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Clayton: The Seahawks figure out their secondary issues at a critical time

Justin Coleman was a big reason the Seahawks' secondary had a nice game against Dallas. (AP)

The champion in the Seahawks came out Sunday in Seattle’s 21-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Where most outsiders were writing them off for the season, the Seahawks stepped up and kept their playoff hopes alive. The most important thing they did was show that the defense isn’t falling apart.

Salk on Seahawks’ win over Cowboys: ‘This one was about pride’

After giving up 67 points in six quarters, the Seahawks limited the Cowboys to 283 yards and four field goals. The Seahawks now head into the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals with the confidence that might have been broken during the recent two-game losing streak.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday.

Good things at cornerback. With Richard Sherman out for the season and DeShawn Shead coming back from an ACL injury, the Seahawks had to completely re-do the cornerback position. To a certain degree, they had to re-do the entire secondary when you add Kam Chancellor’s season-ending injury to the mix. This may not be the Legion of Boom, but the defensive backs are pretty good. What was noticeable against Dallas was the great play of Justin Coleman, Byron Maxwell and Shaquill Griffin. Dak Prescott only completed nine passes for 97 yards to wide receivers. Each of the cornerbacks did great things. Griffin was only beaten for one completion. Justin Coleman had an impressive pick-six. Maxwell stripped a fumble from Dez Bryant the same way Peanut Tillman did it with the Chicago Bears. It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks try to re-sign Maxwell in the offseason. That was the 11th forced fumble for Maxwell of his career. He’s a play-maker who can start in this league. He’s a good one.

Give Kris Richard some credit. The Seahawks defensive coordinator called a great game. What I liked was some of the blitzes. The Seahawks’ defensive scheme is designed mostly to rush four – the defensive linemen – and play Cover 1 or Cover 3 in the secondary. On Sunday, he had cornerbacks Griffin and Coleman trying some effective blitzes, and K.J. Wright had a smart blitz. Those can be added to the defensive arsenal because they worked. Prescott, in his second year, is affected negatively when he’s pressured. He only completed 21 of 34 passes for 182 yards, was sacked four times and had two interceptions (one for a touchdown).

The defensive line stepped up when it had to. On the 41 times Prescott dropped back to pass, he was pressured 19 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Frank Clark had a big game and now has nine sacks for the season and a chance to have back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks. Clark had seven pressures against the Cowboys and continues to evolve as a top defensive end. It was also a great game for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who not only made good run stops in the middle of the field but also chased Ezekiel Elliott and got him on stops outside of the tackle box.

Credit the camaraderie on defense. With the country wondering if the Seahawks’ defense had internal problems, that didn’t show on Sunday. The return of Bobby Wagner at full-speed brought the Seahawks’ defense back to its top level. Wagner and K.J. Wright have great range. They are smart and they don’t miss tackles. That was on display against the Cowboys. What I liked from the sidelines was seeing how well the group worked together. Earl Thomas would come up for a tackle near the line of scrimmage and he would either bump helmets or congratulate the tackler, whether it was Richardson, Wagner or Wright.

Russell Wilson is finishing the season in a little bit of a slump. Wilson had only 60 net passing yards against the Cowboys. He had 71 net yards against the Los Angeles Rams. Sure, offensive line blocking has been an issue and he’s been sacked 10 times in the past two games. But he also has only completed 14 passes in each of the past two games. Pete Carroll acknowledged on Tuesday that Wilson needs to improve his game. Wilson has been an MVP candidate all season with his running around and making plays, and he has the Seahawks close to the playoffs despite the lack of a running game. But Wilson still needs 238 yards to get to 4,000. He might not make it.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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