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Cowboys vs. Seahawks: Which defense can you trust the most?

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Which defense can be trusted to get the stops when they need it, Dallas or Seattle?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Football comes with a lot of clichés and overused phrases but the one we hear so often is “Defense wins championships!” Now, that phrase has often been proved correct as recent as the 2015 Denver Broncos but there is always an exception to every rule. The 2011 New York Giants won a championship with the ninth-ranked offense and 25th-ranked defense.

More often than not these playoff games are won by teams with defenses that can get that one key stop in the red zone or one crucial takeaway that changes the game.

The Seahawks are used to the playoff atmosphere and though many players have gone since those legendary “Legion of Boom” days, they still play pretty well on defense. The Cowboys’ defense is currently seeing the results after many years in transition. Now, the Cowboys young defense has taken a leap into one of the best defenses in all of football.

Both the Seahawks and Cowboys also present similar offenses with a mobile quarterback but also a punishing run game. Each offense has been hitting the big plays in the passing game recently with guys like Tyler Lockett and Amari Cooper.

Let’s break each defense down by a few key areas that are crucial for defensive success in the postseason.

(Note: We’re looking at stats from the the second half of the season as a better representation of where these defense are now.)

Explosive Plays (Plays that gain 15+ yards)

We’ll start with the explosive plays as that’s something that will be a focus of the Cowboys because the Seahawks are pretty good at racking them up.

In their first meeting back in week three, Russell Wilson had four explosive passes against the Cowboys defense, gaining 114 yards, 28.5 yards per completion, and two touchdowns. It’s important to limit those big gains as best as possible. Outside of a few moments this season, Dallas has been pretty good at keeping damage at a minimum.

Seattle is currently ranked fourth behind the Chiefs, Patriots, and Rams in explosive plays on offense. At the same time, the Cowboys defense is fifth-best behind the Colts, Ravens, Bears, and Chargers. Dallas is also third in explosive touchdowns, allowing just five in the second-half of the season.

The Seahawks have 25 explosive runs and have become an even heavier rushing team in the last eight weeks than they have been since their Super Bowl years. The Cowboys defense will be a test for them as they have allowed the third-least amount of explosive runs.

DEF Expl. Plays ToGo Yds 1st% TO% TD 1D Fum Pass Rush
SEA 66 8.39 24.56 98.5% 3.0% 8 53 1 41 12
DAL 50 8.22 24.70 98.0% 2.0% 5 49 1 42 8
OFF Expl. Plays ToGo Yds 1st% TO% TD 1D Fum Pass Rush
DAL 53 8.98 24.45 100 1.9% 11 53 1 41 12
SEA 67 9.58 24.52 100 1.5% 11 67 1 42 25

The Cowboys aren’t hitting those explosive plays as often but look at the scoring they are getting. Dallas is tied with the Patriots and Seahawks for most explosive touchdowns in the past eight games, though they got them on 15-20 less explosive plays than their counterparts.

The Seahawks will present an explosive challenge for the Cowboys but trust that Dallas has a better shot at keeping them to a minimum. The Seahawks are giving up about eight explosive plays per game on defense, which is a problem because Dallas is giving up two-plays less, maybe that’s the difference.

Advantage: Dallas

Red Zone Defenses (Limiting scores inside own 20-yard line)

RZ OFF RZ ATT # Plays Yds Avg. Time Field Pos. SC Margin SC% TO% TD% FG%
SEA 29 8.2 64.9 3:50 Own 31 Up by 0.6 93.1% 3.4% 72.4% 20.7%
DAL 23 10.2 62.6 4:58 Own 33 Up by 1.3 87.0% 4.3% 52.2% 34.8%
RZ DEF RZ ATT # Plays Yds Avg. Time Field Pos. SC Margin SC% TO% TD% FG%
DAL 26 7.7 54.3 3:31 Opp 41 Up by 5.4 84.6% 3.8% 53.8% 30.8%
SEA 30 7.6 57.4 3:23 Opp 36 Up by 5.3 80.0% 10.0% 43.3% 36.7%

The Seahawks have been one of the best red zone offenses in the NFL as they have scored above 90% of the time, they also convert 74% of those opportunities into touchdowns. The Cowboys will be facing a formidable red zone offense and will have to step it up in hopes to walk away victorious.

The Seahawks are able to create more turnovers and force more field goals on defense. We are all well aware about the Cowboys issues scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Dallas can’t afford to trade field goals with touchdowns, it’s a losing battle.

Advantage: Seahawks

Run Defense

Without question, the most important focus of both teams will be stopping the run because that is where each team butters their bread. Seattle is the top-rated rushing offense but the Cowboy have the league’s leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott. Whichever team can establish the running attack could be the one that decides this game.

DEF Run Att. YPC Rush Yds 1stDn TD EXP. Runs
SEA 176 5.07 893 42 4 12
DAL 175 4.08 714 39 6 8
OFF Run Att. YPC Rush Yds 1stDn TD EXP. Runs
DAL 226 4.13 1463 55 8 12
SEA 67 5.23 933 76 10 25

The Seahawks are a different animal and we have seen the Cowboys let teams get loose before in the run game though it’s not an often occurrence. The Seahawks give up more big runs than Dallas but they also gain more as well. However, Seattle is allowing a 113 yards per game on the ground and Dallas is only allowing 94.

Advantage: Cowboys

As you can see these two teams are very similar defensively across the board. What do you expect with a coordinator in Rod Marinelli who admired Seattle so much that he hired one of Pete Carroll’s former lieutenants, Kris Richard? That hire among other contributing factors have Dallas as the more trustworthy defense but they’ll receive a mighty test against a very well-coached team in Seattle.