David Hawthorne shot the gap and tackled Felix Jones for a loss of three. It was the kind of quick turnaround Seattle needed to escape a potentially damning fumble. Then everything crumbled in front of Seattle's high priced secondary.
Roy Williams ran a ten yard curl and ran off Marcus Trufant. Tru was caught in his backpedal and Williams was wide open for the reception. Trufant managed to wrestle him down before the first, but Dallas was left with an easily convertible first and back in field goal range.
The Cowboys motioned Miles Austin into the backfield, using Marion Barber as the up back. They ran a toss sweep off of right end. Seattle's linebackers fought off and broke through Austin's lead blockers, but Austin exploited a crack to effort past the line. He was upright and exposed and stumbling through the marker when Jordan Babineaux sunk his helmet into his arms and popped the ball from his grasp. Seattle failed to recover. The play was called back on a Martellus Bennett hold.
Dallas was third and eleven and either about to pass or about to run and settle for the field goal. We know how this ends.
Seattle's persistent third down futility reminded me of something Brian Burke wrote in an email exchange.
My theory is that this may be why run defense appears so unimportant. Say teams are not operating at the game equilibrium, and passing is, on balance, a more lucrative strategy than running. In other words, there really is a considerable passing premium where the payoff for a pass is generally higher than a run, all things considered.
Having a good run defense would therefore be somewhat self-defeating. Take the 2007 Vikings defense that gave up only 3.1 yards per run (good) but 7.0 yards per pass (bad). Facing such a solid run defense, a good offensive coordinator is forced to pass more...which would be a far more effective thing to do in the first place, especially against a relatively weak pass defense. A team like the 2007 Vikings would essentially be forcing their opponent to unwittingly play a more efficient and effective strategy, all the while exploiting their own weakness.
Seattle's ability to force third and long by stifling the run game was undermining the overall defense. It's maddening. It's infuriating watching Patrick Crayton run past the marker and quick-curl without a man within three yards of him. Deon Grant was assigned over coverage and dropped deep. Josh Wilson was assigned under coverage and played the passing lane. Romo effortlessly split the two and found Crayton for 16 and the first.
The Cowboys reset with Austin in the backfield and Barber again the up back. This time Austin was a decoy. Leroy Hill chased him into the right flat, but Barber had the ball. Babineaux, David Hawthorne and Aaron Curry controlled the interior gaps and Babs shot up and tackled Barber after two.
Seattle blitzed five, dropping right defensive end Darryl Tapp into cover, and Curry closed on Jason Witten before he could receive. Witten twirled and juggled and dropped the ball.
It was again third and long. Seattle rushed seven, Trufant covered Austin, Austin initiated contact and Trufant was flagged for pass interference. A play later, Barber ran off right tackle for the touchdown. In seven plays, Seattle had forced two third and longs, it had forced a fumble it couldn't recover and a hold that negated the play, but it couldn't defend the pass. Why can't Seattle defend the pass?