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NFL Preview - Seattle (2-5) at Dallas (3-4)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Dallas Cowboys have demonstrated the ability to put tough losses behind in the Jason Garrett era. The maddeningly inconsistent team will now try to bounce back from the most one-sided defeat of its head coach's tenure when it hosts the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in a midseason matchup.
Since Garrett replaced Wade Phillips on the sidelines halfway through the 2010 season, the Cowboys have gone 4-1 in games that followed a loss, with the lone blemish a hard-fought 20-16 setback at formidable New England on Oct. 16 in which the Patriots scored the go-ahead touchdown with 22 seconds left to play. Dallas has also had a tendency to play in close contests under the short-lived Garrett regime, with 10 of the club's 15 games during that period having been decided by four or less points.
That wasn't the case this past Sunday, however, as the Cowboys were soundly beaten in all phases by rival Philadelphia in a 34-7 throttling at Lincoln Financial Field. It was the team's worst loss since a 45-7 meltdown at Green Bay in Week 9 of last season, which prompted owner Jerry Jones to fire Phillips after the expected Super Bowl contenders dropped to 1-7.
Dallas' previously top-ranked run defense was gashed for 239 rushing yards by the Eagles and allowed 495 yards in all, while the offense generated its lowest scoring and yardage (267) outputs of this 2011 campaign.
The Cowboys have now lost three of four tests after an encouraging 2-1 start and sit two games behind the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East.
"We've got to let this go," cornerback Mike Jenkins remarked after the game. "We've got to think about the better days. We've got to think about [this] week."
Dallas may have the right opponent to get well against in Seattle, also losers of three of its last four outings and just 2-5 entering the midway point of this 2011 campaign. The Seahawks are 31st in the league in total offense and rushing yards in addition to averaging a meager 15.6 points per game.
The defending NFC West champions have also lost seven of their eight most recent road tilts and are just 1-3 as the visitor this year. That victory did come against the front-running Giants, however, a 36-25 triumph back in Week 5.
Seattle hasn't been able to build off that impressive result, however, with the offense completely shut down in an ugly 6-3 ousting by Cleveland following a bye and a flurry of mistakes leading to last Sunday's 34-12 home mishap against surprising Cincinnati.
The Seahawks committed two turnovers and were whistled for 11 penalties against the Bengals, while also allowing two punt returns and letting the clock run out in the first half after reaching the Cincinnati one-yard line.
"In a bunch of areas, we didn't do very well," said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll." We really gave [the Bengals] everything they needed in this game. You can just feel it, that we're getting in our own way too much. We have a lot of improvement that we have to locate."
On the positive side, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson did throw for a career-high 323 yards on the afternoon after replacing an ineffective Charlie Whitehurst in the second quarter. Jackson did not start for a second straight week due to a pectoral strain he suffered in the Giants game, but will be under center on Sunday.
He'll be taking on a Dallas defense that will without Jenkins and linebacker Sean Lee after both got hurt against the Eagles, while running back Felix Jones is likely to miss a third consecutive game for the Cowboys due to a high ankle sprain.
The Cowboys own an 8-4 lead in their overall regular-season series with Seattle and has won the last two meetings between the teams, both of which were held in Dallas. The Cowboys cruised to a 38-17 victory over the Seahawks in 2009 and dealt Seattle a 34-9 Thanksgiving Day defeat the previous year. The Seahawks' last non-playoff win over the Cowboys was a 13-10 home verdict in 2005, and they last prevailed in Dallas via a 17-14 score at Texas Stadium on Oct. 27, 2002.
Seattle did come out on top in the lone postseason clash involving the two participants, a dramatic 21-20 win in a 2006 NFC First-Round Playoff at CenturyLink Field. The game is best remembered for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's mishandled hold on a potential game-winning 19-yard field goal attempt in the waning moments.
Carroll is 1-0 all-time against the Cowboys as a head coach, with that win coming while at the helm of the New England Patriots in 1999. Garrett will be opposing both the Seahawks and Carroll for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Seattle did compile 411 total yards against a quality Cincinnati defense last week, with nearly all the damage coming with Jackson (1335 passing yards, 6 TD, 6 INT) at the controls of the offense. The offseason addition will need to make plays once again this week, since the Seahawks have practically no running game to speak of. The team is averaging a paltry 77.7 yards per game on the ground (31st overall) for the year, with leading rusher Marshawn Lynch (263 rushing yards, 3 TD, 11 receptions) having been held to 33 yards or less in four of his six appearances. Seattle also has the fewest rushing attempts in the NFL, and that predictability has contributed to a developing front line that fields two rookie starters and a second-year left tackle having surrendered a league-high 28 sacks. Jackson does have a few solid targets to work with if he has sufficient time to throw, as fellow ex-Viking Sidney Rice (24 receptions, 366 yards, 1 TD) is a legitimate No. 1 receiver, undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin (25 receptions, 2 TD) has made a positive impact out of the slot and Ben Obomanu (21 receptions, 2 TD) is coming off a season-high 107-yard, four-catch effort from last week. Rice added 102 yards on seven grabs in the loss.
