Explosive offenses set to converge in the Pacific Northwest
Two of the NFL's most polarizing teams will meet on Sunday afternoon when the Seattle Seahawks will play host to the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field. These two teams will be looking for a pivotal win in Week 3 since both teams view themselves as contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Seattle (2-0) outlasted the New England Patriots 35-30 this past Sunday night in a thrilling finish as the Seahawks stopped Cam Newton at the 1-yard line on the final play of the game. It was a fitting end since those two teams always compete against each other at a high level for 60 minutes — and their games often comes down to goalline plays. Russell Wilson was lights-out; he torched the Patriots for five touchdown passes after an inauspicious start on the opening drive. New England went ahead 7-0 thanks to Devin McCourty's 43-yard interception return for a score after the ball bounced off of tight end Greg Olsen. The offensive line got the running game going as the Seahawks put up 154 yards on the ground with Chris Carson (72 yards on 17 carries) leading the way. However, injuries caused havoc on the Seattle defense — edge rusher Bruce Irvin and safety Marquise Blair both suffered season-ending ACL injuries.
For Dallas (1-1), special teams saved the day last week when the Cowboys recovered a super-slow, rolling onside kick with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter against Atlanta. Dallas had trailed 29-10 at halftime but rallied to win 40-39 thanks to a 46-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein as time expired to get back to .500 on the season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that had scored at least 39 points in a game without committing a turnover had been 440-0 prior to this dramatic comeback by the Cowboys. The offense settled down after three early turnovers as Dak Prescott accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing) to go along with 450 passing yards. Ezekiel Elliott picked up 89 rushing yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. After Dallas looked hapless through the first quarter, they looked unstoppable afterward, and Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb both finished with more than 100 receiving yards.
Seattle is 4-2 against Dallas since Wilson took over at quarterback, but the Cowboys won the most recent meeting, beating the Seahawks 24-22 in AT&T Stadium in the NFC Wild Card Game two seasons ago.
Dallas at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Defensive line battle
Both teams are looking to break through and put together four quarters of consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Seattle's defense has its back against the wall after the Bruce Irvin injury and will need players to step up in his absence. L.J. Collier had a key role helping stop Cam Newton on the final play of last week's game and will need to carry that over into this week and beyond in a big way. Jarran Reed will need to find a way to generate more pressure up the middle this week against Dak Prescott to get him off of his spot in the pocket. Bottom line, the Seahawks allowed Newton to get way too comfortable in the pocket last week and he made them pay for it by nearly stealing a win against them. Dallas made several additions to the defensive line in the offseason, including Everson Griffen, but still had issues trying to get to Matt Ryan, who wasn't sacked until the fourth quarter. Through two games, the Cowboys have recorded just two sacks, seven hits, and 14 quarterback hits. Those numbers won't cut it in order to do more than just win what appears to be a bad NFC East division. Moreover, the good news for Dallas is the pass rush will have a chance to get right this week against a Seahawks offensive line that has allowed five sacks and is a work in progress.
2. Seahawks' secondary vs. Cowboys' wide receivers
This will be an intriguing battle to say the least since Seattle's secondary has plenty of room for improvement. Last week, the loss of Quandre Diggs for a helmet-to-helmet hit was costly, as Newton and the Patriots' passing attack took off after that. Talent is not a problem along the back end for the Seahawks, but this group has not together a complete game yet. Cooper, Lamb, and Michael Gallup will provide a variety of challenges for cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar thanks to their mix of size, speed, and ability to create separation. These one-on-one battles will be something fans need to keep an eye on all afternoon long. It will be a big-time boost for Seattle if the secondary can limit the damage done by Dallas' receivers.
3. Make every possession count
The ability to play keep-away at critical moments is going to be a huge key to victory as each team will look to break serve against the other by getting defensive stops. Seattle running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde have yet to break out for a 100-yard rushing game, but they got the job done last week to keep New England off balance. Carson and Hyde will need to take what the Cowboys defense gives them and simply hang on to the football to avoid giving away possessions. Ball security plagued Dallas in the first half last week, putting the ball on the ground with three lost fumbles, including one by Ezekiel Elliott, If the Cowboys can pay attention to the little things and protect the ball better, they will have plenty of opportunities to score this week.
Both offenses have the capability to put up 30-plus points without too much difficulty so this should be a high-scoring affair. The weather is not expected to be an issue at CenturyLink Field, as the rain should be out of the area by Sunday. Winning the turnover battle, red zone defense, and whichever team can avoid any self-inflicted mistakes will escape with a win. Jason Myers will knock home about a 40-yard field goal in the final minute to help the Seahawks improve to 3-0 on the season.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Cowboys 31
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.