5 Players to Watch: Seahawks @ Cowboys
Saturday night’s Wild Card game between the Seahawks (10-6) and Cowboys (10-6) is going to be great because it features two evenly matched teams that play similar styles on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks won the regular season meeting between these two teams back in Week 3 which was played in Seattle, 24-13.
We certainly will do a list of “5 Players to Watch”, before we get to that I want to mention two factors which I believe will determine the outcome of the game.
The number one determining factor in most NFL games is the turnover ratio. If you take the ball away from your opponent, you win. If you give it away too often, you lose. You can point to exceptions, of course, but in most games the team that protects the ball is the winner; the team that gives the ball away is the loser. It’s not complicated.
The Seahawks are #1 in the NFL in Turnover Ratio. They finished the regular season at plus-15. They recorded 26 takeaways and committed only 11 giveaways.
That’s an amazing statistic: only 11 giveaways in 16 games! That’s only 1 turnover more than the NFL’s all-time record of 10.
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is great at protecting the ball; he threw only 7 interceptions all season.
Guess who else is great at protecting the ball: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott! He threw only 8 interceptions all year, but was intercepted twice in the loss to the Seahawks in Week 3 (the ball bounced off the hands of receivers). Ezekiel Elliott also lost a fumble in that game.
The Cowboys lost the turnover battle 0-3 to the Seahawks, which was the biggest factor in why they lost. The Cowboys defense didn’t record a takeaway in Week 3; they need to create some catalytic plays this weekend and record a takeaway or two…or three.
Special Teams Could Be a Huge Factor!!!
The Seahawks have Pro Bowl Punter Michael Dickson, an Australian from Sydney, who set a Seahawks’ franchise record this season by averaging 48.2 yards per punt. But two of his punts were blocked in last Sunday’s game, both of which resulted in scores by the Arizona Cardinals.
I’m not predicting that the Cowboys will block a punt on Saturday because they haven’t blocked one all year. But when you have two evenly matched teams, field position is critical. This game features two very good defenses. So, it is important for each special teams unit to set up their teammates on offense with good field position.
Cowboys Punter Chris Jones is going to have to match Dickson’s booming, precision punts. And Cowboys coverage units, which have given up too many decent-sized returns the past couple of weeks, need to tighten the screws.
And this game features an interesting contrast in kickers. Cowboys Kicker Brett Maher is a first-year NFL player who has been amazingly accurate from long distance, including successful field goals from 62 and 59 yards out. But he missed four from distances of 40-to-49 yards and missed 3 from 30-to-39 yards. He finished the season by converting 80.6% of his field goal tries.
The Seahawks have one of the venerable old kickers of the NFL: Sebastian Janikowski. He’s 40 years old and has been in the league for 19 seasons. He’s also bigger (260 pounds) than all the Cowboys linebackers. Janikowski has converted only 81.5% of his field goals this year, but he did kick the last-second game-winner last Sunday for the Seahawks. He also has plenty of playoff experience (8 games) compared to Maher (0).
And now, let’s focus on some players…
Ted S. Warren via AP
Seahawks RB Chris Carson (#32)
The Seahawks boast the NFL’s #1 rushing attack which averages 160 yards-per-game. Carson is the leader of the running back corps. He’s on a hot streak. Carson was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month because he topped 100 rushing yards in each of the final three games and finished December with 516 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns in 5 games.
Carson averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry this season. That’s the exact same average as Zeke Elliott. But Carson scored 9 rushing TDs this year … that’s 3 more than Zeke (6).
In the Week 3 loss at Seattle, the Cowboys defense allowed Carson to gain 102 yards which sounds like a lot. But the Cowboys held him to 3.2 yards-per-rush which is really low. What does this mean? It means that Week 3 was a game in which the Seahawks showed a real commitment to pounding the ball in the run game. Carson carried the ball 32 times in that game alone.
Will the Seahawks show the same kind of commitment to the ground game this weekend? That remains to be seen. In Week 3, they were without their top receiver Doug Baldwin who missed that game with a knee injury. Baldwin is playing this weekend, so maybe Wilson will put the ball in the air a lot. But I think they still will go with a run-first mentality.
