The Cowboys will host the defending NFC Champions, Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in a game that could put the loser in pretty bad shape. The Cowboys are 2-4 and last in the NFC East. The Seahawks are 3-4, but are two games behind the division leading Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are desperate to work themselves back towards a winning record. Despite the Cowboys being underdogs, this team can win on Sunday, but it's going to take great play in all areas of the game. Here are a few things the Cowboys can do to help them beat Seattle.
1. Play it safe on offense
After weeks of fans pleading for the Cowboys to take more chances on offense, the team finally obliged. But it didn't work out the way we wanted. We all got a taste of what Matt Cassel can do. Some of it was good. Some of it was terrible. But regardless of the outcome, the Cowboys offense showed that they can move the ball rather well against the New York Giants. But the picks - boy, did they sting. The Cowboys will now face one of the top defenses in the league so Cassel will have to be on his best behavior when it comes to protecting the ball.
A quarterback's best friend in aiding a more conservative offensive game plan is an effective ground game. The Cowboys offense is coming off their best rushing output since DeMarco Murray ran wild against the St. Louis Rams in 2011. Darren McFadden had his best game of the season, rushing for 152 yard last Sunday. La'el Collins demonstrated that he was a good upgrade at left guard. And Matt Cassel showed that he is able to make plays down the field. These are things that the offense can build upon to sustain a strong ground attack going forward.
But Cassel is going to need to pull it back a bit. Coming off a three-pick game, Cassel should be making a more concerted effort in protecting the ball. The Cowboys have some pieces around him so he doesn't have to put the team on his shoulders. The defense only allowed the Giants offense to score 13 points so if the offense can have some success and limit their mistakes, they'll have a chance on Sunday.
2. It's a race to the quarterback
The Cowboy pass rush is on the up-and-up. After recording just one sack in each of their first three games, the defense has gotten 10 sacks over the last three games. A big part of this jump is the addition of Greg Hardy. The Cowboys controversial pass-rusher has been in the headlines this week as a result of his sideline tirade in the Giants game. It's upset a lot of people. One person that is not upset is Jason Garrett. The Cowboys coach didn't seem too worried about it and just chalked it up to passion. And while Greg Hardy "the person" remains an enigma for a lot of fans, it is pretty clear what Greg Hardy "the football player" consists of - and that's a havoc wreaking, sacking machine. His play has been infectious as the defensive line has been showing improvement at getting after the quarterback since he's joined the party.
The pass rush will have a real opportunity to be disruptive as the Seattle Seahawks struggle protecting their quarterback. Russell Wilson has been sacked a season high 31 times. The Cowboys defensive line needs to assert themselves in the trenches and must take Wilson to the ground.
The Cowboys don't have the offensive line problems that the Seahawks have, but that doesn't mean they won't have their hands full against Seattle's pass rush. Michael Bennett is coming off a 3.5 sack game, which helped him be named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin each have 3.5 sacks for the year, which is still more than any Cowboys player. The Seahawks pass rushers hit you from all sides.
3. Win the "splash play" battle
Both the Seahawks and Cowboys will be employing a lot of running on Sunday. And most of the passes should be of the short versions. But where the offenses could excel is when a small gain turns into a huge one. In a game like this, a blown assignment or a missed tackle could make all the difference in the game. The Cowboys have been on the wrong end of these type of situations as players like Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, and C.J. Spiller have hurt the Cowboys over the last few weeks. From the defensive side, the Cowboys are going to have to bring down Lynch and not let any of the Seahawks quick passes develop into giant, back-breaking plays. The Seahawks rookie wide receiver, Tyler Lockett, has shown he can hurt you with big catches. It will be important to make sure he doesn't get behind the coverage. Lockett can also hurt you in the return game. If Dan Bailey could just kick the ball out of the end zone, that would be super-fantastic.
Offensively, the Cowboys need to find a way to break off some big gains of their own. This may have seemed like a tall order for this offense the way it played after its first five games, but that wasn't a problem for them last week. This doesn't have to come in the form of the deep ball, but rather what the players can do after they already have the ball. McFadden will need to keep the foot on the gas when he hits the holes. And with Joseph Randle out of the mix, the Cowboys are probably-almost-certainly going to give Christine Michael some additional touches. And wouldn't it be poetic if C-Mike had his breakout game against his former team? If Michael can get some good yards after contact, it could really help the offense.
And let's not forget that the Cowboys may be getting their playmaking receiver back on the field as Dez Bryant is close to returning from his broken foot. While it may be unrealistic to expect him to tear it up right away, he's still could be very effective in the red zone. Bryant caught 16 TD passes last season and could help the offense finish off drives. Not only that, but the other pass catchers for Dallas will now be covered by lesser caliber players so the opportunities to get some good yards after the catch could be there. Scott Linehan showed that he can be a little creative with the use of Lucky Whitehead. The offense will need to work to get their guys in space.