Earl Thomas III has been playing outstanding defense of late, and this week the Seattle Seahawks (4-1) will need even more from their star free safety when they travel to Glendale to take on their NFC West rivals, the Arizona Cardinals (3-3).
With timely interceptions in back-to-back games for the Hawks’ defensive anchor, No. 29 and Legion of Boom have returned to form after the unit got off to a slow start to begin the season. Similar to last week against the Atlanta Falcons, Earl and Co. will need to be locked in as they prepare to contain another high-powered offense this weekend.
“He looks as good as he’s ever looked,” Richard Sherman said of Thomas. “Everybody’s firing on all cylinders. Earl’s playing confidently. He’s trusting himself, he’s playing instinctual, he’s hitting well, he’s tackling and doing everything we need him to do and it’s showing.”
Sherman and Thomas will have a tough task ahead of them as the Cardinals have playmakers on offense that can make life difficult for opposing defenses in multiple ways. Future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald is still playing at a high level with 37 receptions, 410 yards and five touchdowns on the young season and continues to be Carson Palmer’s go-to target in Arizona’s passing game.
Michael Floyd will also need to be accounted for, as the fifth-year receiver out of Notre Dame found the end zone for the third time on the season last week against the New York Jets. Speedster John Brown is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury, but if the wide-out can suit up, he will present another big-play threat that Earl and Co. will be tasked with keeping in check.
“[Earl’s] a very confident player. He believes in what he sees and goes for it,” Pete Carroll said. “If you remember back to his first year and a half or so, I was always trying to reel him in from trying to do too much. He’s found the balance of when to take his shots and when not to though good discipline, good coaching and good learning.”
Arizona running back David Johnson has been one of the best at his position all season, and the elite second-year stud will also be a factor in the passing game on Sunday. Johnson has rushed for 568 and yards and a whopping eight touchdowns this season and has also tacked on 20 receptions for 265 yards.
With ETIII’s stellar play of late, teammates and coaches have taken notice, especially Hawks receiver Dough Baldwin, who explained how he’s been studying tape of Earl to try and pinpoint what makes the All-Pro safety such a special player.
“I’ve been really paying attention to Earl the past few weeks just kind of studying him on the practice field. What makes him unique I think is just his unwavering focus day in and day out whether it be in the meeting room, on the practice field and obviously in the game,” Baldwin said. “I try to distract him in practice sometimes to see where he’s at but he always got his laser focus locked on.”
It will be important for Thomas and the D to keep up their impressive play if they want to come away win a big road win in Arizona. Despite a .500 record, the Cardinals were one of the top teams in the NFC last year and it could only be a matter of time before Seattle’s divisional foes get rolling again. And quarterback Russell Wilson knows that another big day from ET III will go a long way toward a big NFC West win.
“[Earl’s] got great explosiveness. He’s got a great ability. He studies like crazy…he’s the best safety in the league for a reason,” Russell Wilson said.
Sunday Night Football will kick off at 5:30 p.m. PT from University of Phoenix Stadium and will be aired on NBC.