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Cowboys vs. Seahawks: Previewing the Seattle defense

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The Seattle defense may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The Seahawks were once known for their dominant defense with a secondary dubbed the Legion of Boom, and featured some of the best at each position, including Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor. Only Wagner will still be on the field Saturday night.

Furthermore, several of the architects of that defense are no longer there, as guys like Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn have taken jobs elsewhere. And of course there’s Kris Richard, who was the Seahawks defensive coordinator last year and was fired before taking a similar role in Dallas.

Suffice it to say that this defense is not what it once was. While they haven’t been terrible, the Seattle defense has regressed significantly and failed to finish top ten in any of the three yardage categories, any of the three efficiency ratings, and finished just outside the top ten in scoring defense.

Looking at the roster, it seems as if this unit is going through a transition, as they have several short-term free agents in key roles as they usher in younger talent. This includes Barkevious Mingo, whose 48 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles have been solid in limited snaps, and Dion Jordan, who has contributed 1.5 sacks and six hits on the quarterback in a small role.

Then there’s the young guys that have been flashing potential for Seattle, specifically on the defensive line. At the 1-technique, Quinton Jefferson has been very impressive while putting up three sacks and a whopping 15 QB hits. Jarran Reed, a former standout at Alabama, has locked down the 3-technique spot next to Jefferson, as he’s got 50 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, and 24 QB hits. All of that is outdone by Frank Clark, though, who’s got 13 sacks, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, and 27 QB hits. The defensive line has had success at rushing the passer.

And then there’s Bobby Wagner, the lone remaining prominent piece of that former defensive group. At 28-years old, Wagner is still going strong and has been the best inside linebacker in the NFL this year. His stat line is ridiculous, as Wagner has 138 tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack, eight QB hits, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a 98-yard pick six, and 11 passes defensed, which is more than any defensive backs on the team.

Unfortunately for Seattle, the rest of the linebacker corps hasn’t been that great. KJ Wright has missed time throughout the year with injuries and played in only five games, though he is a full go for Saturday night. Mingo’s contribution have been solid but not as much of a supplement as the team would surely like, and the midseason addition of Mychal Kendricks hasn’t panned out, as the troubled linebacker was placed on injured reserve.

But the positive for the Seahawks is that Wagner is good enough to carry the linebackers. A near unstoppable force, Wagner will fly sideline-to-sideline and disrupt the offense whether it’s a run or pass play. Teams that have had success against this defense have devoted much of their offensive game-plan to stopping Wagner, and for Dallas this will be the same. The Cowboys could try a variety of things, including sending Dalton Schultz in on run plays to immediately get to the second level and block Wagner, or utilizing trap plays to get offensive linemen into the next level to take on the stud linebacker. However the Cowboys do it, they need to take Wagner out of things if they’re going to find success in this game.

Where this defense struggles the most is in the secondary. With no Chancellor or Thomas, the Seahawks have relied on Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson as their starting safeties, and the drop off in talent has been very noticeable. Still, neither safety is a slouch in tackling, which is a positive. McDougald’s 78 tackles are second on the team behind Wagner, and he’s tied with Thomas for interceptions with three. Thompson has 57 tackles to his name and one interception.

The bigger problem for this secondary is the cornerbacks. Tre Flowers, Shaquill Griffin, and Justin Coleman have all done a serviceable job but have clearly been the weakest point of the defense. Coleman is easily the best of the bunch, and his work out of the slot has yielded an interception and ten passes defensed. Griffin and Flowers, though, have been easily beat by better receivers. Going against Dallas will be a trial by fire for this secondary, as focus will naturally shift to Amari Cooper, but the likes of Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and a healthy Tavon Austin will still be around to benefit from that attention Cooper draws.

All of this should culminate into a good day for Dak Prescott, who’s had a spectacular second half of the season, save for the Colts game, and seems to be well positioned to continue against this defense. The biggest obstruction to that will be the offensive line’s ability to prevent this young defensive line from creating pressure. If they can handle that, this offense could take advantage of a very average defense.