I'm always a little reticent to try and judge or provide in-depth scouting reports of opposing teams too much because I just don't have the time to adequately study most of them. During the offseason, I spend a lot of time watching league-wide NFL games, but once the season starts it's Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks. I was able to watch the Cowboys beat the Giants via NFL Game Rewind, but in order to gather a better scouting report, I consulted with Blogging the Boys and SB Nation Dallas' Archie Barberio.
My first question was about the one thing I'm most interested/worried about, and that's the Cowboys' ability to bring pass pressure. The Brothers Ryan have been known for their blitz-heavy defenses, and Rob has brought this mentality with him to Dallas. So, how will the Cowboys use blitz this week against a rookie like Russell Wilson? What can we expect to see the Cowboys do on defense to create issues for the Seahawks' offense?
"Rob Ryan can really afford to dial it up now that he has the ability to play man-to-man coverage on the outside with his new toys at cornerback," Archie told me. "I definitely expect to see Ryan bring the heat. Considering he is facing a rookie quarterback, you have to expect him to attempt to place Russell Wilson in a hostile situation with his defense."
How multiple are the Cowboys? Will they look to confuse the Seahawks' offensive line? "DeMarcus Ware will probably be lined up all over the field," Barberio notes, but points out Ware isn't the only weapon at Ryan's disposal. "Keep an eye on Jason Hatcher. Hatcher had a great game last year against the Seahawks. Anthony Spencer hasn't been known to rack up the sacks, but his pressure was great against the Giants."
Everyone knows that DeMarcus Ware is a dangerous weapon, but with Rob Ryan's blitzing style, having solid man-corners over the top is essential. Archie is quick to point out that "The Cowboys' biggest strength used to be their biggest weakness."
He elaborates, pointing out that "Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have the potential to lockdown the most talented of wide receivers. When you have guys who can cover like that, it begins to open up your pass rush. We have one of the best to do ever do it in DeMarcus Ware, but we also have some very talented players on the defensive line now. Really it all comes down to how well Anthony Spencer can play opposite of Ware," Barberio explains, "If he can generate pressure, the Cowboys defense will be hard to move the ball against. Sean Lee may be one of the best young linebackers in football. Bruce Carter has looked very good next to Lee, but he is still very young and could make mistakes."
In terms of weaknesses? "Seattle may want to test our safeties deep," Archie concedes. "Safety play has improved in Dallas, but it's still an area that I would test if I were the opposing team. Other than that, I honestly don't see too many holes in the defense. There is talent all over the field, but Rob Ryan also knows how to properly call a game and use his personnel."
The Cowboys offense....
Moving to the other side of the football, I wanted to hear, from a Cowboys writers' perspective, what he felt was the biggest strength of the team's offense.
Barberio: "The Cowboys biggest strength on offense has to be Tony Romo. A lot of people trash the guy, but I don't know if they have actually watched him play the last two years because he continues to grow into a great quarterback."
Actually, I would agree, and this perspective seems strongest particularly in the Seattle area. Most fans remember his snap/hold bumble and it strengthens the perception that Romo is a choke artist. Romo hasn't had a ton of success in the playoffs, and as a result of this or contributing to this, neither have the Cowboys as a team.
"The offense goes as far as Romo goes," notes Barberio, "but the receivers we have are some of the best in the NFL. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are a dangerous combination, they just need to stay on the field at the same time, which has been a problem for them."
"The running game has taken off ever since DeMarco Murray entered the starting lineup last year," he continues. "Murray is a franchise running back who can break a long run at any time."
What would the Seahawks' look to exploit?
"The Cowboys continue to get more balanced on offense, but the offensive line is still the biggest concern," he replies. "Ryan Cook was really good in place of Phil Costa at center, but he has no experience playing in this offense. The same goes for the guards; Dallas has two new guards in the starting lineup. There is a lot of change on the line, but I think the more they play together the better they will become."
"If I were the Seahawks, I would come hard after Romo because it may be hard for him to make pre-snap adjustments on the road. Pressure up the middle still concerns me, but Romo is so mobile that he can turn something into nothing."
"Tony Romo looked really good all offseason and pre-season," Barberio explained. "He played one of the best games of his career last Wednesday night, but he did it in a huge game. He completed over 75 percent of his passes, and he overcame a turnover early in the game and was damn near perfect for the rest of the game. The Cowboys can't expect him to play near perfect every week, but I feel that Romo may be a MVP candidate if he stays healthy.
We often talk about the Cowboys' big four-- Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray. Does Romo have a favorite?
"The great thing about Romo is that he really doesn't have a preferred target. Yes, Jason Witten is his "security blanket", but he doesn't force anyone the football. He did that early in his career. but the past few years he has done a tremendous job of spreading the ball around. Dez Bryant is a dangerous playmaker, but so is Miles Austin. Then you have a breakout player in Kevin Ogletree, so you kind of have to pick your poison on defense."
Under the radar players....
DeMarco Murray was a breakout player last season with an absurd 23-carry, 253 yard performance against the Rams in Week 7, and then followed up that game in Week 9 with 139 yards against the Seahawks to cement his status as the team's starter. I asked Archie to identify some young players or under-the-radar guys that have stood out for Dallas thus far this season - in other words, are there any "DeMarco Murray style" breakout players on this year's team?
"Man I would love to see another DeMarco Murray," he replied, "but I don't know if we will have a superstar breakout like that again this season. So far on offense it has to be Kevin Ogletree. Dallas has always wanted him to grow into the #3 WR, but he just never lived up to his talent level. During the pre-season I saw Ogletree begin to grow, but he has really began to evolve into a breakout player this season. With Laurent Robinson gone, Ogletree is stepping up and seizing his opportunity. It's early, but he may be in for a huge season because he will see a lot of mismatches."
"On defense," he continued, "it's gotta be second year linebacker Bruce Carter. Carter was given a high first-round grade by a lot of teams in the 2011 NFL Draft, but a torn ACL dropped him into the second round. After a year of recovering and learning the NFL, Carter looks like he may a budding star at linebacker."
Time for predictions...
Archie: "I don't think a lot of Cowboys' fans realize just how close this game is going to be. I expect a close game because I actually think the Seahawks are going to play some solid defense. I believe that we are the better team and should win this game, but I expect a close game. The Seahawks are a young and talented football team, so I expect Seattle to give Dallas a run for their money.
"The win in New York really showed me that this team can finally win in the clutch. Once Murray gets the running game going, I expect Romo to open up the field with his big play weapons, or vice versa. On defense, I expect our secondary to do a good job of shutting down your passing attack, but Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle run game do concern me. At the end of the day, I just think we have too much star power on both sides of the football. This will be a close game, but I expect the Cowboys to come away with a win."
Big thanks to Archie for answering all my questions so thoroughly, and if you missed it in today's Coffee and Cigarettes, head over to SB Nation Dallas to see my take on the game.