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Key Match Ups

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Key Matchups: Pollard's running lanes met with Wagner


FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys will have their third opportunity to defeat a team that currently has a winning record going into Week 13 as the Seattle Seahawks will enter AT&T Stadium for a Thursday night clash.

Seattle's offense has sputtered in the last couple of weeks as they enter Thursday with the longest active scoring drought at 20 possessions, but that doesn't mean that the Seahawks don't have their fair share of dangerous weapons.

Defensively, the Seahawks have combined youth and experience to create a physical and schematically challenging unit that could give the Dallas offense fits.

Here are the key matchups to watch on Thursday night.

Tony Pollard vs. Bobby Wagner

For the first time this season, I'm highlighting a running back-linebacker matchup. With the way running backs are utilized in today's game, making plays happen out of the backfield and forcing those playmakers to beat different defenders on any given play rarely allows for a true RB/LB matchup over the course of an entire game.

However, I think there will be many opportunities for these two to bang shoulder pads given the way that Tony Pollard has been used in the offense so far this season and with the way Bobby Wagner defends the run.

Pollard's between the tackles usage has continued to run high as the season has gone on, and if that continues on Thursday, expect Wagner to be on the other side of the running lanes awaiting a one-on-one tackle opportunity. Pollard excels at creating quick separation in short spaces and will need to tap into his ability to evade one of the league's best run defenders.

CeeDee Lamb vs. Devon Witherspoon

One of the leading candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Seattle's first-round pick cornerback Devon Witherspoon has proven to be a physical challenge both on the outside and in the slot for both young and veteran receivers so far this season off the line and during the course of a route.

Seattle lines up closely with receivers pre-snap but falls back into zone 82.1-percent of the time – the fourth-highest rate in the league. While Witherspoon won't line up opposite of CeeDee Lamb on every snap, expect to see the rookie disturbing Lamb's catching lanes more often than not on Thursday night.

Lamb has been cooled off over the last three games after a three-game stretch that saw him exceed NFL records, and while it will be a physical, bodily challenge against Witherspoon and Tariq Woolen, there will be opportunities for big plays across the middle if he can link up with Dak Prescott.

Terence Steele vs. Boye Mafe

If you refer back to the preseason, you might remember second-year pass-rusher Boye Mafe being highlighted in that edition of Key Matchups, and given his performance so far in his sophomore campaign, he gets another entry in the regular season version.

The Minnesota product is leading the Seahawks in 2023 with seven sacks and 38 pressures in what is becoming a breakout year for the young pass rusher, and I expect him to be lined up opposite of Terence Steele for the majority of snaps on Thursday.

Steele has had one of the strongest stretches of his career of the course of the last three games since allowing 12 pressures against Philadelphia as he's allowed just seven since including zero against Washington on Thanksgiving. He'll have to keep it going to limit one of the league's emerging pass rushers on Thursday night.

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