With one week in the books, the Cowboys are riding high following a stirring road win over a division foe. The Seahawks came out worse in a similar test, dropping their first game to the lowly(?) Cardinals. Can Dallas give Seattle residents another reason to stay depressed while improving to 2-0?
Only one of the unprecedented five NFL rookie starters at QB had a truly impressive opening stanza, and Seattle QB Russell Wilson was....not that guy. He was by no means bad - particularly for a rookie - and he avoided a ghastly outing like the ones turned in by Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill, but there wasn't a lot to scare you on tape from his first game against actual NFL starters. Wilson has a strong arm, good mobility and showed pretty solid accuracy for a rook, but he's not quite capable of elevating a group of receivers that needs some elevation - more on them below.
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Marshawn Lynch ran tough and secured 84 hard-fought yards behind a fairly outmatched OL last Sunday, but if you're willing to bring your hat and hit him he's not going turn in another one of those signature, Oh-When-I-Marched-On-The-Saints kind of runs. The Cowboys' front three will certainly need to keep any massive holes from opening up and both Lee and Carter will need to be strong and sure with their tackles. With that said, I'll take the Cowboys' front seven over the Cards' any day in run defense, and he couldn't come close to taking over the Arizona game - Lynch doesn't have the speed and dynamism to kill a good defense if the Seahawk air show is sputtering.
Outside of a 10-yard TD to Sidney rice and an out-of-the-crypt 5/43 line for Braylon Edwards, there wasn't much happening from Seattle's pass catchers. The return of Golden Tate will give them a bit of a boost, but as he'll rotate with Edwards that spot probably won't get a whole lot more productive than it was against Arizona. It's not clear if Rice is - or ever will be - close to his elite 2009 form, but the threat of him hauling in a leaping deep grab is the scariest option on the menu for Seattle. Whichever corner has Rice should be seeing some safety help, but it's encouraging that Mo Claiborne hung tough against a better all-around talent in Hakeem Nicks his first time out of the gate. Doug Baldwin in the slot and Zach Miller at TE can both chip in a couple of annoying move-the-chains catches on third down, but neither should cause too much alarm.
Russell Okung may be the first NFL player to voluntarily amuptate his own legs at the knees and replace them with Oscar Pistorius-style carbon flippers. I don't know how well those would help you anchor against the bull rush, but they'd at least be far more reliable than Okung's faulty lower limbs. The knee ding that knocked him out of the Arizona game doesn't appear to be too serious, and it looks like he'll suit up on Sunday. He will definitely need all four limbs operating at full capacity to hold DeMarcus Ware, however - and sprouting a couple of extra arms like Goro from Mortal Kombat wouldn't hurt either. RT Breno Giacomini sounds like a Renaissance artist. If being equally poor at run blocking, pass blocking and getting out on screens qualifies you as a Renaissance man, then he certainly fits that bill as well. Giacomini should serve up a classic 'Almost Anthony' game with Spencer managing multiple pressures but failing to seal the deal because...Spencer. Against a young QB who had some pocket jitters the first time out, however, those pressures will be very valuable.
Like the Cowboys, Seattle is going to have an interesting time of things on the interior OL. LG Paul McQuistan had a fairly ugly performance against the Cardinals. He looked like Larry Allen next to the Seahawks' other guard spot, however, where converted DT J.R. Sweezy got absolutely ruined by Darnell Dockett in what was pretty much a game-losing effort for Seattle. John Moffitt will be coming back from injury to return Sweezy to his rightful spot on the bench, but Moffitt is not really a prize-winner in his own right. C Max Unger is roughly an NFL-average center who played an NFL-average game in Week One.
There is a reason that New Orleans moved heaven and earth to put two monsters like Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans in front of Drew Brees - if you're around 6'0" as a QB, whatever your skill set you HAVE to be able to step up and have very clean windows in front of you to throw. While the Cowboys lack interior pass-rush dominators the caliber of Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett - especially if the Rat misses this contest - they should be able to make some hay against an under-manned Seattle interior and make things tough on Wilson. In the Season Preview Guide I called for Tyrone Crawford to bag his first NFL sack in this game, and while he'd need more than the three snaps he logged against NY to make that happen I think you'll hear Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore's names called quite a bit on Sunday.
Unlike the Seahawks' OL, the boys in the defensive trenches held up their end of the bargain against Arizona. DT Brandon Mebane is a little bowling ball full of rage and shattered dreams, and he absolutely wore out the interior of the Cards' OL. Fellow DT Alan Branch is just kind of an average dude, but pass-rushing DT Jason Jones also made some noise after returning to his favored spot on the line following an abortive move to DE for the Titans last season.
At DE, Chris Clemons turned in his usual strong show and contributed Seattle's only sack. Fellow DE Red Bryant is basically a third DT and is a terror in the run game, but it takes an overmatched RT for him to managed much pass pressure. First-round reach Bruce Irvin is basically still on a milk carton at this point, but his speed demands that Dallas be aware when he rotates into the game.
While this bunch doesn't have the kind of pure pass-rush potential that the Giants or Eagles bring to the table, the Cowboys' OL will have its hands full on Sunday. It's going to take some will to stick with the run game, because we aren't likely to see a ton of gaping holes early. Our tackles shouldn't be overwhelmed in pass pro, but Dallas' interior will face a tougher test than they got from the Giants' depleted DT corps.
At linebacker, the Seahawks line up a lot of athleticism. OLBs Leroy Hill and KJ Wright can really motor, and while both can take false steps in the run game they're also capable of laying a good lick. Second-round rookie Bobby Wagner apparently caught Dallas' eye at draft time, and he profiles physically a lot like Bruce Carter as a flier who will go as far on the interior as his instincts will take him. He didn't make too many rookie mistakes his first game out.
The Seahawks may have the NFC's best secondary now that Brent Grimes has gone down for Atlanta. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are massive dudes at 6'3" and 6'4" respectively, and both held up very well in coverage last season. Like any corners their games play up when the front four is bringing the heat, but holding Larry Fitzgerald to 4/63 tells you they aren't too easy to victimize. Aging slot man Marcus Trufant can be had, however, and whether it's #FearThe Tree or Miles Austin in the slot he's likely to be one of Romo's first reads on passing plays. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are a really athletic duo at safety, and while Thomas had a tough game against the Cards they are both capable of making big plays in the run and pass game.
The Bottom Line
Brace yourselves for what could be a low-scoring, chippy and at times frustrating affair. Seattle's defense is legit, and they can really turn it up with the crowd at their backs at home. Playing a clean game, the Cowboys' OL will be doing well to break even here. Unfortunately, the Penalty Virus lives in the walls of Valley Ranch and cannot be eradicated even with near-complete personnel or coaching staff turnover, so get ready for a number of promising 2nd and 3's to be converted to frustrating 2nd and 8's.
There isn't a ton to really scare you about Seattle's offense as long as Dallas puts the presure that I think it can on Wilson. It's not the kind of skill position talent that can take over a game, and while Dallas' interior defenders aren't at the caliber of Arizona's we've got them beat at OLB all day long. Ware, Spencer and Butler will force a ton of step-ups from Wilson, and if Hatcher & Co. can clean up then the Seahawks' offense should sputter.
It's going to be ugly, and valuing the ball will be at a premium, but we're bringing the vastly superior QB and much scarier receivers to this contest and that should be the difference.
Cowboys 20, Seattle 13