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Seahawks Vs. Cowboys: Attacking Dallas' Defense

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Things don't get any easier for the Seahawks' offense in Week 2 as they draw a much-improved Dallas defense, coached by Rob Ryan. The Cowboys' defense is characterized fairly similarly to Arizona's in that they like to blitz on overloads and rely on man-to-man cornerback play to mitigate risk over the top. Their major upgrade this season over last is that they now have two top-level (potentially, anyway) cornerbacks in free agent signee Brandon Carr and rookie first round pick Morris Claiborne. Underneath, they have excellent pass rushers - particularly DeMarcus Ware, and middle linebacker Sean Lee is an up-and-coming star in this league. Wilson should expect a similar type of attacking, multiple, and difficult to decipher 3-4 defense from Dallas this week, and even Seahawks' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell acknowledged that the Cowboys might employ a similar gameplan meant to stifle a rookie QB.

"That would be probably the smart thing to do," Bevell said. "If you watched that [Arizona] game, whenever you leave yourself open for things like that, as we always say, it's a copycat league. And until you prove you can stop it, then somebody's going to continue to (try to do) that. So it just falls right back on us to make sure we're right with our communication, and all the things we're trying to do to go along with that."

The Seahawks' offensive line must improve, and frankly, Russell Wilson must do a better job of getting the ball out quickly, diagnosing pressure schemes, and stepping up into the pocket to make throws. With pressure more likely coming from the edge, rather than the interior this week, Wilson must fight that urge to scramble away from pressure to try and make something happen, and instead step up into the pocket with his eyes downfield. He's going to have to throw from tight quarters into tight quarters -- and watch him and his footwork once things start closing in. I've noticed he has a propensity to 'tuck' the ball away too quickly in his scramble and go to full-on 'run' mode, as opposed to keeping it cocked in front of him with both hands on the football, ready to make a throw as receivers come back to the ball. He's surely aware of this, but when bullets are flying around you, instinct has a way of taking over and his first instinct thus far has been to do the Russell Wilson thing and make plays with his feet. That didn't work last week. He'll need to fight that urge to put his head down and run, I believe, and be more cognizant of his footwork in the pocket this week.

Greg Cosell publishes his game-notes every week for and because they're behind a paywall I won't disclose them all here, but in those notes, Cosell evaluated that though Wilson was erratic and left some throws on the field after failing to pull the trigger at times vs Arizona, he was also poised and understood where to go with the ball at others, making throws with anticipation while taking shots. Cosell graded Wilson's performance, overall, as positive. Cosell also talked about Wilson's debut with Doug Farrar on Yahoo! Shutdown Corner's Week 2 podcast as well. Cosell posits something that I would certainly agree with, when he said, "I think what was interesting, and I think you (Farrar) know Pete Carroll a whole lot better than I do, and you're there (in Seattle), but I think the feeling about Wilson is that he's a more dynamic player. Say what you want about Matt Flynn, and we've talked about this, but he's a four-quarter player who is fairly stable and consistent in the way he plays. What I think they like about Wilson is that he can make those so-called 'dynamic plays'."

These dynamic plays come in many forms, and Wilson's ability to scramble is surely a positive in the minds of the Seahawks' front office, but on the other side of the coin, Wilson has, during camp and the preseason, shown the ability and willingness to throw the ball deep, up-for-grabs at times, with faith that his receivers will make a play. The explosive play is a pillar of Pete Carroll's offensive philosophy and Wilson's ability to succeed as the Seahawks' starting quarterback, I'd say, largely hinges on his ability to execute these downfield strikes more effectively going forward.

He was bad, frankly, on most of his deep throws on Sunday - overthrowing Braylon Edwards several times and overall he was very inaccurate downfield, so this severely hampers his ability to earn defensive coordinators' respect of the long ball, drawing more blitzes and 8-man boxes. Not only that, but Wilson threw high on many of his intermediate throws that were completed, so he needs to rein that in as well.

