Game Preview: Cardinals @ Seahawks

Get ready for Sunday's matchup between the Cardinals and Seahawks for the NFC West division lead.

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/24/10
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Brian Billick

PREDICTION: Seahawks 13-10

KEYS TO THE GAME: Cardinals rookie QB Max Hall will make his first career road start in one of the league's loudest venues - and with significant rain and wind in the forecast. Seattle has the league's 30th-ranked pass defense, but will load the box against the run, dial up blitzes on passing downs and dare Hall to make plays downfield. The Seahawks' offense realized an immediate benefit from RB Marshawn Lynch last weekend. The offensive line is still a concern, but the Cardinals have just eight sacks on the season.

FAST FACTS: Arizona has won 12 of its past 14 games against the NFC West. ... Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck is 16-5 in his past 21 starts at home within the division.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Seahawks:

Play fast.

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck understands when his offense plays with an increased pace and tempo, he usually performs better. And that certainly was the case last week, when Hasselbeck had his best performance of the season, finishing 25 of 40 for 242 yards and a touchdown.

The 35-year-old veteran finished with an 87.7 passer rating.

A couple of factors helped Hasselbeck and the Seattle offense get on track. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates cut down on the pre-snap shift and motions so Hasselbeck could quickly get to the line of scrimmage and call the play. And the Chicago defense played mostly a Tampa 2 scheme without a lot of movement, so Hasselbeck rarely had to audible at the line of scrimmage.

"I feel comfortable that way," Hasselbeck said. "It's a game of inches, as we all say all the time, but it really is. It's just getting an advantage. And I think sometimes for us that gives us a competitive advantage because I think we have a smart football team. I think we know what we're doing, but using that tempo, that helps."

That up-tempo strategy might not be as successful this week against an Arizona defense that likes to show a lot of different looks and blitzes on defense. Hasselbeck tried to downplay the fact that Sunday's contest is a big game for both teams. But with Seattle and Arizona both at 3-2 and sitting atop the NFC West, Hasselbeck understands the winner of this game will take an early advantage in the standings.

Add to that the fact that Seattle has lost the last four games against the Cardinals, and six of the last seven, and you begin to understand the daunting task that sits in front of Hasselbeck and the rest of his teammates.

"I think the bigger thing for us is, our goal really is to win the division," Hasselbeck said. "I'm sure that's their goal. For a long time, we owned this division, and people were gunning for us.

"I know the first time they beat us down there, it was a huge deal to them. And once they did that, they just kept rolling and went to the Super Bowl. They won the division again last year. The same thing for the Rams. The Rams beat us at home. That was a huge deal for them. You could tell it was a point of emphasis. And we were there once, trying to beat the Niners, or trying to beat the Rams. And so I just think that's part of the division rivalry."

Cardinals:

Quarterback Max Hall is confident but not arrogant enough to think he doesn't need to improve in many ways.

One area is taking care of the ball, especially early in games. Hall has thrown two interceptions this season, and each one came on his second throw of the game.

He had similar problems in the preseason and knows he has to work on controlling his nerves early in this Sunday's game against Seattle.

The good news for the Cardinals, and Hall, is that he tends to improve as the game progresses.

He will be helped Sunday by the expected return of receivers Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. Breaston has missed the past two games because of knee surgery, while Doucet hasn't played since the opener because of a sports hernia that required surgery.

The Cardinals will have a full complement of receivers for the first time in a month. That will present Ken Whisenhunt with a difficult game-planning decision.

Does he concentrate on running the ball to take pressure off Hall? Or given his threats at receiver, does he use multiple-receiver sets and allow Hall to get the ball to the team's best playmakers?

PERSONNEL NEWS

Seahawks:

--OL Chester Pitts (knee) practiced on consecutive days for the first time leading up to a game in the regular season, and he looks on target to see his first game action Sunday.

--DT Brandon Mebane (calf) did not practice for a second straight day and is uncertain for Sunday's contest against Arizona.

--CB Kelly Jennings (hamstring) did not practice for a second straight day and is questionable for this week's game.

--DE Dexter Davis (hamstring) was a limited participant in practice Thursday.

--CB Josh Pinkard (knee) practiced for a second straight day. The Seahawks have a three-week window to evaluate the USC product, who has been on the reserve/physically unable to play list the first six weeks of the season.

--TE Jameson Konz (hip) is on the season-ending injured reserve list, but he has been attending practices this week in order to learn the new offensive system.

Cardinals:

--QB Max Hall needs to work on ball security. In his only start, he had an interception and fumbled twice. The Cardinals were lucky to recover both fumbles.

--RB Tim Hightower remains the starter, but he had only four carries in the last game, 16 fewer than Beanie Wells. Hightower is a better receiver and blocker than Wells, but Wells is a more dynamic runner.

--RB Beanie Wells carried 20 times for 35 yards in the team's last game. He did not do a good job of reading blocks and finding holes as the Saints stacked the line of scrimmage.

--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling can be a dynamic third-down back if the team can keep games close, which enables coaches to use the entire offensive game plan. Stephens-Howling is difficult to defend when he has some space.

--WR Steve Breaston is expected to return after missing two games with a knee injury. He should start.

--WR Early Doucet is expected to return after missing four games with a sports hernia. He would fill the No. 3 slot.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald caught 14 passes the past two games after getting just 12 in the first three weeks. QB Max Hall did a much better job getting the ball to Fitzgerald than Derek Anderson had.

--TE Ben Patrick had five catches in the team's victory over the Saints. That's significant because Patrick's season high had been two. He could become a vital weapon with Max Hall at quarterback.

--K Jay Feely has a strong leg and barely missed from 54 yards out two weeks ago in Atlanta. Feely made his two other field-goal attempts this season.

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