If you get to Week 16 and there is still excitement about a chance to make the playoffs, then that’s a good deal. Playoffs or not, the Cowboys are trying to finish out strong and have two-straight 10+ win seasons, which is something they haven’t done in over 20 years. This week’s match-up against the Seattle Seahawks should be a great battle as both these teams are fighting for their playoff lives. Here are five things to watch for this Sunday.
1. The Running Man
Despite missing six games due to suspension, Ezekiel Elliott only needs 217 yards to break the 1,000 yard mark for the second straight season. For the year, he has rushed for just under 100 yards per game, which means it could come down to the wire if he hits the mark or not. But prior to his suspension, the Cowboys were on a three-game winning streak and Zeke was running wild. In that span, Elliott was rushing for an average of 130 yards per game and had six total touchdowns. We all know he is hungry and he even bet Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson that he would rush for 200 yards in his return.
That might just sound like your typical ego talk one might expect from a player who’s chomping at the bit to get back in action, but this might not be so far-fetched after all. The Seahawks run defense has been struggling lately as they have averaged 200 yards allowed over the last two games. Having to face a highly-motivated Elliott who has some fresh legs is not going to make things any easier for them.
2. That Wascally Wilson
Unlike the Cowboys who can produce 100-yard game rushers like Elliott and Alfred Morris, the Seahawks get next to nothing from their running backs. They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher all season. In fact, the running back with the most rushing yards on the season is Chris Carson with 208 yards. That is insane.
The Seahawks offensive line has been problematic all season. Desperation set in so bad that the team traded away a second-round pick (2018) and a third-round pick (2019) to get a 32-year-old former All Pro tackle in Duane Brown.
Without the ability to run the ball, it should surprise no one that the Seahawks offense rests entirely on Russell Wilson. Unfortunately for Seattle, Russell just doesn’t have much time in the pocket and spends most afternoons running for his life. Last week, the Los Angeles Rams sacked him seven times.
Getting after Wilson will be crucial for Dallas. While the sack numbers have dropped off for the Cowboys recently (absence of David Irving?), they are still one of the top teams in applying pressure to the quarterback.
Applying pressure to the QB makes everyone on the defense better- here are the teams applying the most pressure to Quarterbacks this season!#HTTR #Jaguars #LARams #Bengals50 #KeepPounding #DallasCowboys #HereWeGo #BroncosCountry #BeRedSeeRed #RavensFlock #Bucs pic.twitter.com/6vtSKkPSnE— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) December 21, 2017
Putting pressure on Wilson won’t be enough. They need to contain him and wrap him up whenever they get the chance. The Cowboys defense has done a great job as of late, but they have given up some big plays when the quarterback has been able to escape the pocket. It the same thing happens against Seattle, Wilson will make them pay.
3. Team in turmoil
While the Cowboys have won three straight, the Seahawks have dropped two in a row. And losing doesn’t sit well with the group as their players are starting to lose their cool. For two straight weeks, the Seahawks have had players ejected from the game. Michael Bennett started the mess a couple weeks ago when he dove at the legs of the Jacksonville Jaguars center when the Jags were in victory formation. A ruckus ensued as Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Jefferson were both tossed. A fan threw something at Jefferson which prompted him to try to climb into the stands. Last week, Delano Hill was ejected for throwing punches.
That frustration has even started to seep within the locker room as players are turning on each other.
Bobby Wagner's initial response, soon deleted, to Earl Thomas' opinion Wagner should not have played with his injured hamstring for #Seahawks in today's blowout loss to Rams pic.twitter.com/emiCl9PnVa— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) December 18, 2017
Say what you want about the “lack of control” from the Cowboys coaching staff, but it sure is nice that none of this type of foolishness isn’t happening in Big D.
4. Strike early
The Cowboy defense has been outstanding in the first half of games recently. Even in the three games they were blown out, they never trailed by more than three points going into halftime. When the Cowboys offense gets in a rut to where they are not giving the defense much time to rest, the D starts to wear down.
The offense has to do their part on Sunday. Seattle is a team that can buckle, but Cowboys have to come at them strong. If they can’t deliver blows early, then Seattle becomes a very tough team to beat.
This may be the craziest stat ever. #SeattleSeahawks are 47-0 when leading by 4 or more points at half-time since 2012. Let that sink in— Babe Laufenberg (@BabeLaufenberg) December 22, 2017
While Zeke is back, the hope is that Tyron Smith will be on the field as well. This season, the Cowboys have been able to win games where Elliott or Sean Lee have not started, but the same is not true for Smith. Hopefully, the coaching staff will be prepared this time to find a way to give Dak Prescott time regardless of who is playing left tackle.
If Smith is a go, the Cowboys have no excuses for a lethargic offensive performance. They need to prove they can move the ball and put points on the board. If they allow this game to stay close, Jeff Heath might show up to save them this time.
5. Playoff watch
We all know the Cowboys playoff chances are about as thin as an index card. So much in fact, that I was tempted to not bring it up just so we all don’t have be subjected to that Dumb and Dumber meme that has been used eleventy million times in the last few weeks. But I have to bring it up because it’s of great significance right now as it pertains to the Cowboys.
First, the good news...
No matter what happens next week, as long as Dallas beats Seattle, they will still be alive in Week 17.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 19, 2017
Not only that, but it's also possible that if everything goes just right, they could control their own destiny by Week 17.
The Cowboys need one loss by Detroit and two losses by either Atlanta, Carolina, or New Orleans. Since the Saints and Falcons play each other this week, one of them is guaranteed to lose (I’m not even thinking about ties right now) which means one of them will go into Week 17 with a chance to lose a second game. It’s possible the Cowboys won’t get the help they need next week, but at least there remains an opportunity.
What the Cowboys need the most is for Detroit, Atlanta, and Carolina to all lose this week. Do the Cincinnati Bengals (DET) have one good game left in them? Surely, the New Orleans Saints (ATL) can take care of business this time, right? Would it kill the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (CAR) to pull off one lousy upset? Sure, for all these things to happen is a bit of a long-shot, but should all of them happen, the Cowboys would be back in business and it wouldn’t matter what happened next week with these other teams. Week 17 would be filled with excitement as all the Cowboys would need is to win against the Philadelphia Eagles and all of us would get bonus football.
While that scenario is asking a lot, maybe we can find a happy middle ground? I’ll take a Detroit loss this week and deal with the NFC South dilemma next week. Seem fair?
Those are the things I will be watching for on Sunday. What about you?