SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 25: Strong safety Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with Leroy Hill #56 after making an interception in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Cardinals 13-10. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
What is at stake for both teams this Sunday?
Though both teams are now mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, I expect that the Seahawks-Cardinals game this Sunday will be hard-fought on both sides. Both sides will be playing for pride, they'll be playing for 2nd in the division, and on an individual level, they'll be fighting for their jobs. The idea that teams shut it down after the playoffs become impossible won't come into effect here - Pete Carroll noted in his Friday presser that this final game can be the ultimate audition for young, depth players to prove their mettle. Starters will be playing full-throttle to protect their jobs and the guys behind them will be nipping at their heels as best as they can.
It's not a coincidence either, it's the core philosophy of 'Always Compete' that Pete Carroll has brought to the franchise from the minute he stepped foot at the VMAC.
You needn't look further than Richard Sherman's ascent to starter this season as an example. Though he assumed the job with injuries to Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond, you better believe he's got a grapple hold on that spot going into next season. As a fifth round rookie, that's remarkable but it also sends a message to the rest of the team. Simply produce and compete and you can see the field. Another example would be Doug Baldwin, who could end up being the Seahawks leading receiver this season after being signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. He impressed in camp, plays full-tilt at every snap, demonstrates intensity, and makes a difference everywhere on the field, including special teams. This is not lost on the coaching staff.
You better believe the young, depth players on this team take note of this and it gives them the hope and drive to impress as well. The culture of 'competition' is alive and well, and it's not just some empty rah-rah motivational tool like many in the media figured it would be when Carroll took control of the team. "That crap works in college, but this is the NFL. These are professionals."
Well, that may be partly true, and ultimately talent outwieghs effort, but there's also a little more to it. Carroll and company regularly play their rookies and youth. They regularly empower their youngsters to contribute in game action. They have established a culture that breeds a collective confidence. This leads to a team swagger and energy, and it starts at the top with the Carrollosophy. All that combined is fun to watch as a fan, and should make for an interesting game if, indeed, some of these bench players get some time.
Another tenet of Pete Carroll's philosophy is the idea of 'owning the West.' Carroll has made it a principal goal to win the NFC West every season. That's what they set their sights on each year and then once that job is done, they go from there. Last season, Carroll achieved this goal and along the way swept the Cardinals. This season, the Seahawks beat the Cardinals at home in their first matchup and will look to make it four in a row against Arizona. The game, though the NFC West title and the playoffs are out of the picture, does have quite a bit of significance.
The Hawks will look to continue that dominance over their division rival Cardinals. They'll look to make a statement that though they fell short against San Francisco this season, they're not rolling over just yet. Both the Cardinals and Seahawks are young teams, likely to keep their core group of players for several years to come, and they're likely to continue to develop a great rivalry over the next few seasons, so setting the tone here and now is meaningful. I know that kind of sounds like sports writers' fluff but I think when it comes down to competing at the highest level, planting that seed of doubt and intimidation in your opponents' psyche cannot be underestimated. That's why this game will be important.
Watch for some chippiness on both sides. Look for some big hits. As Mike Sando reminded us, in the first matchup in Seattle,
Play after play, and often after the play, these NFC West rivals went after one another until Seattle prevailed, 13-10, at CenturyLink Field. The scuffling carried well past the whistle, with Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett landing one last shot, this one verbal, from the visiting team's locker room.
"They were doing the traditional stuff they do here," Dockett said. "Then when they go to Arizona, they usually soft as cotton. Today, they wanted to play hard in front of they home crowd. We knew what to expect."
I can guarantee you that Seattle is methodically looking to shed that now becoming archaic 'soft' label. I'm sure they're going to look to prove to Dockett that the team he was talking about is a relic of the Holmgren/Mora years and this is a new identity in Seattle. I think they've acquitted themselves well in this quest this season. I'm sure Todd Heap can vouch for this as well. All in all, I'm expecting a pretty entertaining game, playoff picture be damned.