The Seattle Seahawks hadn’t recorded more than three sacks in a game since Week 7, but managed to take down Dallas Cowboys passer Dak Prescott four times Sunday for a combined loss of 27 yards, subtracting almost 10 percent of the Cowboys’ total gains on the day.
More important than the aggregate losses, however, were how the first three sacks all killed Dallas drives by producing downs and distances from which the Cowboys were unable to recover: A first and 10 turning into second and 15 and then a third and 10 becoming fourth and 15 in the third quarter, then a second and 12 dropped to third and 23 early in the fourth. This dynamic crucially shifted Dallas’s opportunities for success—after gaining 12 first downs in the first half despite facing only six third downs (and converting four of those), Prescott and the Cowboys created only nine first downs, two by penalty, and went 2-7 on third down after the break. By limiting Ezekiel Elliott’s carries on third and short, the lauded Dallas tailback only generated 24 rushing yards in the third and fourth quarters combined.
That defensive shift was needed considering how Seattle struggled to move the ball on its own. The Seahawks gained only 22 of their 136 net yards on drives that didn’t come from turnovers, and scored zero points with those possessions. Counting Justin Coleman’s third quarter interception for a touchdown, Seattle went 21-0 after takeaways.
Coleman, as well as Shaquill Griffin and Byron Maxwell, made several big plays in the secondary—and Griffin even gets credit for one of the sacks on a perfectly timed cornerback blitz. But even Coleman’s pick-six came thanks to pressure on Prescott: Frank Clark and Jarran Reed both put hands into the air on causing Prescott to lob the ball high and short, adjusting his aim, but leaving the pass in range for Coleman.
A pick-6 AND a leap into the Salvation Army pot for the Seahawks! #SEAvsDAL pic.twitter.com/P3CYb74fb0— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) December 24, 2017
Reed was a force in run defense repeatedly shoving blockers into the backfield, but occasionally added to the pass rush as in this case. For Clark, it was his most impactful game since a two-sack performance against the Philadelphia Eagles three weeks ago and has a chance at double-digit takedowns for the second straight year heading into Week 17 with nine sacks on the season. Michael Bennett got his 8.5th sack as well, and frequently harassed Prescott off his spot even when he wasn’t making contact before the throw.
The Seahawks hit Prescott eight times total or once every four dropbacks—impressive considering the pedigree of the Cowboys offensive line, even without left tackle Tyron Smith for some of the game. Dallas’s line is more famous for run blocking, but they still had only given up 27 sacks in the previous 14 games, a top 10 unit in the NFL in 2017 before Sunday.
I’ve written twice in the last month about how necessary Seattle’s pass rush presence will be to its chances for the remainder of the season, with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor on injured reserve. Dion Jordan even made another solid appearance, after missing three weeks in late November and early December, gathering his third sack in four active games as a Seahawk. Jordan’s debut came against the Arizona Cardinals with an explosive play previewing his potential as a difference maker in the front; the slim threshold for this club to make the playoffs comes to a crossroads New Year’s Eve against the Cardinals in Seattle and if the offense can’t control the game better than it did Sunday versus the Cowboys it will need the defensive line to come up just as big.