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Let's Talk Numbers: It's all about stopping the run

The Dallas Cowboys look to extend their winning streak tomorrow against the 2-9 Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks, thought to be a lock for the NFC West division title, are struggling to find their way in a season mired by injury. At one point they were having open tryouts for wide receiver and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has struggled this season while dealing with an ailing back. Yet the team is getting healthier and have become much more competitive in the past few weeks.

How do the numbers stack up? What do the Cowboys do differently on defense that is key to winning games? Follow the jump to find out.

Seattle offense vs Dallas defense

Since the season began the Seattle offense has been besieged by injury to its skill positions. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has missed significant time with a nagging back injury that left the team struggling with Seneca Wallace and Charlie Frye playing in his place. The team also had to deal with their top four receivers all missing significant time at some point of the season.

Pct. Yds/G Avg TD/G Int/G Sacks/G Rating
Seattle pass offense 51.7 140.4 5.3 1.09 1.09 2.18 64.3
Dallas pass defense 62.4 196.2 6.7 1.36 0.45 3.00 90.0

To sat the Seattle passing attack has been anemic is an understatement. The quarterbacks aren't turning the ball over at a high rate, yet they aren't getting the ball downfield either. Averaging just over 5 yards per pass will allow opposing defenses to focus on stopping Seattles lone bright spot, the running game. Seattle boast a respectable 111 yards per game with 4.4 yards per carry, good for about average in the NFL. Yet without an overwhelming passing attack that forces defenses to back off the running game, the offense has failed to produce the explosiveness that was there in the first month. After putting up impressive numbers in the first few weeks of the season, Seattle has just three rushing touchdowns in the past eight games, all coming from third string back T.J. Duckett on goalline plays.

Out of 315 pass attempts this year, the Seattle Seahawks have just 19 "explosive" plays, ones that go for longer than 20 yards. That's good for 6.0%, next to last in the league in ratio of big plays per pass attempt. Compare that to Dallas' offense, that has 45 explosive plays in 360 attempts, or 12.0%.

Yet the Seattle offensive skill plays have slowly started to return to the lineup the past few weeks and the games have come down to the final minutes. Yet the offense has still not put up good numbers, with Hasselbeck averaging just 136 yards passing in the past two games, throwing three touchdowns to five interceptions good for a QB rating of 51.0.

Bottom line: The Dallas Cowboys defense is primed to dominate a struggling Seattle offense. The Cowboys Achilles heel all season long has been giving up big numbers in the passing game,  allowing opposing  quarterbacks to post an average rating of 90.0. Yet they now face an offense that has problems with timing and accuracy and the Cowboys can do themselves a favor and not allow them any room to gain momentum. Look for the Cowboys to have a big day putting pressure on the quarterback because Dallas will want to take advantage of an immobile Hasselbeck who can be forced  into bad decisions.

Dallas offense vs Seattle defense.

Just a quick little tidbit before I get to the numbers: the Miami Dolphins passing attack is ranked ahead of Dallas, in both yards per game and QB rating.  Thanks a lot Brad Johnson.

Pct Yds/G Avg TD/G Int/G Sacks/G Rating
Dallas pass offense 60.9 236.1 7.5 2.33 1.18 1.63 88.6
Seattle pass defense 66.3 259.2 7.8 1.45 0.45 2.35 98.1

If you thought Dallas' pass defense was bad, you haven't seen anything. The Seattle rush defense isn't horrible, giving up just 4.0 yards per carry and 111 yards a game. Yet why rush the ball when you can throw it at will?

The Seattle defense has allowed 49 "explosive" passing plays this season, by far the most in the league. Opposing offense are picking up large chunks of yards at a time against the Seattle defense and while they have been playing teams tougher as of late, the defense still has yet to completely figure things out. In two of the last three games the defense focused on shutting down the pass and allowed just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. However while trying to stop the pass they forgot about the running backs, giving up 171 yards per game on the ground. Against the Cardinals Seattle was able to stop the run, but gave up nearly 400 yards through the air.

Bottom line: The Seahawks have yet to figure out how to make a team one dimensional and still win the game. While they have been competitive lately, an ailing Matt Hasselbeck has thrown game ending interceptions in each of the last two games.

If the Cowboys can force Seattle to abandon the run and do their best to win through the air, the defense's day will be become much, much easier. The Seahawks have also had trouble against teams with multiple offensive weapons; without enough players on defense to matchup against decent receivers the Seattle defense has been one of the worst in the league this season against the pass. Look for the Cowboys offense to have another big day through the air in what on paper should be an easy win.

Don't forget the intangibles, though. Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasslebeck are always capable of coming up big in games, and Julius Jones will be extra motivated to have a great day against his former team. But if the Cowboys come to play and execute like they have lately, the Seattle emotions will run thin and talent will win out in the end.

Bonus coverage: The Dallas Cowboys run defense

The Dallas Cowboys have four losses this season, two in close games and two in blowouts. Yet all four games have the same common denominator: the Cowboys' rushing defense was horrible.

We all know what the Cowboys are going to do against the pass. They'll sit back, keep everything in front of them and do their best not to allow big plays through the air. This type of defense gives up big numbers overall yet the Cowboys have done well stiffening up in the red zone. It's a perfect example of bend but don't break defense. Yet the key for this type of defense to work if that the front seven has to play well against the run.

Attempts Tot. Yds Yds/G Avg
In wins 138 481 68.0 3.4
In losses 120 604 151 5.0

The Cowboys are remarkably consistent against the pass, but stopping the run has to be the focus for the defense to have any success. The stark difference in numbers shows that when teams have success running the ball the Cowboys have yet to win. In the Giants game the Cowboys showed a small sliver of life after Brooks Bollinger led the team for a touchdown drive but the New York went on a demoralizing march down the field, running it down the Cowboys' throats and running out the clock as well.


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