Each week, Lindsay Draper goes Behind the Enemy Lines to discuss what's happening with the upcoming opponent. This time, she caught up once again with Seahawks reporter John Boyle (@JohnPBoyle) to answer some pressing questions about the Seahawks, who defeated the Cowboys 24-13 back in Week 3.
1. These two teams are both vastly different than they looked in Week 3. What's the biggest change in the way the Seahawks are playing?
Like the Cowboy, the Seahawks will have some different personnel on the field than they did in the previous meeting. Most notably, linebacker K.J. Wright, receiver Doug Baldwin and center Justin Britt are healthy now after missing that game, while safety Earl Thomas and tight end Will Dissly on are injured reserve.
But beyond personnel changes, the big difference is just the overall growth of Seattle's offense, and of the running game in particular. After struggling to run the ball in their first two games, the Seahawks made it a priority to run the ball, but against a tough Dallas run defense, the Seahawks struggled despite that commitment, gaining 113 yards on 39 carries.
Despite that 2.9 yards-per-carry average, however, the Seahawks began finding their formula that week, and went on to rush for more than 150 yards in 12 of their final 13 games, allowing them to finish the season with the most rushing yards in the NFL. With the running game functioning so well, Russell Wilson had the most efficient season of his career, posting a 110.9 passer rating while setting a franchise record with 35 touchdowns, all while matching his career low with seven interceptions.
Seattle's offense also had turned the ball over five times in their first two games heading into that first game against the Cowboys, and have turned it over just six times since then, contributing to the Seahawks having a league-best plus-15 turnover differential. Add it all up and you've got an offense that averaged 30.0 points per game since Week 10, third best in the league.
2. This game is technically on a 'short' week. This past Sunday, the Cowboys didn't play all their starters, and implemented a few new faces in the offense – how much did this throw a wrench in Seattle's game prep?
Obviously a short week and a somewhat long trip to Dallas force the Seahawks to compress their week a little bit, but you won't hear anyone around here complaining about that situation. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is big on preaching a "control what you can control" mentality, so if the league tells the Seahawks to play Saturday, they'll get ready to play Saturday and just do the best they can while know it's also a short week for Dallas as well. Interestingly enough, Seattle's Week 3 game against Dallas also came after a short week having played in Chicago on Monday night the previous week.
3. In their last three games against Seattle, Dallas hasn't scored more than 13 points. In their last three games, the Seahawks have allowed an average of 27 points. Realistically, where is this notorious Seattle defense at this point of the year?
Oh sure, go with last three games so you leave out the Seahawks holding Minnesota to seven points four weeks ago. I see how it is. In all seriousness though, I would say that 27-points-per-game average is a bit misleading as a measure of how the defense has played, and that when you factor in the aforementioned near shutout of the Vikings—their lone score came with 1:10 left in the game—the Seahawks defense is playing some of its best football of the season.
Seattle's lone loss in their last seven games saw them give up 26 points to the 49ers, but that came in a game in which the Seahawks set a dubious franchise record with 148 penalty yards, plenty of which aided San Francisco scores, and the 49ers also scored on a kick return, so that's not really on the defense. The following week, the Seahawks held the league's No. 1 offense and likely MVP Patrick Mahomes to 10 points in the first half and 17 through three quarters before the Chiefs scored two touchdowns late while trying to overcome a two-score deficit. And last week, Arizona scored once on special teams and saw all three of its offensive scores come on drives that started inside the Seahawks 30 because of a turnover and two special teams mistakes, a deflected punt that went 21 yards and a long punt return.
No one is saying this Seahawks defense matches up with Seattle's very best units under Pete Carroll, and they have shown some weaknesses at times, most notably giving up too many big plays in certain games, but if the Seahawks can minimize penalties and clean things up on special teams, their defense is good enough to keep them in just about any game.
4. Russell Wilson has been a one man show at points in his career. How has the running game helped him this year?
For most of this season, we've seen some of the best play out of Wilson in his seven-year career, and the running game is definitely a factor in that. As I mentioned earlier, Wilson set a career high in touchdowns (35), matched his career low in interceptions (7), and had the best passer rating of his career (110.9). Any quarterback would benefit from a balanced offense that keeps defenses honest, but for Wilson, who is great off of play-action and who throws one of the best deep balls in the league, the threat of a running game really complements what he does best.
But while the running game helps, Wilson and his weapons in the passing game have shown the ability to take over when necessary, most notably during a road win at Carolina when Wilson threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns on a day where the Panthers loaded the box and held the Seahawks to just 75 rushing yards.