Seahawks Versus Cowboys Preview

As the Seattle Seahawks continue to try to get back into the postseason race a matchup with the Cowboys in Dallas looms large. The Cowboys the Seahawks will face will still be without quarterback Tony Romo, so this is a game Seattle needs to win.

The Cowboys have lost four games in a row, but still have a chance to win their division. In fact, if they are able to defeat the Seahawks they would only be a game back in the loss column with still more than half the season to play. The problem with Dallas is not that they lack talent; the reason the Cowboys are 2-4 is they have suffered injuries to their two best offensive players, Romo and receiver Dez Bryant. Bryant returns this week and how that will impact Dallas both on-the-field and in terms of morale is a big question.

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Bryant, even with a healthy Romo, has not had extremely productive outings versus Seattle. In three games against the Seahawks, Bryant has been targeted 26 times, but only has 11 catches for 156 yards and no touchdowns. Bryant will still not be fully healthy on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see how many times he is targeted this week. Will the Cowboys try to throw to him even more since he is their best option, or will he be limited enough where he might be used more as a decoy?

On the other side of the ball, how will the Seahawks defense attempt to defend Bryant? Will they have cornerback Richard Sherman focus on him or will Seattle use more of their base defense? In years past the answer to that would be simpler. Seattle would go with more cover-three pressure man coverage and rely on the team as a whole to defense an offense. This year, however, defensive coordinator Kris Richard has been using more blitzes and moving Sherman all over the field. Last Thursday, Seattle completely shut down the San Francisco 49ers by playing more like they have in years past, letting the defensive line supply the pressure on the quarterback mostly without blitzes. The Cowboys have much more talent, especially offensively and specifically with the offensive line, than do the 49ers, though, so Richard might revert a bit more to the way he has been calling plays this season.

Romo’s current replacement is journeyman quarterback, Matt Cassel. Cassel is a decent backup, but the Seahawks should get enough pressure on him to make him uncomfortable and make him make mistakes. Against the New York Giants last week, Cassel threw three second-half interceptions. The Seahawks secondary has not been as good this year as they have the past three, but the talent remains the same so Seattle needs to force Cassel into more miscues this week.

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The Seahawks get a receiver of their own back this week in the person of Paul Richardson. Richardson returns from a knee injury suffered in last year’s playoffs, and it is unclear if he will have temporarily lost any speed from 2014. At the end of last year, Richardson was becoming a productive and trusted target for quarterback Russell Wilson. If Richardson is able to return to the field mostly healthy he will give the Seahawks another receiving option with speed to go along with Tyler Lockett. This could open the field up for tight end Jimmy Graham to get more catches in the middle.

If Lockett does get the opportunity to return a kickoff, there is huge potential. While Cowboys kicker Dan Dailey does rank third in the National Football League in touchback percentage at 79.12%, Dallas’ kickoff coverage has been awful this season. Currently, the Cowboys average giving up a bit over 37 yards-a-return on kickoffs, so if Lockett gets the chance to return a kick, great things might happen for the Seahawks.

Dallas has a top-ten ranked defense, like Seattle, but is a slight bit better stopping the run than covering the pass. The pass rush has been better since the return of defensive end Greg Hardy, but the team on the season has just 13 sacks. Seattle has allowed Wilson to be sacked an NFL-high 31 times this year, so expect the Cowboys to get at least a few of their own. The Seahawks offensive line has been getting better a little each week, though, so there should be times when Wilson can throw without being pressured. It would not be surprising to see Seattle to throw more than they did against San Francisco, especially early, and use Lockett, Richardson and Graham as middle-deep options. Running back Marshawn Lynch got 27 carries against the 49ers last week, but only 10 against the Cowboys in last year’s Seattle-Dallas matchup, so the expectation is he gets around 18-20 rushes in Sunday’s contest. Even so, if Seattle gets decent protection for Wilson against the Cowboys, Wilson, at least, should have a nice day.

Both teams need a win, and it is difficult to beat a decent opponent on the road, but without Romo quarterbacking Dallas the Seahawks should be expected to win this game. With an off-week next week and then five of the seven contests in Seattle – and a more favorable schedule overall – Seattle would be in a position with a win against Dallas to anticipate postseason play once again this year.