IRVING, Texas – When it comes to sound run defense, containing Marshawn Lynch – arguably the NFL's most physical downhill rusher – is a tall enough task.
Then consider this: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to beat teams with his feet as well as his arm. He's just behind Lynch's 304 rushing yards with 271 of his own.
Clearly, Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys' defense have double duty this week.
The unit met the challenge last October in a 30-23 upset at Seattle that defined the Cowboys' gritty 12-win season. With help from the offense hogging time of possession, the defense limited Lynch to 61 yards on only 10 carries. And Wilson had only two rushes for 12 yards, one a 9-yard touchdown run in a losing effort.
Sunday at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys must contain the 5-foot-11 Wilson's versatility. He's a running threat, either by design or pressure-caused improvisation. But he's also an accurate downfield passer moving outside the pocket without defenders in his face.
"I think the first thing we've got to do is stop the run," rookie defensive end Randy Gregory said, "and then after that just rush the quarterback smart, make sure he doesn't make any plays after plays break down for them."
Wilson, who signed an $87.5 million extension with Seattle in July, rushed for a career-high 849 yards in 2014. This year he's improved his passing numbers, currently ranking eighth in the league with a 97.0 rating and 8.18 yards per pass attempt, up from 7.69 last year.
Tight end Jimmy Graham (31 catches and two touchdowns) now gives Wilson a dynamic option downfield.
"He's got great instincts for the game, a great feel for the game. We obviously want to try to contain him as best we can," head coach Jason Garrett said of Wilson. "He adds so much to their offense because of his ability to run that offense, the different things they ask him to do, but also when he gets out of the pocket and creates. It's the same issue that each of the teams that face him every week go through. You just want to minimize his ability to make big plays both from the pocket and once he escapes."
The Seahawks traded sturdy center Max Unger to the Saints for Graham in the offseason, and their offensive line has undergone a makeover since, with two new starters and 2014 right tackle Justin Britt moving to left guard.
Wilson has been sacked 31 times already, though some were likely a byproduct of his scrambling to buy extra time.
Sacked twice in last year's meeting, Wilson finished the game 14-of-28 for 126 yards and one interception. This year the Cowboys have three edge rushers who weren't on the roster or didn't play against the Seahawks in 2014: Greg Hardy and Gregory, who arrived this past spring via free agency and the draft, respectively; and DeMarcus Lawrence, who sat out with a broken foot as a rookie. Lawrence returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday after sitting out the first practice of the week with a back injury.
Between those three talented rushers and linebacker Sean Lee, who's back in the starting lineup this year after missing all of 2014 due to knee surgery, the Cowboys have new pieces to try to disrupt Wilson on Sunday.
"They fly around," Wilson said via conference call with the Dallas/Fort Worth media. "They've got a lot of great players across the board. They're very athletic, make a lot of plays, so I've got a lot of respect for them and how they play the game of football."
Be there when the Cowboys take on the Seahawks November 1st! Tickets start as low as $49 for their match up this Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Instant ticket download available. Click here to purchase.