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Arizona Cardinals plan to play Sunday's game to win

By The Sports Xchange   |   Dec. 31, 2015 at 10:30 AM
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians insists he will treat Sunday's game against the Seahawks as if the teams were playing in Week 1. Maybe Arians is completely sincere. Or, perhaps, he's fibbing a bit.

There isn't much on the line for the Cardinals. They have clinched the No. 2 seed and can only finish with the top seed if they beat the Seahawks and the Panthers lose to the Buccaneers. The latter doesn't seem likely.

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The NFL moved the Panthers game to the afternoon, so the Cardinals won't know the results when they kick off. No one is saying it out loud, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Cardinals do a bit of scoreboard watching.

If the Panthers have a good lead after halftime, will Arians keep key players such as quarterback Carson Palmer in the game? The coach insists he will. And Palmer wants to play.

The Cardinals have won nine consecutive games, the second-longest streak in franchise history, and they don't want to risk getting rusty, Palmer said.

"When momentum is on your side, you don't want to lose it," Palmer said. "No doubt. So we expect to show up and play and pick up where we left off the last time we were in Seattle against the same group, and want to keep that momentum going the next month-and-a-half."

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll insisted he will approach the game the same way. If a player is healthy enough to play, he will play, Carroll said. Forget about saving anyone for next week. Forget about saving any strategy for a few weeks down the line, when the teams could meet again.

That sounds an awful lot like Arians' approach.

"Yeah, this whole seven-game stretch has been a really good barometer for us, and this is one more," Arians said. "We haven't beaten them here in a couple years and they're in the playoffs. So, it's another nice barometer."

The Cardinals beat the Seahawks earlier this year in Seattle, but have not beaten the Seahawks in Glendale since Arians became coach in 2013. That's one fact Arians is using this week to keep his team motivated. He's trying to keep his players grounded while everyone is patting them on the back, including those who produce power rankings.

"I don't put any stock in it," Arians said of praise for his team. "It doesn't mean crap. It's just somebody's power ranking; still have got to play on Sunday. Like I said, it's always a short elevator ride back down."

--Dru Grigson, the team's director of college scouting, had no plans to visit Northern Iowa in the spring of 2014. But he received a phone call from scout Mike Boni, who suggested Grigson take a look at running back David Johnson in person.

Grigson came away impressed, obviously, but he had no idea Johnson would be this good this early.

"When you have a small-school guy, you have to make sure they match up physically," Grigson said. "And he had all those attributes - size, speed, instincts and feet. He has good contact balance and he's able to accelerate. He's got juice.

"It's tough to say what a rookie is going to do. He's exceeded all expectations. We were hoping we'd see this type of back two, three years down the road. He's come in and done it in year one."

SERIES HISTORY: 34th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 17-16. The Cardinals beat the Seahawks 39-32 in Seattle in Week 10. The Seahawks were horrible in the first half, and the Cardinals pounced, leading, 22-7, at halftime. Seattle came back to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but an 80-yard drive by the Cardinals in the final minutes put the game away.

GAME PLAN

--The Cardinals won't back away from running the ball, even though the Seattle run defense is stout. The Cardinals need an efficient run game to set up a lot of what they do in the air.

Defensively, the Cardinals will try to have disciplined rush lanes to keep Russell Wilson in the pocket. The backup defensive backs must play well because the Seahawks are using more empty-back sets and throwing more.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson vs. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin.

Peterson usually draws the No. 1 receiver. That would be Baldwin. No one has tested Peterson in a long time. That could change on Sunday.

--Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane.

As the nickel back, Lane will be seeing a lot of Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has cooled off some since his hot start, but that's only because Carson Palmer has gone elsewhere with the ball. This could be the game the Cardinals try to get Fitzgerald in a groove.

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