ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 06: Jon Ryan #9 of the Seattle Seahawks punts the ball away in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on November 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys defeated the Seahawks 23-13. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Dallas will come off a late summer break of 11 days to take on the Seattle in an afternoon tilt on Sunday that may not prove to be much of a challenge.
Have we ever experienced a season opening with this type of staccato pace? A Wednesday? On the road? That throws off your football equilibrium right there.
At least for the fans; the Cowboys themselves seemed to have no problem whatsoever adjusting to being involved in the first Wednesday game in NFL history.
They rode into New York and soundly defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Head Coach Jason Garrett preaches the 24 hour rule and as such; the players should have been focused on the Seattle Seahawks before they took the field for their season opener; a road loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Entering the season, as fans became less enamored with the return of pro football and needing a forced storyline to cover ad naseum; the national media decided to make a feature story out of the Seahawks quarterback competition. Seattle had signed the creamyish of a weak free agent quarterback crop in former Packers' backup Matt Flynn (behind Peyton Manning of course). Pete Carroll had drafted a third-round vertically-challenged Russell Wilson out of the University of Wisconsin as a future player; but Wilson wasn't having it. He made it a battle in training camp and when he seemed to take the lead, the media trumpeted him as everything you want in a quarterback.
They spoke of his decision-making, poise in the pocket and most of all they spoke of his intangibles; those magic attributes that define winners and discount losers. One national pregame show even went as far as saying that on Day One, he was a better player than Heisman Trophy winning Robert Griffin III.
Of course, this was all before the games were played. Wilson struggled against an underrated Cardinals defense in Week One; going 18 for 34 and passing for only 153 yards. He had one touchdown and one interception for the game. Being the next opponent of the Cowboys and having absolutely no historical background on the Seattle offense with Russell Wilson, a film study was in order. Here's what was gleaned from the video tape, and what you might expect to see on Sunday afternoon.
Russell Wilson doesn't seem ready to take the world by storm. It's questionable whether he will be able to threaten the Cowboys secondary with deep throws; a must now that Rob Ryan has corners that can successfully press receivers at the line of scrimmage. Having Mike Jenkins making his season debut after missing all offseason due to shoulder surgery will only boost the secondary's ability. Seattle only attempted three go routes for the game; and Wilson badly overthrew all three of them.
Wilson did show the ability to escape pressure, but he did not turn any of those opportunities into big gains; which is what one would expect after hearing people rave about his athletic ability. He threw two screens behind receivers, incomplete. Both should have been ruled backwards laterals, one was challenged then finally ruled correctly.
In general, Seattle employed an extremely vanilla offense that focused on running the ball as their main go-to-move. The problem was that Marshawn Lynch is dealing with an iffy back and the offensive line was getting overrun by the Arizona front seven. If Dallas is fortunate enough to get dealt a similar hand, they should be pretty successful in keeping the Seattle offense under wraps.
The Arizona linebackers were able to flow to the ball freely; which seems like the perfect recipe for Dallas' inside linebacking duo of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, whom owner Jerry Jones proclaimed might be the fastest linebacker in the NFL earlier in the week. While Dallas doesn't boast the defensive end talent that Arizona does with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, Jason Hatcher is a disruptive player in his own right. He had six QB pressures (1 sack, 1 QB hit, 4 QB hurries) against Eli Manning. It will be key to see if newly extended Sean Lissemore can generate some pass rush as well as continue to be stout on run downs.
When the Cowboys are on offense, they will be facing one of the league's up and coming defenses. Seattle boasts playmakers up and down it's defensive roster, led by defensive end Chris Clemons who had a sack and a forced fumble in the opener. He'll be lined up over second-year tackle Tyron Smith who'll be starting just his second game on Tony Romo's blindside. Clemons skill combined with Seattle's crowd noise could cause a repeat of Smith's skiddish performance from week one against the Giants. Additional false starts aren't out of the question.
Former Texas A&M Aggie Red Bryant plays opposite Clemons and sets the edge while still being a capable rusher. He batted down two passes against Zona. Defensive tackle Brandon Mabane is a mountain in the middle of the defense; gathering four "stops", plays that prevent the offense from gaining 40% of yards to go on first down, 60% on second or a first down on third/fourth.
The linebackers corps is led by second-year pro KJ Wright, who lines up on the strong side and flows to the ball extremely well. He's joined by Leroy Hill and Bobby Wagner, who is often pulled off the field when Seattle goes to the nickel.
That leads us to the Seattle secondary; their defenses pride and joy. The Seahawks boast one of the league's most physically imposing backfield; riddled with DBs that stand 6'3" and can still run with opposing receivers. Brandon Browner Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor take turns bullying receivers while the shorty of the group, University of Texas' Earl Thomas roves centerfield. They held Larry Fitzgerald to four catches 63 yards and no scores; and yes- Fitzgerald normally puts up stats despite subpar QB performances. It is an extremely intimidating group that sometimes gets too physical; Seattle allowed 40 first downs on defensive penalties in 2011.
Fortunately for Dallas, all of these guys lined up in Cowboys Stadium last season, where Romo and the Boys defeated the Seahawks, 23-13. Romo turned in a solid 19-31 performance with two scores and no turnovers while DeMarco Murray churned out 139 yards on 22 carries.
Despite the lazy media's insistence on focusing on Dallas' failure in Seattle during the 2006 playoffs, Romo has in fact done extremely well against Seattle in the recent past. In four starts, TR has a 106.4 passer rating with nine touchdowns and only one interception. His 11.2 regular seaston rating is the highest by any Seattle opponent with at least 100 pass attempts.
If Ryan Cook can handle the snapping duties and Mackenzy Bernadeau can avoid a repeat of his early game nervousness, Dallas might be taking some steps forward in their line development.
Advancing, Statistically Speaking
In their 2011 Almanac, Football Outsiders identified the Seahawks as the worst offensive in football. That was with Marshawn Lynch running for 105 yards over the last nine games. The run of the majority of their snaps (47%) out of the '11' personnel group, a trend that was evident in Week One when they broke the huddle with this config 27 times. The fullback doesn't see the field much, as Seattle goes single-back 68% of the time. Their offense struggles against three-man fronts which Dallas employs plenty of, obviously. Do not expect them to abandon the run, because... it's really all that they have.
On defense, Seattle will remain in their base 4-3-4; in 2011 they played this on over 50% of all defensive snaps. The offensive grouping that gave them the most problem is the '21'; so expect to see problems when Lawrence Vickers is on the field. Seattle lines up their CBs by sides on 98% of plays, the highest percentage in the league. This means that if Dallas can find a side to focus on, they should be able to exploit the matchup as the game wears on. Expect Dallas to run out of the shotgun formation, as Seattle allowed 6.8 yards per carry there.
All in all, expect Dallas to be more challenged on offense than they were in New York, but to have an easier time on defense and be able to pin their ears back. They'll need to get an early lead, as Seattle seems to improve greatly after some inspiring halftime speeches by head coach Pete Carroll.
My prediction, the Cowboys do just that. Touchdown lead by halftime and stretched a bit in the second half.