Ezekiel Elliott returns as the Cowboys and Seahawks face off in a playoff elimination game
Two teams whose seasons are going in opposite directions will get together on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as the Seattle Seahawks (8-6) take on the Dallas Cowboys (8-6). Seattle had an epic meltdown at home against the Los Angeles Rams in a 42-7 loss that wasn’t even that close. Meanwhile, Dallas grinded out a 20-17 win last Sunday night in Oakland.
The Seahawks were horrendous in all phases of the game against the Rams as they couldn’t block, tackle or do anything right from the opening kickoff last Sunday. Russell Wilson (above, right) was sacked seven times and quite frankly that number could have been a lot higher. J.D. McKissic led a dismal rushing attack with 38 yards. Defensively, Los Angeles dominated the line of scrimmage against Seattle as Todd Gurley carried the ball 21 times for 152 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
After the game there were some fireworks on Twitter as Earl Thomas commented that Bobby Wagner should not have played with his injured hamstring and Wagner shot back telling Thomas to keep his name out of his mouth. This is another prime example of a Seattle team that is out of control.
For the Cowboys, the mission last Sunday night was simple and that was to find a way to win and keep themselves in the playoff conversation. Dak Prescott completed 18 of 27 passes for 212 yards but threw two interceptions. The defense stepped up late with a big turnover as they caused a Derek Carr fumble just inches from the end zone. That type of resilience from Dallas was impressive as the Cowboys did what was necessary to keep their postseason hopes alive. Now they get running back Ezekiel Elliott back from suspension to help help jump-start their offense against a Seahawks team that may be ready to pack it in.
Seattle at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Dallas -5.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' offensive approach
Seattle is at a point of no return right now with its offensive line as their inability to generate any semblance of a running game is a big reason why the Seahawks are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. This approach by the team to allow offensive line coach Tom Cable to build a group full of cast-offs and underachieving high draft picks like Germain Ifedi has finally caught up to them. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and allowing able to return in 2018 would be a huge mistake because his incompetence is going to eventually get Russell Wilson carted off with a major injury. Thus, if you are offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell you might as well let Wilson loose in the passing game and not even bother running the football much at all.
2. Feed Ezekiel Elliott
If you are Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan there is absolutely no reason to try and just ram the ball down the Seahawks' throats all afternoon long. Elliott is back from his six-game suspension, looking fit and well rested, so expect him to get at least 20 carries. It will be a big disappointment to Cowboys fans if Elliott doesn’t go off for at least 150 yards on Sunday. The offensive line is going to have to set the tone right away with or without left tackle Tyron Smith, whose status for Sunday is uncertain because of a knee injury. If Dallas can seize control on the ground in the first couple of offensive series, than it figures to be a nice first game back for Elliott and another long afternoon for Seattle's defense.
3. Seattle defensive line
If Dallas is without its All-Pro left tackle, it will be imperative for the Seahawks' defensive line to capitalize. Byron Bell, Smith's replacement, is nowhere near the player that Smith is. The drop-off means means it would create a golden opportunity for Frank Clark to have a field day coming off of the edge. Don't forget that Atlanta's Adrian Clayborn racked up six sacks when Smith missed that game back in Week 10, which the Falcons won handily 27-7. A depleted Cowboys offensive line also gives Seattle a better chance at keeping Dak Prescott (right) in the pocket and minimize the damage he does with his legs. The Seahawks could send their own strong statement if they are able to get to Prescott or make plays behind the line of scrimmage early on.
This game is fascinating because both teams still have things to play for but are just fragile enough that the game could get out of hand quickly if they aren’t careful. Dallas is not great at home (3-4), while Seattle has not been bad away from CenturyLink Field (4-3). Offensive line play figures to be a significant factor in this one, as the Seahawks need to keep Russell Wilson upright and find some way to run the ball. Meanwhile, the Cowboys may be without their All-Pro left tackle but running back Ezekiel Elliott will return from his six-game suspension. It's Elliott's return that gives Dallas the edge, as the Cowboys will try and dictate the proceedings with their running game. The loser of this game is basically elimiated from playoff contention. In Seattle's case, it also could signal the end of an era and serve as the precursor to major changes in the offseason.
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Seahawks 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.