After playing one of the most intense rivals they have, the Dallas Cowboys play host to the Seattle Seahawks, a team that they have a limited history against. The one moment most Cowboys fans remember is the bobbled field goal try in the playoff game against the Seahawks that was such a bitter end to the 2006 season.
This Sunday, both teams come in really, really needing a win. You all know where the Cowboys stand at 3-4. The Seahawks are in worse shape, bringing in a 2-5 record. The Seattle fan base over at Field Gulls are starting to grumble about Head Coach Pete Carroll. Like the Cowboys, they have a quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, who is a bit dinged up. They also have a pretty good defense, but their offense is really struggling.
I took a look at the video of their last game against the Cincinnati Bengals to see what I could learn about them.
Seattle had a bad game against the Bengals, but I will admit up front that this game worries me. It could easily be a trap game. There is some talent on the Seahawks, and the Cowboys will just about see their season go down the drain if they don't take care of business here. But this is a game that Dallas should be able to win.
My take after the jump.
I mentioned that Jackson was hurt, he has an injury to his pectoral muscle. Backup Charlie Whitehurst actually started the game, but was ineffective, and Jackson came in on the fourth series. The first play for Jackson was a fumble on a miscommunication between him and Marshawn Lynch, but after that Jackson was pretty efficient. As a matter of fact, if you just look at some of the stats, the game looks like the Seahawks should have won. They had more first downs, out-gained the Bengals 411 yards to 252, had more than double the passing yards (350 to 160, with Jackson getting 323), and were even in turnovers.
The story of this game is elsewhere. First, Seattle was dismal on special teams, leading to two big punt returns. The first was after the initial possession by the Seahawks. With a three and out at their own 25, Jon Ryan boomed a 64 yard punt to Adam Jones (the player formerly known as Pacman), who was in his first game in a year. He promptly returned the punt 63 yards before pulling up with a hamstring injury which had him sitting out the rest of the game (not that it mattered much, as you'll see). This led to a three play touchdown drive by the Bengals, capped by a nice slant pass by rookie QB Andy Dalton to Jerome Simpson.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter. Despite a mishandled end to the first half (more about that later) and a lot of penalties (both teams had issues with yellow flags), the Seahawks had managed to hang in, with the score 20-12. The Bengals penned them deep with a sack and forced a three and out. Ryan punted to the Cincy 43, and Brandon Tate found a lane to the left. The score became 27-12, and the game was pretty much over. A late pick six thrown by Jackson sealed the deal.
I mentioned the odd end to the first half, which I thought shed a little light on the coaching issues they seem to have. Seattle had driven to the 3 yard line. A pass reception that went out of bounds gave them a 4th and 2, with 0:19 on the clock and one time out. They had to decide whether to kick the field goal or go for it, since the score at the time was 17-3. But Carroll (or his OC, since I am not sure who made the decision) could not decide, and they used their last time out to talk it over. They then decided to go for it. Lynch got two and a half yards. First down, half a yard to go, but no way to stop the clock, and the Bengals players did a good job of stalling things getting unpiled. Time ran out, and a drive was wasted.
Those four plays (counting that pick six late) pretty much determined the outcome of the game. It was mostly a day of futility for the Seattle offense, with a lot of yards resulting in very few points. There were flashes of good play for Jackson, but he and Whitehurst were under constant pressure. They were subjected to four sacks and twelve hits, and the pressure often came from four or even three rushers (the sack just before the punt return to the house was from a three man rush, which looked to be totally a coverage sack while Jackson tried to stall for someone to come open deep). Jackson did have some success with slants and screens, an area of concern for the Cowboys, but a good bit of his yardage came on down field throws. Ben Obomanu had a 55-yard catch (and 107 yards total, although he was only targeted four times, catching all four). The one really good drive of the day, which unfortunately didn't come until the fourth quarter, had a good 31-yard pass to Doug Baldwin on 3rd and 11, and the next play was a 35-yard catch by Sidney Rice, who made a good adjustment to an underthrown pass. On a less positive note, there were multiple dropped passes throughout the game.
But the running game was downright anemic. Marshawn Lynch only averaged 1.5 yards a carry. If you take away a pointless 28-yard run by backup RB Leon Washington on the last play of the game they only managed 33 yards on the ground. When you look at the lack of running room and the beating given to the quarterbacks, it does make the offensive line look pretty vulnerable.
Defensively, they did a better job. Although they did not get many sacks or hits there was pretty consistent pressure on Dalton. He used his legs to move out of trouble and a lot of balls were thrown away. DE Red Bryant was the main pass rush threat. After the fumble on Jackson's first play, they stiffened nicely and forced a three and out. The linebackers looked solid and the secondary acquitted itself well, with CB Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor each getting picks, the second one leading to Seattle's only touchdown. But even there it was not as good as it appears, since Chancellor's pick put the ball at their own 21, and Sherman's was back at the 9.
The play was sloppy on both sides, with Seattle getting eleven penalties called (Cincy had seven), and one play with three different flags thrown (personal foul and defensive holding against the Bengals, offensive holding against the Seahawks).
The overall picture of Seattle is that the team is struggling in most phases, although the defense does deserve some respect. The biggest worry for the Cowboys is that Jackson will get hot and the pass rush will not get to him. Also, Dallas cannot bank on the special teams breakdowns that put Seattle away late. This is certainly a winnable game, but if the Cowboys don't take it seriously, the Seahawks do have enough firepower with Obomanu, Rice and Baldwin running routes to score some points, and their defense did a very good job limiting the Bengals to only 252 yards. And Marshawn Lynch can always have another out-of-his-mind game.
The real story, and perhaps the hardest one to judge, is going to be which coaching staff does the best job getting their team ready after each has suffered a disappointing, ugly loss.