That said, as Cosell pointed out, particularly on the Seahawks' final drive, Wilson began to make throws from the pocket, under pressure, with timing and anticipation, and I remember thinking, as the Seahawks picked up their third first down of the drive, that WIlson was really getting into a rhythm, using the whole field, keeping focus off the rush, and moving the ball. As the Seahawks got into the redzone and the Arizona defense tightened up, things began to unravel a bit and rhythm was thrown off -- by defensive penalties and the weird timeout debacle that took about ten minutes -- but the point is, that if Wilson can settle in and build on the way he was playing and controlling the offense on that final drive, this will help against Dallas.

Getting back to the Seahawks' core offensive philosophy though, something that should help Wilson even more is if the Seahawks can effectively run the football. Running the football is a great neutralizer of blitz heavy teams, and as the Cowboys are forced to stop the run by playing in position with sound, base fundamentals on defense, Wilson's passing windows should open up. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 135 yards last season against the Cowboys on 23 carries, and that game is widely considered the turning point for Seattle's offense as they eschewed the no-huddle and force-fed Lynch the football.

Since that game on November 6th, 2011, Marshawn Lynch has led the NFL in rushing with 1,026 yards.

Lynch will need to be a factor on first down, because you know Darrell Bevell and Pete Carroll love to run the football on first down. As Herm Edwards was espousing on Brock and Salk the other day, '2nd and 5 is a quarterback's best friend,' or something along those lines. 2nd and 5 is a beautiful thing, because you can run or pass from any personnel grouping or formation, and the run/pass options are limitless. On defense, you absolutely have no idea what to expect, and being overly aggressive either against the run or against the pass can expose you to a big play. If Lynch and the offensive line can put the Seahawks into 2nd and 5 situations with a little more frequency this week, they'll do a lot to help Russell Wilson string together some passes. Last week, the Seahawks had 26 2nd down situations, according to Brock Huard, and only four of those times were they in a 2nd and 5 or better situation. This needs to improve.

Sidney Rice must take advantage of either Carr or Claiborne on the outside - no small feat - but he must use his length and size to shield his defender and move the chains. Rice will see plenty of man-coverage over the top - as will Golden Tate - as the Cowboys bring pressure on Wilson. Doug Baldwin should factor into the gameplan a little more heavily, and I'd expect the Seahawks to look to Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, and hopefully Evan Moore a little more often as outlet, crutch options for Wilson when he comes under pressure.

That said, as Football Outsiders so astutely pointed out, "No defensive coordinator likes to rush three and drop eight into coverage quite like Rob Ryan. The Browns led the league in this category in 2010, and the Cowboys did last season." This means Wilson must quickly diagnose on the fly and make sound decisions from the pocket, and more importantly, stay there. No forced passes on first reads, as the Cowboys will look to take away hot routes and checkdowns with their zone dropbacks. No phantom pressure forcing quick throws or undue scrambling. We saw Wilson make some bad decisions last week - particularly two backwards passes on plays that had already been busted - so making the correct reads and keeping track of dropping defenders will be his toughest task.

FO also points out that the Cowboys are among the best in the league at defending screen passes, so the Seahawks will likely need to figure out better ways to take advantage of a possibly over-aggressive defense like the Cowboys without relying on screens. One way, of course, is to throw the ball over the top to your playmakers as they draw man coverage. Another is to use bubbles and get the ball out in space. We saw how successful the Seahawks were with this in Week 1 (let me refresh your memory: awful) so perhaps, as Joshua Kasparek suggested, some toss sweeps, traps, or wham plays (read that linked article) are in order, meant to exploit an overly aggressive front seven.

Personally, I'd love to see a little more creativity and multiplicity on offense (a thinking defense is a slow reacting defense), but naturally, with young/new players in the system and with so many key players missing most or all of the preseason (Rice, Baldwin, Miller, McCoy, Moore), this coaching staff is a bit handcuffed with not overwhelming their players, particularly Russell Wilson, with an overly complicated playbook. Poor execution will kill any creative scheme, and we saw the Seahawks fail to execute even the most basic, core plays in their offense last week.

I'll have a little more follow up on this post later today, with more specific scouting on Dallas' defensive personnel.