IRVING, Texas – It's pretty simple this time around. Much like last year, I think this Cowboys-Seahawks matchup comes down to the lines.
It's well-documented how much the Seattle offensive line has struggled this season, and we'll get into that. But it's also important to note how much the Cowboys' front seven has struggled to stop the run – which just so happens to be what the Seahawks love to do.
That's where we'll start in this week's keys to the game.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
This game is going to come down to one simple aspect – can this Dallas defense hold the Seahawks running game in check? The numbers say that Seattle has had their struggles running the ball, but that can change in one afternoon -- much like we saw the Cowboys against the Giants.
In the victory last season in Seattle, I felt like one of the main reasons the Cowboys were able to grab that victory was in their ability to prevent Marshawn Lynch from getting going. In that game they played square along the front and got off blocks. They were physical at the point of attack and had bodies flying to the ball.
What I worry about with this defensive front is that we have seen opponents with physical backs such as the Falcons, Saints and just recently the Giants have success pounding the ball at them. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell knows that his line will struggle to protect Russell Wilson if this turns into a game where he has to drop him back to pass every snap. The film has shown them giving up pressure and sacks on three and five-step drops. Bevell has to protect his quarterback, so I expect that we will see plenty of Lynch and Thomas Rawls being handed the ball to soften up this defense and then take his shots when necessary.
For Dallas to win this game they are going to need to take a page out of that playbook from last season and physically attack this Seattle offense. This all starts with Tyrone Crawford, Jeremy Mincey, Demarcus Lawrence and Rolando McClain. Shut down their backs, and you put a ton of pressure on their offense.
Seattle Seahawks Win If:
If Dallas is able to shut the Seattle running game, then this game will fall on the shoulders of Russell Wilson and their offensive line. Wilson has been sacked at an alarming rate this season, despite being one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league. If this turns into a game where the Seahawks have to put the ball in the air to win, then it will play into the Cowboys' hands unless this offensive line can hold up.
The Seahawks have to be worried that Rod Marinelli will move Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory and Jeremy Mincey around to find the various pressure points along their line and take advantage of those matchups. When you study them on tape, right tackle Garry Gilliam, left guard Justin Britt and center Drew Nowak are the ones that have had the most problems this season keeping rushers off Wilson. Where they have struggled the most is with their techniques. Defenders have been able to put them in bad blocking positions often and Wilson has paid the price for it.
The Seahawks' best offensive threats are Jimmy Graham and rookie Tyler Lockett. In my opinion these are the only true threats they have throwing the ball. Without more threats, it has put pressure on this offensive line to have to hold blocks, and they have struggled to do that. If the Seahawks are going to win this game they are going to need to run the ball successfully, but more importantly do their best when they are forced to pass to keep Russell Wilson off his back – which, at times, has been a tall order.