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Big Picture: Seattle Is Best Test Yet For Dallas' New Identity


Dallas CowboysGiven the way the last few seasons have gone, the Cowboys are in rare territory as they prepare to head on the NFL's toughest road trip. Last weekend's win against Houston gave Dallas its first four-game win streak since 2011, when the Cowboys won from Week 9 to Week 12.

A win this weekend in Seattle would be rarer, still. The Cowboys haven't enjoyed a five-game win streak since 2007, when they opened the season 5-0, and also tore off a seven-game streak from Week 7 to Week 14. As no one needs to be reminded, that 2007 season saw the Cowboys win the NFC East and earn the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed.

They'll have their hands full pulling that off, as the Seahawks have so far lived up to their defending champion reputation with a 3-1 start. Seattle is 26-8 at home since Pete Carroll took over as the team's head coach, and seven of those losses came in 2010 and 2011. Only the Arizona Cardinals have managed to beat the Seahawks in their last 18 home games.

If DeMarco Murray continues his streak of 100-yard games on Sunday, it will be his most impressive performance of the season. Seattle leads the league in rushing defense, allowing just 62 yards per game – a full 100 yards fewer than what the Cowboys are putting up.

Tony Romo has only thrown more than 30 passes in two of five games this season – the season-opening loss to San Francisco and last week's overtime win against Houston. The Cowboys would likely prefer to lean on the running game, especially in a hostile road environment. But by taking the run game away, the Seahawks have forced every quarterback they've faced to throw at least 33 passes.

Sunday should mark the Cowboys' toughest test yet of whether they can execute their run-first preferences against any opponent.

Seattle SeahawksAs the Seahawks showed Monday night against Washington, their ground game is plenty formidable in its own right. Seattle is sixth in the league in rushing offense, and they're splitting that load between Marshawn Lynch's power running and Russell Wilson's dual-threat abilities.

Much like last year's championship campaign, the Seattle defense has set the tone for a 3-1 start to the season. On top of the league-best run defense, the Seahawks are seventh in the league in pass defense and have limited Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning to passing totals of 189, 284 and 303, respectively.


All of that said, the Seahawks haven't proven unstoppable so far this season. Rivers completed 75 percent of his passes for three touchdowns, and he led San Diego to a 30-21 win against the defending champs in Week 2. It took overtime for Seattle to win its Super Bowl rematch with Manning and the Broncos, and self-inflicted penalties kept them from putting away the Redskins in Week 5.

In an interesting quirk of the stats, the Seahawks' vaunted defense is actually ranked one spot below the much-maligned Cowboys unit in scoring defense. The Cowboys are currently No. 8, with 20.6 points per game, while the Seahawks are ninth, allowing 20.8. Of course, with a Week 4 bye, Seattle has played one fewer game than Dallas.

Besides their defense, perhaps the most impressive thing going for the Seahawks is Wilson's play. He isn't piling on the passing yards, but he hasn't had to. Wilson has the third-highest quarterback rating in the NFL, behind Rivers and Rodgers. He's tied for the best completion percentage in the league – a whopping 70.3 percent – and he's thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception in four games.

Wilson probably isn't the best quarterback the Cowboys will face this year, but he might be the most efficient.

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