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Seahawks-Cowboys preview: Seattle can find the edge in a shootout

NFL: New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If the Seahawks and Patriots were a matchup of two coaches who share an ideal sense of what their teams should look like, with dominant defenses and ball control offenses, then Seattle and the Cowboys are a matchup of realities. Dallas’s offense, like the Seahawks, can score at will with high-level talent across the board. And, like Seattle, they are forced to do just that because of a defense that is yet to catch up to the level of their offense. Barring breakout performances for both defenses in Week 3, we should be treated to a high-scoring back-and-forth on Sunday.

What the Cowboys do well

If the Seahawks are in the conversation for the best wide receiver duo, then the conversation for best trio starts and ends with the Cowboys. Already well off with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Dallas added arguably the best wide receiver in the draft in CeeDee Lamb and haven’t looked back. In 2020, nine different players have already caught passes from Dak Prescott, who is off to another strong start.

The Cowboys’ trio of wideouts are exceptionally hard to defend and not only because of their singular and collective talents. All three are capable of lining up anywhere, with Gallup and Cooper both finding success out of the slot previously, while Lamb caught all six of his passes in Week 2 from there. With three different receivers capable of creating mismatches, Dallas can reliably find the most favorable target—part of why Prescott’s start has seen him completing a career-high 68.6% of passes.

Despite previous struggles against the Cowboys, Shaquill Griffin is capable of handling his own 1-on-1 against any of Dallas’s trio. The same goes for Quinton Dunbar. Where the Cowboys present problems is that third weapon, whoever it is on a given snap. Whether it’s Ugo Amadi, Jamal Adams, or a platoon of defenders, Seattle has to hold their own against the crucial third receiver if they are to get the stops needed to move to 3-0.

Where the Cowboys can be exploited

Dallas is a high-powered offense, led by an excellent quarterback, several dynamic pass catchers, and a talented running back—however, their defense is suspect. Sound familiar?

The obvious talent on the Cowboys’ defensive line, headlined by Demarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen, is yet to show up. As a unit, they rank 30th in sacks (with two) and 29th in QB hits (seven). Linebacker Jaylon Smith has traditionally struggled without his running mate Leighton Vander Esch, who is on I.R., while the secondary has done little to calm offseason concerns.

Russell Wilson should have plenty of time to go through his progressions and pick apart a secondary currently without a starter on the outside (Chidobe Awuzie) and in the slot (Anthony Brown). Even the remaining starter, rookie Trevon Diggs, is hampered by a shoulder injury. Not that anyone can slow down Wilson, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, but their Week 3 foe will have an especially difficult time trying to do so.

So, while Dallas’s offense has a massive advantage over the Seahawks’ defense, the same goes for Wilson and the offense against the Cowboys’ defense. Every sign is pointing toward a shootout on Sunday afternoon.

Who to know on the Cowboys

Seattle fans and observers will be well aware of this player but he’s worth pointing out, as incredibly, he is back and contributing after four years out of the league. Aldon Smith, the fastest to reach 30 sacks in NFL history, was a thorn in the Seahawks’ side for four years, wracking up six sacks in nine games against Seattle as a member of the 49ers—most famously, opening up the 2013 NFC Championship game with a strip-sack of Wilson. Off-field issues forced Smith away from the league for years but Dallas bought in on his comeback attempt and thus far, it’s paying off.

Through two games, Smith has been an absolutely great run defender and looks every bit the freaky athlete he was previously. He’s slowly getting it going again as a pass rusher as well, with one sack and an impressive 10.9 pressure rate on 46 pass rush attempts. The Cowboys have been getting creative with their defensive front with Smith at the center of a lot of it. On Sunday, he’ll be eager to relive old times and cause havoc for the Seahawks and Wilson.

When the Cowboys get creative, the Seahawks have to communicate

Yes, Dallas’s pass rush has been awful through two games, especially considering the talent they boast. However, it is not for a lack of creativity. Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been trying a variety of things to get Lawrence, Griffen, Smith, and the rest going, with zone blitzes, stunts and loops, and standing up the defensive ends. It’s particularly clever to lean on zone blitzes and games between tackles and ends early in the season, while offensive lines are still trying to click after entering the year without a preseason.

The Patriots tested the cohesion of Seattle’s offensive line in Week 2 and for the most part, the Seahawks passed that test—especially compared to Week 1. The new right side of Damien Lewis and Brandon Shell, plus new starting center Ethan Pocic, passed off looping linemen between them effectively. However, the offensive line will need to again build upon their last game and communicate flawlessly when Dallas shows different looks and threaten to rush defenders through different gaps from where they align. Otherwise, they will risk giving up free shots on Wilson, in a game where neither offense can afford too many negative plays.

Why the Seahawks will win

Seattle and the Cowboys are evenly matched in their strengths and weaknesses. Both will score a ton on Sunday. It’s going to come down to which defense can get just a few stops in the dying moments. Neither defense has shown much of an ability to do it yet, but it’s safe to hedge on the Seahawks’ ability to do so with several legitimately elite talents. A one-score game coming down to the final minute again is fully possible but, luckily for Seattle, so too is a decisive stop in the biggest moment.