IRVING, Texas –The Cowboys learned their share of lessons on Sunday in Seattle. They can't afford to turn the ball over, or make multiple miscues on special teams. They can't drop passes and play too conservatively on defense.
But maybe most of all, they learned it won't always be possible to dominate physically. If the Seahawks showed anything, it's that opposing teams will come in ready to fight, and the Cowboys had better get up their dukes.
Between the big hits leveled by the Seahawks secondary – and when Cowboys defenders weren't looking, offensive players as well – and the trench war on both sides of the ball, Seattle outmuscled and physically whipped the visitors en route to a 27-7 drubbing. If future opponents get the idea the Cowboys won't stand up in a brawl, they'll attack the same way, starting on Sunday against the Buccaneers, who have proven a willingness to play with an edge.
That made Wednesday's practice arguably one of the most important of the year, as the Cowboys strapped on the pads for the only time this week and began to reestablish themselves as an aggressive, physical team willing to fight back.
"It was a good Wednesday, a great, competitive practice for us," running back DeMarco Murray said.
The Buccaneers will come to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday with a blueprint for how to attack the Cowboys on both sides of the ball, quite possibly a similar attack as the one laid out by the Seahawks, and head coach Jason Garrett's team will need to have corrected its execution mistakes from the loss in Seattle.
Offensively, receivers will have to beat the press off the line of scrimmage and use some muscle to create space, while the offensive line will need to be ready for some aggressive blitz schemes as teams load up the box ready to send extra pressure at Tony Romo or stop DeMarco Murray. Seattle's preferred defensive scheme will appear time and again the rest of the year, and the Cowboys have to solve it to right their running game and open up the pass.
"They played a lot of single (safety) high," Murray said. "We've just got to finish a few blocks better, got to read the holes better from a running back standpoint."
Though the Seahawks didn't throw so many haymakers at the Cowboys defense, they won a physical war of attrition, pounding the unit with 41 rushes on the day. While Dallas limited Marshawn Lynch and Co. to only 4.4 yards per carry, the volume began to add up over the course of the day.
After calling the meeting with Lynch an "all-day sucker" last week, defensive lineman Jason Hatcher knows the Cowboys have to hold up better over the course of 60 minutes this time, even if they are without several starters.
"You just see what kind of team you are," Hatcher said. "You get the hell beat out of you one week, and then you've got to see how you bounce back as a team. I think we're ready to roll this Sunday. We've just got to put these couple of days together and prepare well, way better than we did last week, and know our opponents and go out there and impose our will."
If that mindset had to be reinforced, Wednesday was the single most important day to do it. Not only did the Cowboys put the pads back on, but they moved forward from the Seattle loss once and for all. "Wednesday is a day where you can get a lot done in getting better as a football player," linebacker Sean Lee said. "It's more realistic; you're in pads. It's a big day to address the weaknesses that you thought you saw in the game."