GLENDALE, Ariz. — Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson made his NFL debut in Arizona a little over a year ago.
He lost that game, but his Seahawks are 17-6 since as he evolved into a multi-dimensional dynamo at the controls of a powerful offense.
“I’m a 5-11 quarterback,” he said, “but I don’t think my height defines my skills.”
Wilson brings the Seahawks back to Arizona on Thursday night to a stadium where Seattle has struggled, losing five of its last six games at University of Phoenix Stadium. He said he returns a far better quarterback than he was that Sunday 13 months ago.
“The game has slowed down a lot for me,” Wilson said. “I understand our offense a lot more, the protection calls and all that. Just knowing my receivers, too.”
Seattle (5-1) has been virtually invincible at home, winning 11 in a row. The last time Arizona played there, on Dec. 9, it lost 58-0, the Cardinals’ most one-sided shutout loss in franchise history and a game that helped seal the fate of then-coach Ken Whisenhunt.
But the Seahawks have been vulnerable when they venture out of the Pacific Northwest. Their lone loss this season was at Indianapolis and their other two road games were close, 12-7 at Carolina and 23-20 in overtime at Houston. Like Seattle, Arizona (3-3) toned down practices in a short week after a rough 32-20 loss at San Francisco. The preparation, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, has to be “all mental.”
“Getting to know your opponent without doing it full speed,” Arians said, “the nuances of an offensive game plan without running full speed. So it takes a lot of extra mental preparation.”
Here are five things to watch when the Seahawks face the Cardinals:
FITZGERALD VS. SHERMAN: Larry Fitzgerald has a sore hamstring, so that might make him easier for Seattle’s standout cornerback Richard Sherman to cover, although the Arizona wide receiver did go 75 yards on a touchdown pass play at San Francisco.
“There’s definitely a mutual respect,” Sherman said. “He’s a great player. He’s been a great player for a while, he’s been incredibly consistent over the years, and he’s been consistent through multiple quarterbacks, multiple systems. He should’ve won the Super Bowl for his team when they went, he played a heck of a game, and you have to respect a guy like that.’”
CONTAINING LYNCH: Until San Francisco’s game-clinching 89-yard, 9½-minute drive, Arizona had been strong against the run. Containing Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is the Cardinals’ biggest challenge in run defense thus far this season. Lynch has been nursing a hip injury, but is listed as probable. Arians said he’s long been an admirer of the 0big back.
“He’s one of the hardest ones to bring down,” Arians said. “You love watching him play because he’s having a lot of fun out there and he plays the game like a young guy. I’ve always loved watching him play. He’s a hard-nosed runner and he’s a real football player.”
CAMPBELL’S STATUS: Arizona’s big defensive tackle Calais Campbell is questionable after being carted off the field in San Francisco strapped down in a stretcher. The 6-foot-8, 350-pound lineman quickly recovered from what Arians said was a bruised spine, but his status for the game was uncertain. His absence would be a big blow to Arizona’s defense.
“It’s a game I really want to play in,” Campbell said, “so as long as I feel I can protect myself and go out there and prove it to the doctors, I’ll be fine.”
By protecting himself, he said he meant the way he approaches the violence of each play.
“ The way you protect yourself is just playing with your hands and being able to hit with your shoulders and feel like you protect yourself,” Campbell said. “Hit with my head up and know that my neck won’t give or anything like that.”
PALMER AGAINST CARROLL: Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer goes against his old college coach Pete Carroll for the first time. Palmer won the Heisman Trophy playing for Carroll at USC. “Just knowing he’s a great coach and a great motivator, he’ll have his team ready to go,” Palmer said. “It’s a nationally televised game, it’s a division game and they’ll be ready to play.”
Carroll said the move to Arizona should be good for Palmer, although the Cardinals quarterback has struggled to grasp Arians’ intricate offense.
“I love watching him play,” Carroll said. “I’ve always watched him throughout the years and now I get a chance to go against him. It’s going to be a fun competition.”
TURNOVER TROUBLE: Palmer has thrown nine interceptions the last four games, two of them early against San Francisco. The Cardinals also fumbled away the ball twice against the 49ers in crucial situations. Seattle had five fumbles in Sunday’s victory over Tennessee, but lost only two of them. Wilson has thrown only four interceptions this season.
The Seahawks are plus-7 in turnovers, Arizona minus-2.