After a season of early troubles, Seattle and Dallas were both able to find a strong identity and go on a tear to finish the season and propel themselves into the playoffs after being absent from the postseason last year. Dallas could not get their offense going to start the year before a mid-season trade to acquire Amari Cooper opened up the down field passing game and in turn, opened running lanes for Zeke. With a balances offense and a dominant defense lead by Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys won seven of eight and clinched the NFC East with some help from an epic collapse by the Washington Redskins. Seattle’s journey to the playoffs came in a year when so much was made of how much they had lost, but despite all the roster and coaching turnover, the Seahawks are showing the rest of the league that you can never count out Russell Wilson and company. With a reclaimed commitment to the running game, featuring three dangerous backs, Seattle lead the league in rushing and allowed Russell Wilson to play the best ball of his career. On the defensive side of the ball, young players and new faces alike stepped in answered the call when their time came, but there is no underselling the magnitude of Bobby Wagner leading this team from middle linebacker. With all the tenacity and heart both of these teams have shown getting here, it is a shame that only one team can walk out of this match-up and advance. Let’s look into how these two team stack up.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The answer varies depending on who you ask, but we are going to see this scenario play out live when Seattle’s number one rushing attack takes on Dallas’ fifth ranked run defense. The key to Dallas’ ability to stop the run is in their star young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, who rank first and second in tackles on the team. They are so quick and instinctual and they fill their gaps before most backs have a chance to blink. On the flip side, Seattle’s running game is so effective because it is so diverse with all their personnel being versatile and powerful. They have four dangerous runners in Carson, Penny, Davis, and Russell Wilson who all give defenses different looks. Carson usually lines up beside Wilson and utilizes his lateral quickness to find a hole as the play develops, while Penny works best six or seven yards into the backfield in a deep I-formation and works up a head of steam before hitting the hole hard. Davis loves stretching the edge and Wilson extends plays with his feet and has a chance to break up the field whenever you forget about him. The part that spells the most trouble for Dallas is while these backs all have a specialty, they are all complete players who can line up at any spot in the backfield and still be productive. Having all the different possibilities to keep track of and a nearly fully healthy Seahawks offensive line will not only test these young linebackers physically, but mentally as well. in addition, the more effective Seattle is in early down’s with their running game, the more Dallas’ defensive backs get lulled to sleep and once they become just a bit too eager to jump into the box, Wilson will gash them through the air. I do not expect Seattle to have a hundred yard rusher in this game, but the team as a whole will end up around their average of one hundred and sixty and the offense will have to grind it out early before wearing the Cowboys down later on in the game.
The stats are not as impressive between Seattle’s defense and the Cowboys offense but on the whole, they are pretty evenly matched. The Seahawks rank in the middle of the pack in total defense and are slightly better at defending the run than the pass compared to other teams. The biggest bright spot for Seattle is the return of the other half of their dynamic linebacking duo, KJ Wright at weak side linebacker after missing nearly the entire season. Dallas as a team ranks just tenth in rushing despite having the number one rusher in the league in Elliot and twenty-third in passing, these numbers can be deceiving however, with Dallas playing a similar game to Seattle in banking on time of possession. Seattle and Dallas both rank in the top eight in time of possession in the NFL, so the key question is will Seattle be able to get Dallas off the field on third down to give their offense the ball back? The important thing to watch for here is how much pressure Seattle can get on Prescott, but also pay close attention to were it is coming from. Seattle does an excellent job running a synergistic pass rush which allows for both interior linemen and edge rushers to get after the quarterback. Defensive tackles making up three of the Seahawks’ top five sack getters and recorded fifteen and a half of the teams forty-three sacks, as opposed to the Cowboys who have one interior lineman in the top five and just seven sacks recorded from the big fellas in the middle. Dak Prescott is the second most sacked quarterback in the league and pressure up the middle is a killer to anyone, with Seattle most likely loading up the box to stop Elliot, you have to wonder if Dak will have enough time to beat the hawks through the air.
The game between these two teams earlier in the year is not a good measuring stick just because the momentum shifts throughout a season can really change a team, but there are a few notes to heed for this time around. Seattle was able to sack Prescott five times and, while Earl Thomas is no longer with the hawks, they were missing Doug Baldwin, Mike Davis, KJ Wright, starting center Justin Britt, and Rashaad Penny had not broken out at that point. The final score would have also been much closer if not for three Dallas turnovers, but with Seattle boasting the best turnover margin in the league with just eleven giveaways and twenty-six takeaways on the season and the Cowboys in the middle of the pack with seventeen and twenty, the odds are in Seattle’s favor to win the turnover battle again.
At the end of the day, both teams are going to have to load up the box to stop the run and it’s going to come down to which quarterback can get it done in the air. Given Wilson’s playoff experience and the lack of push coming from Dallas’ interior line, he is set to have a better day than Prescott, who will be running for his life in just his second playoff start. The game should go by quick given both teams feature the run heavily and that same style of play will keep things interesting until the final minuets when Seattle seals a victory.
Final score: Seahawks 27, Dallas 20