SEAHAWKS // CARDINALS OVERVIEW
Honestly and truly, I love what I do for “work.”
Naturally, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are insane each week — with back-to-back 16-hour days, filled with massive amounts of study, research, and writing (I usually sleep about eight or nine hours after I wrap up the NFL Edge at 5 A.M. on Wednesday morning…and I still wake up feeling exhausted) — but I am able to work from home (channeling my inner cat and moving spots throughout the day, often writing a couple games from bed, a couple games from the couch, a couple games from the recliner in our apartment that overlooks the dog park through the big corner windows, four or five games from the standing desk in my office, et cetera…), and I get to watch football, study football, and write about football. But, man! Some games take a lot longer to pick apart and figure out than others — and as I write this (at 9 P.M. on Wednesday night), the last four games I have tackled have been Bengals // Falcons || Dolphins // Patriots || Buccaneers // Bears || and Browns // Raiders. All four of those games took more time than normal, and all four were among my lengthiest writeups of the season.
I love what I do for “work”…but it’s nice to run into a game like this after a stretch like that. Seahawks and Cardinals? Sheesh. This game is tied with the Jets // Jags for the lowest Over/Under on the slate, and I imagine we’ll be able to make fairly quick work of this spot.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
Russell Wilson has been asked to emulate Superman throughout the early portions of the season, with a poor offensive line and a poor supporting cast. After throwing for 298 yards in Week 1, his yardage totals without Doug Baldwin have been 226 and 192.
The matchup in this spot is entirely non-threatening (with Patrick Peterson sticking to his side of the field, the Cardinals have been hit hard through the air early on, ranking 18th in DVOA and 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt in this Steve Wilks zone that really requires an elite secondary in order to work), though if Baldwin misses this week (more on this in a moment), Russ will be working with a “top three” of Tyler Lockett, Brandon Marshall, and Jaron Brown.
Last week, Lockett ran 28 of a possible 29 pass routes, while Brown checked in at 20 and Marshall checked in at 17. The Seahawks dialed up a ridiculous 40 rushing plays last week in order to shorten the game against Dallas and see if they could find something that might work on offense.
Three games in, Marshall has exactly six targets in every game and Brown has exactly three in every game. Lockett has target counts of four, seven, and six, and he’ll avoid Peterson on roughly 70% of his routes. Lockett also has the best role in this offense, with an aDOT of 13.7, and with 28.7% of the team’s air yards. His xYAC/R (expected yards-after-catch per reception) of 7.2 ranks seventh in the league. Marshall or Lockett could post a decent fantasy day if things go just right — but Lockett is the far likelier of the two to turn in something impactful.
Behind these receivers, the Seahawks continue to run a timeshare at tight end, with Nick Vannett playing 35 snaps last week to 39 for Will Dissly. Vannett quietly ran 16 pass routes to only 14 for Dissly, and until usage changes here, Dissly will remain a scary fantasy bet, in spite of the solid stat lines he has posted in two of three weeks.
If Baldwin returns this week, this entire story changes, as he will step back into his typical slot role with plenty of downfield targets, after notching an aDOT of 12.5 last season on 7.25 targets per game. With Jimmy Graham gone, Baldwin’s targets should rise, and he and Russ would become an interesting stacking combination in a game that could serve to get the Seahawks’ offense back on track. Notoriously positive coach Peter Carroll has said he’s “confident” Baldwin has a “chance” to play this week. Have fun figuring that one out before we (hopefully) gain more clarity on Friday.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
Only two teams in the NFL are averaging fewer yards per carry than Seattle, though it’s not for lack of trying. Last week, Seattle gave a ludicrous 32 carries (and only two targets) to Chris Carson. Carson is a talented back, but he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry on those looks, and he sits at 3.9 YPC on the season behind a Seahawks line that ranks 28th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. Arizona enters this game ranking 11th in DVOA against the run and 14th in yards allowed per carry — with the personnel to make life difficult for opposing rushing attacks. Arizona has allowed the most running back touchdowns to begin the year, but this is more a result of teams constantly working with short fields (and getting into scoring position through the air) than it is through any major leaks in the Cardinals’ run defense. The one positive data point here is the massive workload Carson saw last week — which may be repeatable if Baldwin misses one more game, as Seattle will look to win in any way they can. If Baldwin returns, Carson’s workload will become less bankable — and with this coaching staff, there is always a chance they pull a fast one on us and give Rashaad Penny all the looks this week.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
There was actual zip on the passes Josh Rosen threw last week — something that was sorely lacking when Sam Bradford was under center. From an arm-talent perspective, he will be a clear and obvious upgrade over his veteran counterpart, though he is still stepping into a poorly-schemed offense with limited weapons, and he will deal with the typical growing pains rookie quarterbacks deal with: taking too long to read the field, waiting for guys to get open instead of throwing them open, and failing to see defenders who are lingering outside the normal range of vision. This formerly no-name Seahawks defense is beginning to make a name for themselves through the air, ranking 4th in DVOA against the pass and seventh in yards allowed per pass attempt. Only five teams have faced a lower aDOT to begin the year, and only six teams have allowed a lower expected yards per target.
