Up next: Arizona Cardinals

When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Qwest Field

Record: 3-2 and tied for first in the NFC West with the Seahawks

Where they rank: No. 31 on offense (29th rushing, 30th passing); No. 28 on defense (29th rushing, 26th passing)

Series: Cardinals lead 13-9, because they have swept the home-and-home series the past two seasons and won six of the past seven overall

Star power: Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals’ pass-catching machine is no stranger to the Seahawks, or the fans at Qwest Field. In his past two games in Seattle, Fitzgerald has caught 23 passes for 251 yards. He also had a five-catch, 130-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Seahawks in Arizona in 2008. This season, Fitzgerald is off to a slower start. As is the rest of the Cardinals’ offense as they adjust to a new quarterback – rookie Max Hall, who replaced Derek Anderson, who replaced since-released Matt Leinart, who was supposed to replace the retired Kurt Warner; and a line that features two new starters (left guard Alan Faneca and right tackle Brandon Keith) and a third playing a new spot (left tackle Levi Brown). But Fitzgerald, who caught seven passes for 93 yards in the pre-bye week upset of the New Orleans Saints, remains the Cardinals’ best offensive option.

Unsung hero: LaRod Stephens-Howling. He already has returned 22 kickoffs in five games – two fewer than Buffalo Bills’ rookie C.J. Spiller, the league leader. Stephens-Howling is averaging 26.3 yards and has returned a 102-yarder for a touchdown. Last season, as a rookie, Stephens-Howling averaged 24.2 yards on 52 returns, including a 99-yarder for a TD. The Seahawks’ coverage unit did an exemplary job in holding the Bears’ Danieal Manning to a 13.5-yard average last week. As a result, Manning dropped from No. 2 in the NFC to No. 5.  

On the spot: The defensive front seven. This unit was supposed to be the strength of the team for the two-time defending NFC West champions. Instead, only three teams are allowing more rushing yards per game (140.8), only six have fewer sacks (eight) and the Cardinals also have yielded 41 points twice in five games. As with the line on offense, the defense is adjusting to three new starters at linebacker – Joey Porter, Paris Lenon and Mark Washington. This week, they’ll have to deal with a Seahawks offense that had its most productive outing of the season against a Bears defense that was ranked No. 6 entering Sunday’s game in Chicago.

Burning question: Who is Max Hall? “He’s a 29 year old man. He’s the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL,” as Fitzgerald told the Cardinals’ website last week. It’s not quite that drastic. But Hall is 25 and signed with the Cardinals as a free agent out of BYU after not being selected in the April NFL draft. He’s also from Mesa, Ariz., began his college career at Arizona State and transferred to BYU after returning from his LDS mission. He got his first start against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints because Anderson had completed too many passes to the opposition (five) and not enough to Fitzgerald. The Cardinals did upset the Saints, with Hall becoming the first rookie free agent QB to start that early in the season since Jim Zorn with the Seahawks in 1976. But it happened because Brown recovered one of Hall’s two fumbles and ran it into the end zone and the Cardinals also scored on fumble and interception returns in the fourth quarter of the 10-point win.

Familiar faces: Backup S Hamza Abdullah played at Washington State. Assistant defensive backs coach Rick Courtright also coached at the University of Washington (1991-92). Scout Chris Culmer joined the Cardinals last year after spending nine with the Seahawks.

The last word: “It’s not what you want on your bye week, but those teams played well. Maybe our division isn’t as bad as some people think it is.” – Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, on the other three NFC West teams winning Sunday


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