That one team dominated the ground game in Thursday’s NFC West heavyweight bout isn’t a surprise. What might raise eyebrows—at least among those who didn’t watch the teams’ Week 7 matchup—is that it was Seattle that pounded the ball relentlessly en route to a 28-21 win over Arizona. The Seahawks rushed for 165 yards and dominated the possession battle (35:07 to 24:53) to suffocate Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a game defined more by the margins and the mistakes than any of the expected quarterbacking brilliance from Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
After demolishing the Cardinals’ run defense for 200 yards four weeks ago, Seattle went right back to what worked, rushing the ball 31 times versus only 28 passes. It was the right call, particularly in the hands of Carlos Hyde, who, returning after a month out with a hamstring injury, put up a solid 79 yards on just 14 carries, including punching in a touchdown in the third:
In total the Seahawks have run for 365 yards over two matchups against their division rivals, though winning just one. But the real difference may have been the Seahawks defense, the league’s worst in yards allowed, tightening up against the NFL’s leading rushing attack on the other end. (To be fair, the Seahawks D is significantly better against the run than the pass; entering Thursday’s game, they were only allowing 95 yards per game on the ground, good for fourth in the league.)
Murray came into Thursday as the league’s No. 8 rusher, with 604 yards in nine games, but he dipped far below his 67 yards-per-game average to a lowly 15 on just five rushes. His backfield partner Kenyan Drake was no more effective, notching 29 yards on 11 carries. Despite allowing the Cardinals to run rampant in the previous matchup (159 yards on the ground, 67 of them from Murray), Seattle solved the option-heavy attack and forced Murray to throw 42 times, his second-highest number of the season. (The highest? You guessed it, Week 7 against Seattle, where he threw 48 times in the overtime victory).
Despite the Seahawks’ defensive improvements, Thursday’s game was not a ringing endorsement of either team’s contender profiles. Both teams looked a little sloppy, despite not turning the ball over. The Cardinals kept shooting themselves in the foot with penalties (10 for 115 yards), while Seattle contributed eight for 79 yards. In what was perhaps the most emblematic play of the entire game, Arizona gifted a late, momentum-shifting safety on J.R. Sweezy’s hold of Seattle lineman L.J. Collier, which the refs ruled happened inside the end zone:
Even with all that, Arizona still had the ball with 2:15 left in the game, and drove efficiently down the field before turning the ball over on downs after new Seahawks acquisition Carlos Dunlap sacked Murray on fourth down.
On the Seahawks’ side, this wasn’t an MVP-level performance from Wilson, who was seemingly content with short dump-offs all night. Some of those worked due to shoddy Cardinals defense, particularly on third down, but they didn’t particularly inspire confidence in a game that came down to the last drive. DK Metcalf’s five targets continued his underwhelming tally, a week after he only saw four in a loss against the Rams. Also, Greg Olsen suffered a non-contact foot injury in the second half which, at his age, might be a career-ender.
Both Seattle and Arizona are in the hunt for the playoffs this season, but the former has dropped off their Super Bowl–level pace from the beginning of the season, while the latter showed they have no answers when their deadly rushing attack isn’t working. Those aren’t necessarily fatal flaws, particularly in a season as unusual as this one, but what was billed as a potential game of the year candidate turned out to be one where neither team could really get going. The Seahawks will be glad to have come out on top, and they, for once, have their defense to thank for it, but at the end of the day this was another Thursday game that left everyone feeling a little empty.