Cowboys vs. Seahawks: 7 Keys to the Game for Seattle
The Seattle Seahawks host the Dallas Cowboys in their 2012 home-opener. With an opening week loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and Green Bay headed to Seattle next Monday, this game is critical for the Seahawks.
Several key factors make this game an upset special that could propel the Seahawks back into playoff consideration.
Seattle entered the season hoping to improve on a pair of 7-9 seasons under head coach Pete Carroll. Their standard game plan is to mix a stifling defense with a run-heavy offense. Blend in solid quarterback play and the Seahawks should be able to stay competitive with most NFL teams.
Dallas wants to utilize a vertical passing attack and a fast ground game on offense. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's defense relies on presenting varied defensive looks to control the pace of opposing offenses.
Both teams will be playing into each other's strengths, making for an intriguing matchup.
Seattle must respond in the following seven key areas if they are going to get even on the young season.
Protect the Quarterback
Starting with the obvious, the biggest issue for Seattle's offense in Week 1 was pass protection. Arizona's defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, is a protege from the Pittsburgh Steelers and is adept at disguising coverage and bringing an array of stunts to apply pressure.
Horton's approach in Week 1 became clear after watching the replay featuring the coach's view. They wanted to get to Russell Wilson by confusing Seattle's rookie right guard who was playing on the offensive line for the first time.
J.R. Sweezy is a great story. He was a defensive lineman in college, but Seattle targeted him as a prospect to play guard in the NFL. His play during preseason action earned him a roster spot and the start in Week 1, filling in for John Moffitt, who was recovering from an elbow injury.
As discussed often during Seattle's 4-0 preseason, there is a major difference once real games begin. Quite simply, Sweezy wasn't ready for the stunts the Cardinals threw at him. He routinely converged inside, following the nose tackle that was diving to the other side of center Max Unger.
This left a huge hole between Sweezy and right tackle Breno Giacomini, and Cardinal linebackers rushed through the opening and attacked Wilson.
Moffitt returns to action against Dallas. He will make the right side of the line significantly more secure.
Wilson showed the ability to find targets when he had time to allow passing routes to develop. As long as left tackle Russell Okung is healthy enough to play on Sunday the Seahawk offensive line should be much more proficient against Dallas.
Receivers Must Help Russell Wilson
While Seattle has obvious concerns with starting a rookie quarterback, the bigger issue in training camp was finding playmakers to catch passes. Sidney Rice is a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but questions arise with the rest of the roster.
Doug Baldwin missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury and the rust showed in Week 1. Braylon Edwards is also working on reestablishing himself as an NFL receiver.
All three had an opportunity to put Seattle ahead in the closing minute of the game, but couldn't hold onto passes in the end zone.
Golden Tate will return from a knee injury this weekend and will start opposite Rice. He has had a very good summer and should help improve play from the wideouts.
Zach Miller was Wilson's most consistent target last week, catching all three passes sent his direction. If Seattle's offensive line can control the Dallas pass-rush he could be a big factor in the game.
Wilson will need his receivers to find openings in a tough Dallas secondary and haul in the ball when delivered.
Beast Mode Must Breakout
Marshawn Lynch had a decent performance to start the season. He had 85 yards on 21 carries, but Seattle didn't trust the ground game inside the Cardinals' five-yard line late in the game.
Lynch was the focal part of Seattle's offense in Dallas last season. The passing game was ineffective as Tarvaris Jackson's pectoral injury kept him from delivering the ball with any level of velocity.
Seattle will need Lynch to keep Dallas' secondary honest.
Lynch had his breakout performance of the 2011 campaign against Dallas. He entered the game with just 263 yards over six weeks, but gained 135 yards on 23 carries in Dallas.
The Seahawks need him to have another statement game against the Cowboys, this time at CenturyLink Field.
Apply Pressure on Tony Romo
Seattle's defense struggled to apply pressure in the first half against the Cardinals. This was a bit surprising, as Seattle focused on the pass-rush during the offseason and Arizona's already questionable line was depleted by injury.
The story was much different in the second half. John Skelton was consistently harassed and hit by Chris Clemons and the rest of the defensive line. Seattle only managed one sack, but Skelton couldn't find any time to let plays develop.
Seattle needs to enter the game with Dallas with an effective rush scheme. They will be aided by the crowd noise that should keep the Cowboy linemen from getting a jump off the snap, but Clemons and Bruce Irvin need to produce.
However, Dallas was playing a suspect Giants secondary that has been depleted by injuries. That won't be the case in Seattle.
The Seahawks need to keep Romo from getting comfortable and rely on the strength of their defense to make plays down the field.
Romo is prone to making mistakes when he doesn't have a clean pocket, which is part of the reason why he isn't widely accepted as an elite quarterback.
The Secondary Has to Apply Pressure
Seattle's defensive success in 2011 came from press coverage at the corners and elite play from their safeties. They were able to force turnovers and keep opposing receivers in check even without a solid pass-rush.
Seattle allowed too much space in the secondary last week. Doing so against the Cowboy receivers will prove disastrous.
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will need to challenge Miles Austin and Dez Bryant at the line of scrimmage. This will leave their safeties and nickelback to contend with Jason Witten and Kevin Ogletree.
With some defensive pressure, Seattle can force turnovers and keep the Dallas offense off the field.
The Seahawks struggled with penalties last season, setting a team record with 128. They picked up where they left off last season—committing 13 penalties in Arizona.
Some of the infractions were from aggressive play, but there were also numerous flags for false-starts and holding.
Seattle matches up well with Dallas, but they can't afford to let the Cowboys advance the ball without earning the yardage, and their offense won't be able to move the sticks if they put themselves in too big a hole.
The secondary has to be mindful that the replacement officials are calling tight games and will frown on even the smallest amount of contact.
Respond to the No-Huddle Offense
The Seahawks have built a strong defense, utilizing situational players that fill specific roles. However, those players are not proficient as every down players.
This creates an issue against the no-huddle offense and the Cardinals finally realized that late in the game last week.
Red Bryant will shut down the run, but doesn't generate much of a pass-rush. Bruce Irvin can pressure Romo, but if he's stuck on the field the Cowboys can likely find success with DeMarco Murray.
If Seattle can't rotate in their preferred defensive personnel, opposing offenses can take advantage of mismatches.
A solid no-huddle from Dallas will also wear down Seattle's defensive line.
Seattle can run their big nickel package with regularity against teams that lack a strong ground game, but that won't be the case with Dallas. Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley need to have a plan in place if they aren't able to rotate personnel or the Cowboys could generate some quick scoring drives.