At this time of year, for various reasons obviously, Christmas Day even seems like months ago.
So you can imagine how that Sept. 30 meeting in Seattle must feel to all of us. So much has changed for both the Cowboys and Seahawks that it almost seems like it wasn’t even this season.
Yes, Seattle got the win 24-13 and without a doubt, the Seahawks were the better team that day. Some might even argue they are the better team right now.
Guess we’re about to find out.
But I did want to point out what has changed for both teams from that first meeting to where they stand right now. I’ve got five glaring changes for both teams that were not the case back in late-September.
Changes on Seattle’s front:
1- No Earl Thomas: This is important to note because of what happened in that game. It’s not like the Seahawks are missing him too much. Sure, he’s a great player, but this defense still gets takeaways better than most teams. But that day, Thomas had two interceptions – making plays most players simply can’t. He was a huge difference-maker. Without him, the Seahawks have done just fine. But they possibly don’t win that game without Thomas that day and the Cowboys’ passing game is much better now.
2- Baldwin is back – The Cowboys aren’t the only team with a Pro Bowl type of receiver on the roster now. Doug Baldwin didn’t play in Week 3 and is not only back for Seattle, but one of Russell Wilson’s most trusted weapons. He always seems to come up with ridiculous catches. Since his return in Week 4, Baldwin has six game of at least five catches.
3- Better running game – Remember when the Seahawks pretty much ran it down the Cowboys’ throats. Well, that was one of their worst rushing days of the season. They only ran it for 113 yards that day. Since that game, Seattle has rushed for fewer yards only one other time. This is the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL and back in Week 3, they were just getting started.
4- Getting it Wright – The Cowboys have had some players back from injury now, but the Seahawks are healthier as well. Not just Baldwin, or center Justin Britt, but linebacker K.J. Wright is a key defender for the Seahawks, especially when paired up with Bobby Wagner. Wright has played in just five games this year but has had two games of at least seven tackles.
5- Hitting the Road – Obviously, Seattle and Dallas are different teams when playing on the road. The Seahawks were 0-2 when they played the Cowboys but looked right at home – literally in that game. On the flip side, the Cowboys are 7-1 at home this year and just 3-5 on the road. This game will be at AT&T Stadium because the Cowboys won the NFC East. Seattle has won playoff road games before but this will certainly be a tough task for the Seahawks, who were 4-4 on the road but just 0-2 (Chicago, LA Rams) against 2018 playoff teams.
And here are five differences from the Cowboys:
1- Amari Cooper – What a difference he has made in so many ways. Not only did he have take-over moments in games such as Philadelphia and Washington where he was either going over 200 yards or racking up 90-yard TDs, but Cooper has helped the entire offense. The Cowboys never had a game with a third-down conversion rate better than 42 percent in the first seven games of the season. Since Cooper arrived, seven of the nine games were over 42 percent, including five over 50 percent. And the passing game isn’t just better because of Cooper, but Michael Gallup is a much better player now that he’s deep into a rookie season.
2- O-Line Changes – This one would be much more significant if guard Xavier Su’a-Filo were to play. The veteran didn’t practice all week with an ankle injury and is doubtful for Saturday night. The Cowboys are undefeated when Su’a-Filo starts and finishes a game. He took over at the start of the five-game winning streak and went out of the game early against the Colts, the only team to beat Dallas in the second half of the season. Still, the change at O-line coach with Marc Colombo replacing Paul Alexander has not only given the Cowboys’ better play up front, but perhaps a different look than what Seattle saw the first time.
3- The Growth of LVE – In that Seattle game, it was the first time we had seen Leighton Vander Esch get extensive playing time. And he definitely shined, playing for the injured Sean Lee. But Vander Esch has only gotten better and better with each game, culminating in a second-team All-Pro selection this season. The combination of Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith might be the best young linebacker duo in the league and certainly not something the Seahawks faced in Week 3.
4- Safe Assumptions – The Cowboys don’t give up many deep balls but against the Seahawks, they were torched for a key touchdown over the top by Tyler Lockett, who got past Kavon Frazier down the sideline. Frazier isn’t a regular at safety but entered the game when Jeff Heath went out for a few plays. It was also the first game of the year for Xavier Woods, who was battling injuries all throughout training camp and the preseason. Woods is playing at a high level here lately and if the Cowboys keep their starters on the field, they should be able to keep the Seahawks receivers in front of them. The 52-yarder was the second-longest play of the season, only behind a 53-yard touchdown to Washington (Vernon Davis).
5- Zeke’s Bad Day? – From a statistical standpoint, Ezekiel Elliott had a pretty good afternoon up in Seattle. He rushed for 127 yards and had 11 more receiving yards. But there was a costly penalty in which he stepped out of bounds before a catch that would’ve resulted in a touchdown. He also lost a fumble after a long run that negated points down by the red zone. Had the Cowboys managed to get at least 10 points on those two drives, we’re talking about a much different game as the Cowboys drove down twice on the Seahawks trailing by 13 in the fourth. We know what type of player Zeke has been and that game was uncharacteristic of what we’ve seen in three years.
So there are the big changes for both teams. As you can see, both the Seahawks and Cowboys are playing at a higher level than we saw in Week 3. Obviously, the Cowboys are hoping their changes are much more significant. If they aren’t, the result might not be any different than the last time.