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Seahawks vs. Cowboys preview: What to watch for

Fresh off a convincing 20-3 victory over the less than overwhelming San Francisco 49ers last Thursday, the Seattle Seahawks (3-4) travel to Dallas on Sunday to take on the Cowboys (2-4) in a game that will have playoff implications.

The Cowboys, without quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant are in a complete free fall, plummeting to the bottom of the standings in the NFC West. To their great advantage, however, they are in the NFC West, and if they can just can just hang until Romo returns, winning the division with a 9-7 record is entirely feasible.

The Seahawks, after blowing four fourth quarter leads this year – and recording losses to the three of the five remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL – are two games back of the division leading Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.

There’s still more than half the season left to go, but in many respects the outcome of Sunday’s Seahawks vs. Cowboys matchup is a good, old fashioned “loser leaves town” match. The winner will have a long row to hoe to make the playoffs; the loser might just be out of luck.

Here’s what to watch for:

Seattle’s offensive line

Simply put, the Seattle offensive line has struggled this year, nowhere more evident than in the passing game. Through seven games, the Seahawks have allowed 31 sacks, and that’s despite several heroic escapes from quarterback Russell Wilson every week.

Dallas will attack the pocket with the mercurial Greg Hardy, one of the top pass rushing talents in the league. Despite his behavior – on and off the field – clearly being a distraction to everyone but the Cowboy’s front office personnel, Hardy will again be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday.

Where the Seahawks can counter is in the running game, and Marshawn Lynch finally looks healthy. If the Seahawks can establish the running game early, a play action passing attack can counter the Dallas pass rush, and it will mean opportunity for tight end Jimmy Graham on seam routes down the middle and passes to the flat.

The key to the Seahawks will be first down and an ability to stay ahead of the chains on down and distance.

Cowboys’ Quarterback Matt Cassel

Since Romo went down against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys have been a rudderless ship. First, Brandon Weeden got the call, but he failed to deliver the goods. Next up came Matt Cassel, who delivered both good and bad in the Cowboys’ lost last weekend to the New York Giants.

Cassel is new with the Cowboys, having starting the season with the Buffalo Bills, and is still learning both the ways and the playbook of the Cowboys. But, he’s a proven dependable, if not stalwart, starter in the NFL, posing a 33-38 career record with some less than memorable teams.

Cassel is still in the “management” phase of development in his Cowboys tenure, with a premium placed on his ability to avoid unnecessary turnovers. Ordinarily, that’s a tough premium to be assumed against the Seahawks, but so far this year, the Seahawks have intercepted only three passes (two by Earl Thomas, one by Kam Chancellor).

As with most NFL games, the turnover battle will go a long way to determining the victor this coming Sunday.

The Dez factor

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant could very well see his first action since suffering a broken foot in a Week 1 victory over the New York Giants. That’s the good news for Cowboys fans.

The bad news is that if Bryant plays, he will see a steady dose of cornerback Richard Sherman, who has proven he can take away the threat of the best receivers in the league, Bryant included. In last year’s game, Bryant managed just four catches for 63 yards.

Last year

Last season, the Cowboys defeated the Seahawks 30-23, a feat more remarkable in that it came in Seattle, where the Seahawks are very tough to play. The Cowboys dominated that game, rushing the ball effectively (4.5 yards a carry) and converting on third down (10-17), possessing the ball almost 38 minutes of game time.

But, last year’s result was with Romo at quarterback. This year’s matchup is in Dallas, where the Cowboys have the advantage. But, they will have Cassel at the helm on third down, and that plays into the hands of the Seahawks’ pressuring, opportunistic defense.

It will be a ball control, field position game, with an emphasis on field position and the impact of special teams and penalties. But, all things being equal there, it will come down to playmakers at quarterback and on the defensive line, and the edge there goes to the Seahawks Wilson and Michael Bennett.

Seahawks 20, Cowboys 13.

Photo Credit: Kevin P. Casey/Associated Press 

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Ray Hartjen

A Public Relations pro by day, by night @RayHartjen follows parallel - yet somehow still often conflicting - paths searching for hair metal guitar legend status, a career as a journeyman 4th line center in the NHL, and the treasured laminates to be a hanger-on in the circus that is Formula 1.
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