Clayton: A look at what’s in store for Saturday’s Seahawks-Cowboys matchup
This weekend’s wild-card round could be a little wilder than normal.
What’s interesting about this round is the quality of the wild-card teams and the possibility of those teams winning. Even though the division winners have the home-field advantage, these wild-card teams aren’t going to be intimidated.
The Seahawks beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. A couple of weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens went to Los Angeles and beat Philip Rivers and the Chargers, and the Indianapolis Colts went to Houston and beat the Texans.
Even the oddsmakers are giving the wild-card teams a chance. Normally, home teams get a three-point advantage over the visiting team. The Texans are only one-point favorites over the Colts. The Cowboys are only one- or two-point favorites over the Seahawks. The Ravens are three-point favorites over the Ravens.
Let’s review the Seahawks and the Cowboys:
• The 24-13 victory over the Cowboys in Week 3 was the turning point in the season for the Seahawks. After loses to Denver and Chicago, the Seahawks figured out who they were as a team. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had a long meeting with Pete Carroll to sort out the offense. Schottenheimer admitted he was so enamored with Russell Wilson’s talent he got away from the running attack he was hired to run, and Carroll admitted he went to Schottenheimer a few too many times to go deep with some passes.
Their minds came together and the Seahawks became the physical running team that drove them to the playoffs. Chris Carson had 32 rushing attempts, and D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy established themselves as the aggressive leaders of the powerful offensive line that led the league in rushing.
• The Seahawks roster is a little better going into this game. The Seahawks lost All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, but they’re gaining a few veterans this time around. Doug Baldwin, K.J. Wright and Justin Britt didn’t play in the first Dallas game. The Seahawks won the game with a completely new interior of the offensive line (Joey Hunt played center). Having Wright back is huge for the defense. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker who’s smart and is good in coverage. That’s important because the Cowboys like the get Ezekiel Elliott involved in the passing game. Elliott led the team with 77 receptions and Wright could take some of those options away.
• The Cowboys are better than they were in Week 3. Their young defense grew up and has become one of the better units in the NFL. The Amari Cooper trade made the passing offense better. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have been phenomenal at linebacker. The secondary that was too young last year has played very well.
• One surprise for the Cowboys has been the shaky play of the offensive line. For the past few years, the Cowboys have had one of the best offensive lines in football. But this year, Tyron Smith has struggled with a back injury at left tackle. Zack Martin remains the best guard in the league but he’s battled a knee injury. Center Travis Frederick has missed the season and has been replaced by Joe Looney. Left guard has been a question mark. Even though Dak Prescott has a tendency to hold the ball too long at times, it’s still amazing to think that this line allowed him to be sacked 56 times.
• Injuries aren’t a big factor. The Seahawks won’t have fullback Tre Madden, but they hold hope the Sweezy will be able to play despite a foot injury. Sweezy suggests he is going to gut it out. Shaquill Griffin is expected to play despite an ankle injury, and the team will see the return of right guard D.J. Fluker and safety Tedric Thompson. The Cowboys won’t have defensive lineman David Irving and left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, but are otherwise good to go.
• Even though the Cowboys made a great run down the stretch, Jason Garrett’s job security isn’t a guarantee. A lot of people in Dallas are thinking Garrett needs to win in the playoffs to keep his job. I think Garrett will be the coach next year, but he’s only won one playoff game. That’s a concern.