The Cowboys head up north to face the Seattle Seahawks this week. This is a big game as it will help determine which path Dallas will travel this year. Will they continue to show improvement and leave the game with a winning record? Or will they falter and give life to a Seahawks team that has yet to win a game in 2018? This game could serve as a barometer for just how good the Cowboys are going to be. A nice road win would help stay the course, but a disappointing loss will pump the breaks on any type of momentum the team has been gaining. So, what should we expect this Sunday? Here are five things to keep an eye out for when the Cowboys travel to Seattle.
1. Contain Russell
Russell Wilson is a great playmaker. There was a point where he was labeled a “game manager” who was heavily supported by a strong defense to where he didn’t have to do too much to help his team win. And if he did do anything, it would be with his legs as he would always get about 500 yards of rushing per season.
But things have changed in Seattle. For starters, the defense isn’t as dominant as it once was. As for Wilson, he’s turned into quite the passer. He’s been putting up about 4,000 passing yards in each of the last three years and he’s still piling on the rushing yards.
Based on his numbers, you’d think Wilson had a consistent passing game to work with, but that’s not how he’s getting it done in Seattle. Wilson relies on chunk plays. It will be a whole lot of nothing for a while, but then he’ll get loose and strike. And he can do damage with both his arm and legs. The key to stopping Seattle is simple - contain Wilson.
The Cowboys brought the pressure on Eli Manning last week, but that’s different - where’s he going to go? He tried taking off once and Jaylon Smith reminded him of how silly that was.
But Wilson is a different cat. The Cowboys need to be careful and not be overaggressive with him. If he escapes, it could end up being a huge play for Seattle. The Cowboys defense needs to take a more cautionary approach and allocate resources to keep him contained within an area.
2. Who wins on third down?
The Cowboys and Seahawks offense are two of the worst teams in the league this season on third down. Seattle only converts 28% of their third downs (ranks 29th) and Dallas is even worse as they only convert 23% of their chances (ranks 31st). There isn’t much of a secret that both these offenses are having trouble getting going, so it will be really important to see who can come through on the money downs.
For the Dallas offense, this means they need to stop with those self-inflicted wounds in the form of holding penalties. If they get behind the chains in a very loud Century Link Field, it could be deja vu all over again from the Carolina game.
3. No free gifts from the offense
We are all hoping for an improved offensive showing and it’s possible that could translate into Dak Prescott being a little more aggressive. He’s been very cautious so far, but will he let loose a little bit and take some chances? This might not be the game to do that as the Seahawks have some pretty decent secondary pieces. Strong safety Bradley McDougald and cornerback Shaquill Griffin are having good seasons so far. They both have two interceptions already. They also have a pretty decent free safety in Earl Thomas... maybe you’ve heard of him? He has a pick as well.
Prescott is yet to throw an interception this season and it would be nice if that held true after Sunday, but if he does make a mistake, let’s hope it doesn’t result in free points for Seattle. Last year, Prescott sailed a pass right into the arms of Justin Coleman for an easy pick-six. Strangely enough, if you take those seven points off the board, the Cowboys might have pulled that game out despite struggling immensely on offense.
4. Big game from Tank
It seems like every week we’re talking about how DeMarcus Lawrence has a juicy mismatch against some poor right tackle. Of course, that kind of stuff is bound to happen when you’ve established yourself as a real-deal edge rusher.
On Sunday, Lawrence draws third-year tackle Germain Ifedi. Over the first two games, Wilson has been sacked 12 times (six sacks in each game) and Ifedi has been responsible for four of them. Granted, he’s gone up against star pass rushers like Von Miller and Khalil Mack, but it doesn’t get any easier for him going against Tank. Lawrence has picked up where he left off last year as no other edge rusher in the league has more pressures so far this season.
Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack are tied for the most total pressures among edge defenders through two weeks. pic.twitter.com/zx26WRUklh— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 21, 2018
Lawrence sacked Wilson when they met last season and it was the longest sack of the year.
Russell Wilson doesn't get rid of it.... so DeMarcus Lawrence gets a 22 yard sack pic.twitter.com/sCzcSlvSMc— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) December 24, 2017
5. The return of Richard
The Seattle Seahawks were once the stingiest defense in the league. For three-straight years (2012-2014), they allowed 16 points a game, which ranked them no. 1 in the league. In 2015 and 2016, they were ranked 3rd (17.6) and 2nd (18.6) respectively. Kris Richard helped assemble a smash-mouth secondary known to everyone as the “Legion of Boom.” Last year, the Seahawks’ defense slipped down to 10th, allowing 20.8 points per game. That’s not terrible, but it’s wasn’t what the once dominant Seahawks defense used to be.
This drop off in effectiveness from the defense played a part in Richard’s dismissal this past offseason, but it should be known that the Seahawks endured a lot of injuries to their star players in the secondary. So what was the real reason for the decline - the injuries or Richard?
We’re only two games into the season, but without Richard the Seahawks defense is allowing 25.5 points a game (21st). Dallas on the other hand has been outstanding under Richard’s direction. They are ranked third in the league with 14.5 points per game. Richard will visit his old stomping ground and you better believe he’ll want his new defense to leave their mark.
What will you be watching for on Sunday?