Here are five things we'll be watching when the Seattle Seahawks travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Sunday.
1. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was asked this week whether Russell Wilson holding on to the ball is a "minor problem" or something more than that when it comes to the 31 sacks the offense has given up.
"I would say it’s probably a minor problem," Bevell said. "But there’s definitely times when Russell could help out the protection and get it out. The fine line is there is he does such great things with his feet. We coach really hard the second-chance opportunities. You’ve seen times where we haven’t blocked it very well, and he ends up escaping and making plays, and we get a second-chance opportunity down the field. So we’re coaching hard the opportunities where he can get the ball out quick and say, ‘ok, here’s exactly how we want you to do it.’ But then we don’t really want to take that opportunity away from him either where he has that ability to create those second-chance opportunities for us. Because we do it really well. Our receivers are really in tune to it, they get open, we get really big plays that way. So that’s a fine line that we’re walking there."
This season, the Cowboys are sacking opposing quarterbacks on 6.0 percent of their dropbacks (14th), according to ESPN Stats & Information. But in the past two games with Greg Hardy (three sacks) in the mix, that number has been 11.9 percent. As always, pass protection and how Wilson reacts to pressure will be key.
2. Overall, the Cowboys' defense ranks 25th in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings -- 20th against the pass and 26th against the run. The Seahawks' offense ranks 15th -- 18th in passing and sixth in rushing. With Thomas Rawls (calf) banged up, expect a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks prefer the run game to operate with Wilson under center, and they are using less zone read than last year. Lynch averaged 3.07 yards before contact against the 49ers, per ESPN Stats & Information. That number had been just 1.18 through the first six weeks. If the Seahawks can run the ball the way they want to against the Cowboys, it'll be a great sign for this team's prospects in the second half of the season.
3. Defensively, this is a good matchup for the Seahawks. Because of injuries, the Cowboys have struggled to manufacture big plays in the passing game. They have 16 pass plays of 20-plus yards, which ranks 29th. If wide receiver Dez Bryant returns this week, expect cornerback Richard Sherman to shadow him all over the field. Dallas is stout up front, but has still allowed sacks on 5.6 percent of quarterback dropbacks (18th-best). Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett has been wreaking havoc with 6.5 sacks, tied for tops in the league. Cliff Avril has been disruptive coming off the edge. Matt Cassel has already thrown three interceptions on 27 attempts. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas has two picks in the past three games and will be a factor.
4. Darren McFadden is coming off a 29-carry, 152-yard performance against the Giants. It's obvious that the Cowboys' preference would be to keep the ball out of Cassel's hands and lean on McFadden and the offensive line. But the Seahawks have been good against the run (eighth in DVOA), allowing 3.7 YPC (tied for fourth-best). They've only allowed one run of 20+ yards all season (tied for first). Going up against a talented Cowboys offensive line, the Seahawks should get a good measure of how good their front seven is.
5. Leftovers: The Seahawks are averaging 4.13 points per red-zone trip (29th). ... Their defense is forcing three-and-outs 32.9 percent of the time, tops in the NFL. ...With two more interceptions, Wilson will match his total from all of last year. ...No defense has been worse at forcing turnovers than the Cowboys. They've gotten takeaways on just 4.7 percent of opposing drives.