The Cowboys will be out to prove last Sunday's defensive collapse was an aberration, as the team had been very sound on that side of the ball under colorful coordinator Rob Ryan over the first six games. The loss of Lee (51 tackles, 3 INT, 5 PD), Dallas' leader in both tackles and interceptions, to a dislocated wrist is significant, though, as the run defense suffered with the aging combo of inside linebackers Keith Brooking (22 tackles) and Bradie James (18 tackles) having to play an increased number of snaps. The unavailability of Jenkins (18 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PD), out with a hamstring injury, will test the depth of a secondary that was scorched by Eagles playmaker Michael Vick this past week as well. Fortunately, the Cowboys do possess a potent pass rush led by terrorizing outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (31 tackles) that Ryan can fall back on. The perennial All-Pro netted a career-high four sacks of Vick in Week 8 and has amassed 12 already this season, just shy of Minnesota's Jared Allen for the league lead. As a team Dallas ranks ninth in total defense (328.3 ypg) and fourth against the run (93.9 ypg), though opponents have converted 44 percent of third-down chances against the unit.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Dallas hadn't had much of a problem moving the football prior to last week, with Romo (1959 passing yards, 11 TD, 7 INT) producing four 300-yard performances over the initial five games and a sporadic ground attack coming to life with a 294-yard outburst against defensively-deficient St. Louis leading up to the Philadelphia loss. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, still dealing with sore ribs from a hard hit he took back in Week 2, has been a bit off as of late, however, and struggled to an 18-of-35, 203-yard, one- interception stat line in last week's debacle. The Cowboys still remain a dangerous foe through the air, with Romo operating with a star-studded receiving corps headed up by standout tight end Jason Witten (40 receptions, 477 yards, 3 TD) and proven playmaking wide receiver Miles Austin (26 receptions, 4 TD), while talented second-year pro Dez Bryant (22 receptions, 4 TD) and ex-Rams castoff Laurent Robinson (19 receptions, 1 TD) are capable vertical options as well. Rookie DeMarco Murray (400 rushing yards, 1 TD) has taken over lead running-back duties in Felix Jones' absence and exploded onto the scene with a franchise-record 253 yards against the Rams, then backed that outburst up by ripping off 74 yards on only eight attempts last Sunday. He's averaging 6.9 yards per carry on the season.
Murray may find the going a little tougher to come by this week, as the Seahawks are among the stoutest teams in the NFL in defending the run. Seattle is limiting enemy backs to a league-low 3.2 yards per attempt and have held four of their seven opponents under 95 rushing yards, with oversized end Red Bryant (15 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and tackle Brandon Mebane (24 tackles) two wide-bodies who excel at plugging lanes and linebackers David Hawthorne (46 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Leroy Hill (44 tackles, 1 sack) and rookie K.J. Wright (24 tackles) all sound tacklers behind them. The Seahawks have been a bit more vulnerable against the pass, though the young safety tandem of Kam Chancellor (45 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) and 2010 first-round pick Earl Thomas (47 tackles, 1 INT) have held up well. Injuries have left the group thin at cornerback, where raw rookie Richard Sherman (15 tackles, 1 INT) and former CFL star Brandon Browner (31 tackles, 1 INT) now serve as starters, while end Chris Clemons (21 tackles, 5 sacks) is the club's only pass rusher of note. Seattle has just 13 sacks on the season, a number that ranks in the league's lower tier.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Run the ball. It's not a coincidence that in the two games Seattle's rushed for 122 yards or more, it's won both times, and the team has gained less than 70 yards on the ground in each of its five losses. On the Dallas side, Murray gives an already difficult offense to stop an additional worry if he's going well and heavily involved in the game plan, so it's important that the Cowboys utilize the promising rookie and don't become so one-dimensional. Both clubs figure to be challenged in that aspect, however, as each of these defenses have been tough to run on this year.
Turnovers. Dallas should be able to dominate this game from a statistical standpoint, much like it does in a majority of its matchups. The Cowboys can be prone to giving the ball away at times, though, and are 1-3 this season when losing the turnover battle. Seattle has recorded seven takeaways in its two victories, including five against the Giants, and just three in its five defeats. If the Seahawks are going to come out of Cowboys Stadium with a win, they'll need to force some critical errors out of Dallas.
Be aware of Ware. Since Seattle may very well have trouble establishing a consistent ground game, the offensive line has to protect Jackson adequately and the erratic quarterback must be quick in his decision making. The Seahawks will have quite a task in slowing down Ware, the one defensive player on the field Sunday who can take over a game, and simply can't allow him to do so.
The Cowboys are certainly a better team that what they displayed last week, as evidenced by admirable showings against top-tier opponents such as San Francisco and New England earlier in the season and in the way they buried the depleted Rams two Sundays back. However, they almost always seem to go through stretches marred by a lack of execution and composure over the course of a game, which is way it's reasonable to expect that this contest won't be the blowout that equates to the disparity in experienced talent between these two opponents. Still, with a mediocre offense and its struggles on the road, Seattle doesn't seem to pose too much of a threat here. Dallas may not put it together for a full 60 minutes, but the overall result should still be good enough to obtain a victory it really needs to have.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 26, Seahawks 17
11/03 08:48:07 ET