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Know your Cowboys enemy: Scouting the 2018 Seattle Seahawks

The Cowboys travel to Seattle this week, but there’s no boom left in this legion.

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Check below for previous scouting reports in this series:

After defeating the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football, Dallas travels to Seattle to take on Pete Carroll’s winless Seahawks. Usually that would be a daunting task, but these Seahawks are different. After missing out on the playoffs last year, Seattle fired both coordinators - which incidentally led to Kris Richard falling in the Cowboys’ laps - and jettisoned off most of their defensive stars.

Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are no longer on the defensive line, and Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell are elsewhere. Kam Chancellor is maybe, probably retired, and Earl Thomas doesn’t want to play for Seattle anymore. Ken Norton Jr. calls plays for the depleted defense after failing to find success with Khalil Mack in Oakland, and the offense is run by Brian Schottenheimer, architect of anemic offenses under the Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan Jets and Jeff Fisher Rams.

Of course, the personnel turnover on defense and the downgrade in offensive innovation are only extra layers on top of the issues the Seahawks already had. Marshawn Lynch’s absence is still being felt and the offensive line is still porous enough to make Russell Wilson’s life miserable.

Speaking of the offensive line, the team dumped their old offensive line coach Tom Cable for Mike Solari, whose most recent work included trying to make Ereck Flowers a serviceable left tackle in New York. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus ranked Seattle’s projected starting offensive line 30th in the league for the 2018 season. Justin Britt has been the starter at center for two years now with middling success, and yet he’s been the better part of this line the last two years. Seattle traded for Duane Brown midway through last year, and he earned Pro Bowl alternate honors.

It’s the rest of the line that is utterly horrific. Right guard DJ Fluker has struggled since switching from tackle to guard, getting cut by the Chargers and failing to improve the Giants’ protection last year. He’s been injured but looks like he might play. Germain Ifedi has, for the last two seasons, demonstrated ugly pass-blocking skills in particular. Ethan Pocic is the starter at left guard after being not-terrible-but-still-pretty-bad in 2017. The problem is he might be out due to injury. The Seahawks added guard JR Sweezy back to the team in August, and he’s had to play for Fluker, but hasn’t fared very well. Injury might also for center Justin Britt out, too.

The point in all of this is to say that Seattle’s offensive line is really bad. The right side of the line is particular bad, and DeMarcus Lawrence should be able to have the game of his life against Ifedi. Tyrone Crawford at the 3-technique spot should get plenty of pressure on Wilson as well, while Brown will have his hands full whether with Taco Charlton and Randy Gregory. Pressuring Wilson will be easy, but containing him will be the hard part.

Since the moment he got overlooked in the 2012 draft, Wilson has been an undeniable star in Seattle. He can sling it and run by defenses with ease, but his best days were with Lynch pacing the offense with a powerful run game. Seattle hasn’t had a good running back since Lynch retired. Rookie Rashaad Penny is supposed to be the guy, but 2017 seventh-round pick Chris Carson thoroughly outplayed him during the preseason. However, it hasn’t mattered much through two games because the offensive line can’t block anyone. That’s been the big problem for a while now. Last year, Seattle used six different running backs to combine for just 994 rushing yards behind a better offensive line. Even then, Wilson led the team in rushing yards with 586 yards.

And that’s the biggest challenge for the Cowboys’ defense: not letting his athleticism take over. Looking at last year, Wilson’s passing yards failed to reach 200 yards in five games, with the lowest number being against Dallas in Week 16 when he only threw for 93 yards. In those five games, Wilson was sacked 19 times, with at least three sacks in each of those games. So far this year, Wilson has been sacked six times in both games, and now faces a Dallas defense that tallied six sacks last week.

Against the Cowboys last year, the defense did a good job of playing tight on the receivers and keeping the defensive tackles and at least one linebacker in front of Wilson while the defensive ends put the pressure on the tackles. This year, it should be much of the same. Jaylon Smith makes the most sense to keep as a spy or blitzer, given his elite athleticism. His mere presence can help deter Wilson from trying to scramble, while the pass rushers get to him.

And the secondary will play even tighter coverage on a less than spectacular receiver corps due to the presence of Kris Richard, who knows this Seahawks offense better than anyone by now. After spending the past eight years with Seattle - and the previous two at USC - Richard knows Carroll very well, and saw Wilson specifically every day of his career in practices. Rod Marinelli drew up an effective gameplan last year, and Richard’s presence should make it all the more effective.

It’s no simple task to shut down Wilson, but with an offensive line this ineffective at offering protection and a receiver corps that doesn’t offer much to be desired, Dallas should be able to limit the Seahawks’ offense. The rest of it will be up to their offense.

And that offense will be going up against a defense even more in a rebuilding phase than the offense. Former Alabama standout Jarran Reed has been one of the few bright spots on this defensive line. Reed started 15 games in 2017 and put up 44 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Through two games this year, he has seven tackles and is a force in run defense. On the ends, rookie Rasheem Greene looks to start opposite Frank Clark, who’s put up 22 sacks in 46 career games with Seattle.

They still have linebackers Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright, although both players are dinged up right now, but it looks like Wagner will go. Barkevious Mingo will also start at SAM linebacker. The secondary is not the Legion of Boom, but they have been respectable so far. It features Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, Justin Coleman, Earl Thomas, and Bradley McDougald.

The defensive line, aside from Clark, lacks any real pass rush ability, and even then Clark will be going up against Tyron Smith, one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Reed is a good run stopper but can’t really contribute in the pass rushing game. Even so, Zack Martin can match up well against Reed.

In the run game, Ezekiel Elliott should have no problem getting past the defensive line. Wagner is the Seahawks’ version of Sean Lee, an unstoppable force that can disrupt any offense, but the Cowboys will want to take him out of the game. They can do this by running plenty of zone reads to the strong side and having Smith chip the defensive end and get to the next level to take on Wagner. Doing this gives Elliott a one-on-one matchup against Mingo, whose main weakness his whole career is that he’s all athleticism and no fundamentals: Elliott will win this matchup nine out of ten times with a simple juke or even a hurdle highlight. The run game should do fine.

And that lack of a pass rush? Up against the Great Wall of Dallas, Dak Prescott will have tons of time to sit back and throw it. And that’s bad for a secondary that’s still figuring things out. After tune up games in the first two weeks, Prescott and the new receiving corps should get things clicking on all levels in this game. There will be plenty of windows in the secondary for Prescott to throw into, and he’ll have lots of time to go window shopping.

The only legitimate threat in the secondary is Thomas, who is still upset that the Seahawks refused to give him a contract extension or trade him to his favorite team, the Cowboys. Prescott would be smart to avoid the All Pro safety.

The toughest part of this game will be the environment. CenturyLink Field is still going to be loud despite Seattle not fielding a good team in 2018. And the loud noise can trick Dallas into silly penalties that could end up derailing their chances of winning this game, much like they did in their last road game against Carolina. If the Cowboys focus and avoid silly mistakes, it’s an easily winnable game.

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