Seattle has been most attackable over the middle, where Larry Fitzgerald will soak up snaps if healthy. Fitz played through his hamstring injury last week and has a history of being on the field come Sunday, though he saw only two targets in spite of playing 96% of the team’s snaps. His range is extremely broad this week, as it wouldn’t be surprising if he sees only three or four targets again, and it would also not be surprising if he sees double-digit looks and pops off for a big game.
Rosen’s go-to target last week was Christian Kirk, who played 74% of the team’s snaps last week in spite of Fitzgerald soaking up most of the slot work — where Kirk will play in the future. This playing time bump has been encouraging, as Kirk is easily the Cardinals’ second best receiver, and it was necessary to get him onto the field even if his slot role is taken. Kirk turned his eight targets into a 7-90-0 line, and he ran a pass route on 30 of a possible 31 opportunities. Kirk is playing at multiple spots in the Cardinals’ formation, and he should run around 70% of his routes away from the right side of the field — where Seattle has been (by far) the strongest. Another five to eight targets is his likely range.
The rest of this passing attack is spare parts, with Chad Williams hauling in one of 10 targets to date (not a typo), and with Ricky Seals-Jones yet to make any sort of box score impact on an average of five targets per game — in a likely low-scoring affair.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
On the one hand, Seattle’s greatest weakness has come against the run, where they rank 28th in yards allowed per carry and 21st in DVOA against the run, while coming in at 23rd in adjusted line yards on defense.
On the other hand, Arizona’s rushing attack has been absolutely broken, ranking 26th in yards per carry to begin the year. This could change with the quarterback switch, but we are still not seeing the sort of creative usage we need to see from the Cardinals in order for David Johnson to post the monster stat lines we have come to expect from him. The idea of jamming in high-priced running backs began in 2016, when David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell were must-plays every single week. It’s crazy how quickly these things can change.
D.J. is still hogging a massive snap share, playing 86% of the snaps last week and running 24 of a possible 31 pass routes; but he continues to be used like a running back, rather than like a WR/RB hybrid, and this is limiting his upside. After seeing nine targets in Week 1, he has target counts of two and four since then.
With all that said: D.J.’s price has dropped to a high-water mark of 13.2% of the salary cap (DraftKings), leaving him in the range of guys like Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard. He’s too good to be held down forever, and a big game is sure to hit soon — even if a true blowup will be off the table for as long as his pass game usage is held in check.
There is a little more to like in this game than expected, but there are certainly no “locked in” plays.
If Baldwin makes his way onto the field this week, I’ll have definite tourney interest in both he and Russ. Russ has not suddenly lost his talent, and getting back his best weapon against a bad pass D would give him a chance to pop. If Baldwin misses, I’ll have thin tourney interest in Lockett — though it’s difficult to see him posting a true, week-winning game given the current state of this attack with Lockett as the number one guy.
On the other side, I have some interest in Kirk — and while there are a number of affordable wide receivers we have uncovered so far in this week’s NFL Edge (several of whom likely have fewer question marks), I’ll at least add Kirk to my early-week list when I read through the Edge on Thursday, and I’ll dig in deeper on all these guys on Thursday and Friday to see who makes the cut for me from there.
In theory, I also like the idea of targeting a blowup game from D.J. this week with his price dropping; but in reality, I’m unlikely to actually go there. This week seems no more likely than the last two for his usage and production to finally return to the levels we were once able to expect.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Doug Baldwin will play this week for the Seahawks. It is anyone’s guess as to how many snaps he will actually play, but it seems unlikely that he falls shy of seven targets, as the Seahawks will surely try to get him the ball in order to get their offense rolling. The bigger question is whether Baldwin’s knee is truly healthy enough for him to take on his signature downfield/upside role. I like Baldwin quite a bit as a tourney play this week, but there are obviously question marks and corresponding floor concerns.