When Baldwin missed playing time earlier this year, another receiver truly emerged for Wilson … Tyler Lockett.
Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (#16)
Lockett not only averaged 16.9 yards-per-catch and totaled 965 receiving yards, he also caught 10 touchdown passes this year. He has served as a go-to guy for Wilson this season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson’s passer rating when targeting Lockett is a perfect 158.3. That’s remarkable. Wilson completed 83.8% of his passes to Lockett with 0 interceptions and 10 touchdowns.
Lockett is also the Seahawks’ punt returner who averaged 8.3 yards-per-return in the Week 3 game against the Cowboys.
Paul Abell via AP
Stephen Brashear via AP
Seattle Pass Rushers Frank Clark (#55) and Jarran Reed (#90)
Clark plays outside at defensive end; Reed plays inside at defensive tackle. Combined, they are a formidable rushing tandem from the outside the and the inside.
Reed totaled 10 ½ sacks this year. That’s a very high amount for an interior lineman.
Clark totaled a career-high 14 sacks this year. That’s a combined 24 ½ sacks for Clark/Reed.
During his weekly radio show on The Fan, Cowboys Center Travis Frederick (who is part of every meeting and every practice this season) said Clark has improved so much since entering the NFL. Clark is a full-time starter now (he used to be Cliff Avril’s backup). He’s expanded his repertoire of pass-rushing moves, according to Frederick, and has taken advantage of increased playing time.
Back in Week 3, Dak Prescott was sacked 5 times. Reed has 2 sacks, Clark had 1. This weekend, the Cowboys o-line has to do a better job protecting Dak. The line will be without starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo who hurt his ankle in last Sunday’s win at the Giants, so rookie Connor Williams will take his spot. Williams will often be head-to-head with Reed.
John Froschauer via AP
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (#3)
What’s the best compliment anyone can pay Russell Wilson? The guy is a winner, period. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to post a winning record in each of his first 7 seasons. He’s also one of only 2 QBs in NFL history (along with Peyton Manning) to top 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdown passes in each of their first 7 seasons.
Wilson just finds a way to get it done, whether it’s throwing the ball or making a play with his feet. He’s elusive and can buy time while evading a pass rush, or he can put a dagger through your heart by scrambling for a big play on 3rd down. He’s fun to watch, unless you’re one of the defenders who is trying to contain him.
If you’ve read these postings over previous years, you know that I am a huge fan of Aaron Rodgers because he’s my favorite player to watch from the sideline. But Wilson is probably my second-favorite quarterback to watch. By the way, Rodgers is the NFL’s all-time leader is passer rating. Guess who is #2? Russell Wilson.
But my admiration for Wilson has nothing to do with stats. He and Rodgers are similar in this way: you can contain them for most of the day, but then they squirm away and find a way to make a huge play.
Wilson is not a big guy (5-11, 215) but is tremendously athletic. He’s awesome and he wins and he’s great at extending plays. Gosh, he’s fun to watch. But I wish I were watching him play some other team this week.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (#4)
Dak has won 32 games in his first 3 NFL seasons, but he knows that what he does in the regular season doesn’t really matter to Cowboys Nation. He knows he’s going to be judged by his success (or lack thereof) in the playoffs.
“I think it’s everything,” Dak says of playoff success. “I don’t pay attention to any stat but wins and losses. So, a quarterback’s success depending on what they do in playoffs?
Roger Steinman via AP
Yeah, that’s where the checks get written and they make their money, to be honest. Our job is to win no matter what happens. No matter how you play it, eventually, at the end of the day it’s to get the job done.
“I’m excited for my opportunity to be back in the playoffs after missing last year, but excited for this team in knowing what we’ve got.”
Enough said. I can’t wait for kickoff! Enjoy the game.
*Seahawks-Cowboys kickoff is 7:15pm central on Saturday night. You can watch the game on FOX and listen to the game along the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network.