WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Seattle did compile 411 total yards against a quality Cincinnati defense last week, with nearly all the damage coming with Jackson (1335 passing yards, 6 TD, 6 INT) at the controls of the offense. The offseason addition will need to make plays once again this week, since the Seahawks have practically no running game to speak of. The team is averaging a paltry 77.7 yards per game on the ground (31st overall) for the year, with leading rusher Marshawn Lynch (263 rushing yards, 3 TD, 11 receptions) having been held to 33 yards or less in four of his six appearances. Seattle also has the fewest rushing attempts in the NFL, and that predictability has contributed to a developing front line that fields two rookie starters and a second-year left tackle having surrendered a league-high 28 sacks. Jackson does have a few solid targets to work with if he has sufficient time to throw, as fellow ex-Viking Sidney Rice (24 receptions, 366 yards, 1 TD) is a legitimate No. 1 receiver, undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin (25 receptions, 2 TD) has made a positive impact out of the slot and Ben Obomanu (21 receptions, 2 TD) is coming off a season-high 107-yard, four-catch effort from last week. Rice added 102 yards on seven grabs in the loss.
The Cowboys will be out to prove last Sunday’s defensive collapse was an aberration, as the team had been very sound on that side of the ball under colorful coordinator Rob Ryan over the first six games. The loss of Lee (51 tackles, 3 INT, 5 PD), Dallas’ leader in both tackles and interceptions, to a dislocated wrist is significant, though, as the run defense suffered with the aging combo of inside linebackers Keith Brooking (22 tackles) and Bradie James (18 tackles) having to play an increased number of snaps. The unavailability of Jenkins (18 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PD), out with a hamstring injury, will test the depth of a secondary that was scorched by Eagles playmaker Michael Vick this past week as well. Fortunately, the Cowboys do possess a potent pass rush led by terrorizing outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (31 tackles) that Ryan can fall back on. The perennial All-Pro netted a career-high four sacks of Vick in Week 8 and has amassed 12 already this season, just shy of Minnesota’s Jared Allen for the league lead. As a team Dallas ranks ninth in total defense (328.3 ypg) and fourth against the run (93.9 ypg), though opponents have converted 44 percent of third-down chances against the unit.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Dallas hadn’t had much of a problem moving the football prior to last week, with Romo (1959 passing yards, 11 TD, 7 INT) producing four 300-yard performances over the initial five games and a sporadic ground attack coming to life with a 294-yard outburst against defensively-deficient St. Louis leading up to the Philadelphia loss. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, still dealing with sore ribs from a hard hit he took back in Week 2, has been a bit off as of late, however, and struggled to an 18-of-35, 203-yard, one- interception stat line in last week’s debacle. The Cowboys still remain a dangerous foe through the air, with Romo operating with a star-studded receiving corps headed up by standout tight end Jason Witten (40 receptions, 477 yards, 3 TD) and proven playmaking wide receiver Miles Austin (26 receptions, 4 TD), while talented second-year pro Dez Bryant (22 receptions, 4 TD) and ex-Rams castoff Laurent Robinson (19 receptions, 1 TD) are capable vertical options as well. Rookie DeMarco Murray (400 rushing yards, 1 TD) has taken over lead running-back duties in Felix Jones’ absence and exploded onto the scene with a franchise-record 253 yards against the Rams, then backed that outburst up by ripping off 74 yards on only eight attempts last Sunday. He’s averaging 6.9 yards per carry on the season.
Murray may find the going a little tougher to come by this week, as the Seahawks are among the stoutest teams in the NFL in defending the run. Seattle is limiting enemy backs to a league-low 3.2 yards per attempt and have held four of their seven opponents under 95 rushing yards, with oversized end Red Bryant (15 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and tackle Brandon Mebane (24 tackles) two wide-bodies who excel at plugging lanes and linebackers David Hawthorne (46 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Leroy Hill (44 tackles, 1 sack) and rookie K.J. Wright (24 tackles) all sound tacklers behind them. The Seahawks have been a bit more vulnerable against the pass, though the young safety tandem of Kam Chancellor (45 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) and 2010 first-round pick Earl Thomas (47 tackles, 1 INT) have held up well. Injuries have left the group thin at cornerback, where raw rookie Richard Sherman (15 tackles, 1 INT) and former CFL star Brandon Browner (31 tackles, 1 INT) now serve as starters, while end Chris Clemons (21 tackles, 5 sacks) is the club’s only pass rusher of note. Seattle has just 13 sacks on the season, a number that ranks in the league’s lower tier.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Run the ball. It’s not a coincidence that in the two games Seattle’s rushed for 122 yards or more, it’s won both times, and the team has gained less than 70 yards on the ground in each of its five losses. On the Dallas side, Murray gives an already difficult offense to stop an additional worry if he’s going well and heavily involved in the game plan, so it’s important that the Cowboys utilize the promising rookie and don’t become so one-dimensional. Both clubs figure to be challenged in that aspect, however, as each of these defenses have been tough to run on this year.
Turnovers. Dallas should be able to dominate this game from a statistical standpoint, much like it does in a majority of its matchups. The Cowboys can be prone to giving the ball away at times, though, and are 1-3 this season when losing the turnover battle. Seattle has recorded seven takeaways in its two victories, including five against the Giants, and just three in its five defeats. If the Seahawks are going to come out of Cowboys Stadium with a win, they’ll need to force some critical errors out of Dallas.
Be aware of Ware. Since Seattle may very well have trouble establishing a consistent ground game, the offensive line has to protect Jackson adequately and the erratic quarterback must be quick in his decision making. The Seahawks will have quite a task in slowing down Ware, the one defensive player on the field Sunday who can take over a game, and simply can’t allow him to do so.
Prediction – Last week Tony Romo and the Cowboys were awful vs the Eagles, but this week against the inept Seahawks they should rebound nicely. Romo and the Cowboys should be able to throw on the banged up Seahawks secondary, and DeMarco Murry should have a decent day on the ground. It would be a shock to see the Seahawks hang around here. Dallas 24 Seattle 6
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