IRVING, Texas – A look at the two key matchups I'm watching in anticipation of this week's Cowboys-Seahawks' matchup:
Cowboys OT Doug Free against Seahawks DE Cliff Avril:
Of the many fine defensive players the Seahawks have, the one that doesn't get the credit he really deserves is Cliff Avril. This will be a matchup that Dallas cannot afford to lose.
Doug Free has played well this season, especially in pass protection. Avril presents a different challenge due to his initial quickness off the ball. For a player that has the length that he does -- he is an explosive player. When he wants to capture that edge, he can make it happen. Outstanding acceleration and burst. Plays with lateral quickness and speed. Very loose in the hips and overall body control. Not a tight moving player at all. Good playing strength and snap.
There is some shock in his hands, and he is able to control the blocker with upper body power and length. Plays with strike and explosiveness. Very good balance and consistency in the way he plays. Can be disruptive as a pass rusher and in the running game as well. Able to key, diagnose and finish. Very good playing instincts, hard guy to fool for how aggressive he plays. Wide variety of pass rush moves. Is able to work up the field then back underneath.
Avril knows how to rush at the proper depth. Nice bend and finish. Type of player that you can use all day in games – has a feel for how to attack blockers. Not sure how much help that Doug Free will get in this game due to the other players on this defense, but how he plays against Cliff Avril will go a long way in how successful that this Dallas offense will be.
Cowboys LB Rolando McClain against Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch:
When these two clubs met last season in Seattle, I thought it was Rolando McClain's play inside that was the main reason why this Dallas defense was able to shut down the Seahawks offense.
The challenge is once again the same for the Cowboys – keep Marshawn Lynch from controlling this game on the ground, and that starts with McClain. You don't have to be a scout to understand what Lynch brings to this offense. His physical toughness and strength make it difficult for defenders to have to deal with him one-on-one.
To handle Lynch it's a must to get bodies to the ball, because if you don't, he will punish you. He's one of the best in the league in gaining yards after contact. Better power than quickness. Would not call him a home run back speed-wise. Outstanding balance and change of direction. Vision to see the hole, make the cut and fight to finish. Can get in trouble if he tries to do too much.
You have to get to him before he gets going. He's not always going to show patience as a runner, as he is always on the attack. Much better inside runner than outside. Keeps his pads down but doesn't always protect the ball. Can catch the ball out of the backfield on screens and check downs.
If he has a weakness, it is as a pass blocker. Poor technique. Need to take advantage of him when in that situation. This Cowboys defense will need to play better than they did last week in defending the run against the Giants and that will start with Rolando McClain.