I try to watch as much non-Seahawks' football as possible but with a full-time job, this gig writing for Field Gulls on my free time, and trying to balance that all out by doing not-work too and spending time with the lady, I don't generally find much time to just sit back and enjoy watching the Cowboys play whoever. I don't care if they're "America's Team." I don't really know much about them, outside of the general basics and that their stadium is farcically garsih.
With the knowledge acquired from doing some reading and a little scouting, plus watching a few episodes of that Cowboys Cheerleaders show, I thought it might be prudent to consult the experts on what kind of things to expect this morning. For that, I hit up Dave Halprin, editor at Blogging the Boys. (As an aside, BTB does really great work, and have been super classy in the run up to this game. That's always so refreshing. Tom Ryle, a writer over there, put together a post with some nice things said about our writing and community here too, so that's much appreciated as well.)
For starters, the Cowboys' offense: 8th in the NFL in total yardage per game with 394.3. 7th in the NFL in passing yards per game with 279.6. 15th in the league with 114.7 yards per game on the ground. As Halprin, told me, "(The offense) this season has been really difficult to predict. From one week to the next, we're never sure which Dallas Cowboys offense, or team, is going to show up for a game. Heck, sometimes we even get extreme examples of both the good and the bad in one game. So suffice it to say that it's a mystery each week."
The Cowboys depend on Rex's brother Rob Ryan to call the plays on defense. Despite his hippy haircut, strange demeanor, and rotund belly, Ryan is actually quite a skilled coach and coordinator, from what I hear. It certainly helps to have a person named DeMarcus Ware (and his 12.5 sacks this season) at your disposal, but it's tough to guess what Ryan may throw at you on any given play.
Per Halprin,"If you throw out last week's debacle, the Cowboys defense has been strong this year. Rob Ryan has re-energized this bunch and they do most of the things well that a successful defense needs. They can stop the run, they can get after the quarterback and they can produce turnovers. Ryan has brought a more up-tempo defense, one that is constantly in motion and goes to great lengths to confuse a quarterback."
"They'll blitz, but not all the time becasue they can create pressure with just four. When they blitz, they like to overload one side of the field and will bring corners or safeties into the mix. Last week, they played a lot more conservative with the safeties and tried to run Cover-2 more, and the Eagles burnt them in the middle of the field. I'd expect to see the more free-wheeling Cowboys defense that we've seen earlier this year on Sunday."
So with this possibly potent offense and typically stellar defense, are there playoffs in the back of the Cowboys fans' minds? Halprin: "There is reason for optimism since they've shown they can play with some of the top teams in the league. There is plenty of potency at the offensive skill positions and when the Cowboys offense is on it can look like a machine. The offensive line remains a work in progress, though. At 3-4 on the season, there's little margin for error to make the playoffs. And this edition of the Cowboys is anything but consistent. So they could still make the playoffs, but it's a tough road to travel."
His assessment sounds remarkably similar to what I might say about the Seahawks. Except maybe his first sentence (and the part about the playoffs), but then again the Hawks tend to mix in a few shocking wins here and there under Pete Carroll's short, but nonetheless rollercoaster ride of a tenure. See the San Diego, Chicago, and New Orleans wins last year and the New York win this year.
Speaking of Pete's tenure, the Cowboys have what's not exactly a common setup in their ownership and administration, and Jerry Jones tends to take some flak for his style - similar on the surface to that of the late, great Al Davis. Specifically, that of maniacal meddling with his team. Is it as bad as people say? Are things so bad lately?
"In the last few years," Halprin points out, "Jerry has stepped back a bit from micro-managing the team. His son Stephen has taken on a lot of the responsibilities associated with day-to-day stuff. And it appears he's given Jason Garrett a lot of room to mold the roster with his kinds of players. Many mistakes of Jerry's past were let go in the offseason as the Cowboys took on the personality of Garrett. That transformation is continuing."
So what does Dave think of it all?
"I've always wanted Jerry to appoint a GM for the team, but that isn't happening. But I do like that he's given more input to his son and to the head coach. It's better for the team."
Moving on to this week, today, to be precise. The Cowboys are likely going to be without their middle linebacker, Sean Lee. If he is able to go, he could be (probably would be) very limited. Regardless, Lee, per Halprin, "A second-year middle linebacker who has become a budding star, dislocated his wrist in the Philly game and will likely miss this game at a minimum. Without him, the middle of the defense with Bradie James and Keith Brooking is vulnerable, especially in pass coverage."
What does that mean for the Seahawks? Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar were talking about it on their weekly podcast, and here's how that conversation went:
DF: Sean Lee is out this week.
GC: Who's out? Sean Lee? Oh boy.
DF: What does this mean for Sunday's game?
GC: Well, I don't know if it can be something that can be exploited by Seattle, but against the Eagles it was really problematic. You had (Bradie) James and (Keith) Brooking playing on the inside, and they were both... liabilities.
Brooking will be, I'm sure, the starter, James, he's been a starter, I think both of those guys lack speed, lack movement. The Eagles are arguably the fastest offense in the league, uh, but I don't think anyone would say that about the Seahawks.
Farrar and Cosell then go on to make fun of the Seahawks for not being the fastest team in the league. Haha. Hey! Not funny, guys.
Anyway, as for other notable injuries, Halprin points out that "Starting corner Mike Jenkins will be out, moving slot corner Orland Scandrick into the starting lineup. And Felix Jones probably won't play again this week, but DeMarco Murray has been great in his place."
From a Cowboys' blogger's point of view: "The Seahawks haven't been able to run the ball, and the Cowboys have been very good against the run (throwing out last week). So the hope is the Cowboys can turn the Seahawks offense one-dimensional, then really get after Tarvaris Jackson and cause negative-plays and mistakes. If they can do that, then they stand a good chance.
On offense, the Cowboys would like to get balance by running the ball with DeMarco Murray, but Seattle has been tough in that area. So they could turn the tables and make the Cowboys one-dimensional. So whoever can establish some kind of ground game will get a big advantage."
I can't say I disagree with Dave's assessments - I think time of possession will be important for the Seahawks on the road; keep the defense off the field, grind the clock, keep the crowd out of the game and in the bars at that ridiculous stadium, and with this the Seahawks could prevent themselves from playing from behind much of the game, something they're not very successful at on the road. Or ever.
Should be a fun game. It's always fun to play the 'Boys and big thanks to Dave Halprin for taking the time to give me a scouting report on his team. Go Hawks.