Now it’s study time for a Seattle Seahawks’ defense that has been rampaging carefree as if it’s been out at recess.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians announced Monday that third-year veteran fill-in quarterback Ryan Lindley will make his fifth career start and first since Dec. 23, 2012, on Sunday night when Arizona (11-3) plays host to Seattle (10-4) in what is essentially the NFC West championship game, the next-to-last game of the regular season.
Arians also said the Cardinals are preparing a package of plays this week for rookie fourth-round draft choice Logan Thomas.
The Cardinals lost starter Carson Palmer to a season-ending knee injury Nov. 9 and then backup Drew Stanton also to a knee injury Thursday in a 12-6 win at St. Louis that will keep him out about a month.
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How will the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense that has 16 sacks in its four-game winning streak — including six in Sunday’s 17-7 win over San Francisco and three sacks of Stanton in Seattle’s 19-3 home win over Arizona last month — attack the mothballed Lindley and potentially the untested Thomas?
“We’ve got to figure that out. It’s too early to assess that right now. We know of (Lindley). We studied him coming out of college, and Logan as well. So we have that,” Carroll said of the former San Diego State and Virginia Tech quarterbacks.
“Bruce is a terrific quarterback coach and he knows what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “He’s going to get the most of his guys. It sounds like they want to play both of them, so that will be interesting to see how they are going to do that. But there’s nothing much that’s going to change, though. They have a very clear commitment to the running game and how they want to do it.
“We’ll try to load up for that — and get ready to adjust, most likely.”
Logic says Arians’ game plan will be conservative and rely on his rushing offense and swarming defense that has allowed just 20 points combined in beating the Chiefs and Rams. That’s after the Cardinals got shredded by Atlanta for 500 yards in a 29-18 loss the week after the Cardinals lost in Seattle.
But even while using three, and now potentially four, quarterbacks the Cardinals have led the NFL for much of this season in throwing deep passes. Greater than 22 percent of all their throws have been beyond 20 yards.
And Arizona’s leading rusher Andre Ellington is out injured, leaving Stepfan Taylor as the Cardinals’ featured back. Stanford’s career leader in yards rushing has 81 carries in his two seasons with Arizona.
Yet Carroll expects more running from the Cardinals against his top-ranked rush defense.
“I think they have committed to it. Last week they had to because they had a new quarterback popping in,” Carroll said. “They have a real good run attack; they love throwing the football, too.
“We’ll have to see how that all fits together. We don’t know that yet.”
Carroll did know one thing: The Seahawks messed up on the final play of the first half Sunday against the 49ers. The mistake led to left tackle Russell Okung coughing up blood and being checked at Seattle’s Harborview Medican Center. He is unlikely to play against the Cardinals because of a bruised lung.
Carroll made a rare admission that quarterback Russell Wilson erred — even if he didn’t single him out by name — for the throw with 8 seconds to go in the first half. San Francisco’s Eric Reid intercepted it, costing Seattle a chance at three points in what was a 7-3 lead for the 49ers.
“It didn’t work out. We’ve been practicing those seconds and those opportunities. We just didn’t make the right throw right there,” Carroll said.
The coach acknowledged that if target Doug Baldwin had made the catch he likely would have been tackled by Reid or other converging 49ers short of the goal line. With the Seahawks out of timeouts, that likely would have resulted in the clock expiring before the field-goal unit could have gotten set for a three-point try before the half.
“It was a shot at the end zone, and they played so far off it didn’t work out for us,” Carroll said. “We had a plan to kick the field goal, but we were going to take one more shot and see what happens.”
What happened was a series of events that changed the game — and could affect the Seahawks this weekend in Arizona, too.
Okung was in the open field chasing Reid near midfield when 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald leveled a shoulder into Okung’s chest. Okung staggered off the field and was shown on the television broadcast shoving what appeared to be a Seahawks’ trainer on the sidelines while in pain and spitting.
“He was just frustrated with the fact he couldn’t go back in,” Carroll said, with a shrug.
“He’s got a bruised lung. He was real uncomfortable initially, so they took all the precautions, got him out of here to go get checked out. He recovered pretty well from that and got home soon after that. (Sunday) night he was feeling pretty good. I talked to him fairly late (Sunday) night and he was feeling a lot better. We’ll see what happens and see what the docs say in the next couple days.”
Asked if he had any issue with McDonald’s thudding hit on Okung, Carroll shrugged again and said: “It will be interesting to see what the league thinks. Sometimes they see those differently than we see them. He was chasing the football, looking back, chasing the ball and got caught a little bit. I don’t know how they’ll interpret it.”
Alvin Bailey is likely to start at left tackle for Okung against Arizona, though the Seahawks still don’t know if center Max Unger will be back to anchor the offensive line Sunday night. The two-time Pro Bowler has missed the past four games with a high-ankle sprain and twisted knee. He returned to practice this past week on a limited basis.
“It’s a day at a time now,” Carroll said of Unger’s status. “The fact that he practiced last week means he can practice again Wednesday, and we’ll see how that goes. He’s real anxious to get back.
“We’re still hoping he will make some more improvement. ... He wasn’t 100 percent or he would have played in the (49ers) game. There is some question there.”
The Seahawks could use Unger to solidify the offensive line against Arizona, which sacked Wilson seven times in the previous meeting, with the elusive quarterback escaping at least eight other sacks that day.
Carroll said TE Cooper Helfet, who missed another game against San Francisco with a sprained ankle, should be able to play against the Cardinals. … TE Tony Moeaki “banged his shoulder” against the 49ers, Carroll said. His status for Sunday night will be determined this week. Moeaki had a fractured shoulder last year.