week. I could also see a case for going to Sherfield or David Johnson, but I likely won’t end up on either guy myself.
On the Seahawks’ side, I won’t have any interest in the passing attack in what I expect to be an easy win for the playoff-bound home team, but Baldwin is a non-awful play this week with a slim path to upside, while Lockett can score from anywhere on the field (and can capably step into Baldwin’s role if Baldwin’s shoulder keeps him out). It won’t be surprising if Russ throws 22 or fewer passes, but we do at least know where these passes are most likely to go.
I also won’t have a ton of interest in the Seattle backfield, as the work will be split three ways, and receiving involvement is thin on all these guys. I do expect a strong yardage-and-touchdown game from this backfield as a whole, however, if you want to try to guess right on where that production will come from. Carson is obviously the clearest bet, but I don’t hate the idea of taking a few large-field shots on Penny as well and hoping he comes through with a higher volume game this week.