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Clayton: The keys for a Seahawks’ win over the Cowboys in Week 3

Another week. Another major roster concern.

The Seahawks opened the season in Denver and had to count on six rookie or first-year players participating in more than 25 plays. They also had three key players who had less than 10 practices in training camp, OTAs and minicamp. In Week 2, they had a new linebacker group because of injuries to Bobby Wagner (groin) and K.J. Wright (knee).

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For this week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, injuries along the offensive line are an issue. Left guard Ethan Pocic is out with an ankle injury. Center Justin Britt has a shoulder injury and is questionable, so he might not be able to go. The receiving corps is without Pro Bowler Doug Baldwin.

Another week. Another mystery.

Let’s look at the key elements of the game.

• With such a young team, the Seahawks needed the offense to carry the defense for a few weeks to start the season. That didn’t happen. The running game has been non-existent and Russell Wilson has made some uncharacteristic mistakes.

Against the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks need the defense to step up and carry the offense. Wagner’s return is huge for leadership and play-making ability. With Wright out, the Seahawks can rely on Mychal Kendricks to help out at weakside linebacker (though with Kendricks currently questionable with an ankle injury, they could also use Austin Calitro at the position). The secondary is deeper with the return of starting cornerback Tre Flowers, who missed the Chicago Bears game with a hamstring. Akeem King did a decent job in his place.

• While the Seahawks have changed from being a defensive back-led defense to a linebacker-led attack, the secondary will play a big role in the Cowboys game. The Cowboys have struggled on offense. The plan has been to lean on more running plays with both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The Seahawks did a decent job stopping the run Monday night against the Bears and did a nice job containing quarterback Mitch Trubisky after the first quarter.

Two important elements in that run defense are safeties Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald. In just two weeks, they are grading out as the best safety tandem in football. McDougald has been exceptional coming up and stopping running plays.

Thomas has the best range for stopping anything from the free safety position. But his status suddenly appears up-in-the-air. Asked whether Thomas (who missed practice Friday for a non-injury related reason) would play Sunday, Carroll said, “We’ll see how he’s doing, make sure he’s OK.”

This is the Cowboys, and you know Thomas has been open to a trade. Stay tuned there. But if he does play Sunday, the Seahawks need good games from both safeties.

• It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks blitz a bit more now that Bobby Wagner has returned. In the first two games, they had too many new players on defense to gamble with blitzes. But Cowboys center Travis Frederick is out and replaced by Joe Looney, which could open a hole on a great offensive line for a few rushes up the middle.

• Kris Richard will be a big factor in this game. The former Seahawks defensive coordinator is making a big impact for the Cowboys’ defense. He’s taken a young group of defensive backs and taught them some of the coverage techniques that worked so well for the Legion of Boom. Last week, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli let Richard call the defensive plays and he slipped in a few more blitzes than normal.

Russell Wilson has practiced against Richard’s schemes in practice, so this should be an interesting showdown.

• Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer admits he needs to do a better job with playcalling. The two biggest things for him will be to get a good start running, and then see if he needs to adjust tempo to get the offense going. They need to stick by a plan to run Chris Carson as the starter, mix in Rashaad Penny as the backup, and use C.J. Prosise in passing situations. The Seahawks have only 38 running attempts in two games. That trend can’t continue.

• This will be an interesting test for the Cowboys’ passing offense. They lost Dez Bryant and Jason Witten during the offseason. Last year, the Cowboys didn’t have much separation from their receivers. This group is faster — but are they better?

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John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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