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Week 3 Primer: Cowboys @ Seahawks

Can the Cowboys put together a complete game?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys were so close to falling to 0-2 but managed to scrap, claw, and watermelon kick their way to a 1-1 start to the season. They did it against a bad Falcons team that had fans calling for the head coach to be fired before the season even began, but now Dallas faces their first team that made the postseason last year.

Pete Carroll’s team went 11-5 last year but had to settle for a Wild Card berth because of the 49ers’ dominant run, however, Seattle was one of the three teams to beat San Francisco last year, and nearly did it twice. They beat the Eagles in the Wild Card round and then lost by five points in Lambeau Field.

But this Seahawks team was still in a transition from an identity perspective. Carroll created a mini dynasty thanks to the Legion of Boom defense and Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode performances, but when Lynch retired and the stars of the defense started to decline, the overall football quality fell off.

Heading into the 2020 season, Carroll needed to find a new identity if he wanted to reach the postseason for a third straight year. After trading for safety Quandre Diggs during last season, Seattle continued to reinvent their defense by adding cornerback Quinton Dunbar in free agency and trading for star safety Jamal Adams.

But the biggest change came on offense. While the Seahawks didn’t bring in any significant pieces on that side of the ball, they made a conscious commitment to putting the ball in Russell Wilson’s hands more often. Shedding their conservative, run-first mentality that’s been prevalent under Carroll’s watch, the Seahawks have let Wilson do his thing, and the results are hard to argue with. Seattle ranks second in offensive DVOA while Wilson is second in QBR and sixth in EPA among quarterbacks.

And, of course, they’re undefeated after stopping Cam Newton and the Panthers inside the five-yard line on the final play of Sunday night’s primetime matchup.

But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys have no shot at the win. After all, Dallas came into the season with much higher expectations, largely due to the hiring of Mike McCarthy as head coach and the addition of CeeDee Lamb in the draft. While the team got off to a very rocky start against the Rams and in the first quarter against the Falcons, they started to look the part as it went on.

The offense, in particular, was firing on all cylinders despite missing both of their starting offensive tackles. Dak Prescott - who ranks just behind Wilson in EPA and tenth in QBR - went off for 450 passing yards and four total touchdowns, with highlight plays from each of their receiver trio and even getting a strong performance from tight end Dalton Schultz.

It was what everyone expected in Week 1, but it may have just taken some time for the sleeping giant to be awoken. And for a Seattle defense that is still trying to find their footing, they might be facing the Cowboys at the worst possible time.

Seattle also has suffered a couple serious injuries to their defense. Defensive end Bruce Irvin and nickel back Marquise Blair both tore their ACLs last week. The loss of Irvin is a devastating blow to a team that’s already struggled to get after the quarterback; Seattle has three sacks, two of which belong to Adams and the other to Benson Mayowa. Blair’s loss also hurts a secondary that’s surrendered the most passing yards these first two weeks.

But Dallas has plenty of injuries of their own. Tyron Smith could return, but La’el Collins is still on injured reserve for one more week. DeMarcus Lawrence missed some time with a knee injury on Sunday and his status is uncertain, while Chidobe Awuzie is the latest Cowboys cornerback to suffer an injury that’s expected to keep him out multiple weeks. Trevon Diggs was also listed on the injury report on Wednesday, meaning the secondary could potentially be really thin on Sunday when they face the red-hot Wilson.

All of this means that the game between these teams could become a full-blown shootout, much in the same way it was for the Cowboys last week. Avoiding needless turnovers would help Dallas, obviously, but it seems like they’re going to Dak to cook up another 40-burger if they want to hand the Seahawks their first loss of the year.

For what it’s worth, the Elo ratings at FiveThirtyEight sees the Cowboys losing this game before going on a five-game winning streak, so this game is far from the must-win that the team faced last week. But if McCarthy’s Cowboys truly have turned a corner and taken the next step, then this is the kind of game they should win.

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