For as much attention as we give to out-of-division opponents like the Carolina Panthers, it’s interesting to note that since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle in 2010, the Seahawks have played the Dallas Cowboys five times. The two franchises have yet to meet in the playoffs since the famous “Romo goes ‘Oh No’” game in January, 2007, but they’ve still managed to face off in each season since 2011 with the exception of 2013 and 2016.
Since righting the Sea-ship in 2012 though, the Seahawks have come out the winner in three out of the four contests. Will that continue when Seattle hosts the Cowboys in Week 3, coming home after two road games to open the season?
Previous two previews:
Dallas is coming off of a 9-7 season, same as Seattle, getting officially eliminated from postseason contention after a Week 16 loss at home to those same Seahawks. Surprisingly, they had more issues on their own turf than they did when traveling: after beating the New York Giants at home in Week 1, the Cowboys lost five of their remaining seven games in Big D. That meant they were a pretty solid road team.
After losing their first trip (42-17 at Mile High), Dallas won six of their remaining seven games on the road. And these are the only places where you might see some consistency from Jason Garrett’s team.
The Cowboys had five games where they scored 12 points or less, and six games where they scored 30+. Part of that had to do with the ongoing delayed suspension/suspension of Ezekiel Elliott, who ultimately ended up missing six games, returning just in time to lose to the Seahawks 21-12 and be knocked out of the playoff race.
Much of that same Dallas team is expected to return for next season, though they are a few notable changes.
Dak Prescott, Elliott, Tyron Smith, Zach Martin, and Travis Frederick remain the stars on offense, but Dez Bryant was released and Jason Witten retired after 15 seasons. At the moment, neither has been noticeably replaced by anyone; Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley remain at receiver, while Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson, and third round pick Michael Gallup have been added to the mix; Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers battle for snaps at tight end.
On the offensive line, they’ve still got three All-Pros, but drafted T/G Connor Williams in round two and added former Patriots tackle Cameron Fleming on a one-year deal; this is likely due to La’El Collins not performing as expected since signing as a priority undrafted free agent in 2015.
Dallas was just as inconsistent on defense as they were on offense.
The Cowboys held eight opponents to 17 or fewer points, and they gave up at least 35 points four times. However, they got better as the season went on, giving up 62 points over their final five games and going 4-1 in those contests. (They shutout the Philadelphia Eagles in a Week 17 game that didn’t matter to the Eagles, however.) That being said, Dallas still ranked just 25th in defensive DVOA, going 18th against the pass and 21st against the run. Much of that was due to a young secondary though, so perhaps brighter days are ahead.
Or perhaps they are not. Some of that success depends on defensive backs coach Kris Richard, a first-wave witness to the creation and development of the ‘Legion of Boom’ in Seattle.
2017 draft picks Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods are all looking to start in the secondary, as well as another one of their class members, Marquez White. Byron Jones, an athletic freak and first round pick in 2015, moves over to cornerback after an unsuccessful try at free safety. That leaves strong safety Jeff Heath as the veteran of the group, and perhaps the most reliable one of an unreliable bunch. Though the potential is there for the Cowboys to have one of the best young secondaries in the NFL.
And that could be the missing ingredient to a defense that already has a very talented front-seven.
DeMarcus Lawrence broke out for 14.5 sacks last season, doing enough to earn the franchise tag for 2018. It’s probably the best move for Dallas, because we’ve seen enough players have that one season where it works, get a huge contract, and then never repeat that success again for us to not freak out about one 14.5-sack season. Now two 14.5-sack seasons, that would be something. Alongside him is a host of guys with potential who could be the next version of him to breakout, or nothing at all: Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, Randy Gregory (still on suspension), David Irving, Jihad Ward, Datone Jones, Kony Ealy, Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, and Brian Price.
Can they shake out three high-quality players from that to place alongside Lawrence? I suspect that they could at least find two. But then also, will Lawrence be a dominant force again in 2018?
Between the secondary and the defensive line is Sean Lee, the leader of the defense who has at least been a little bit healthier in recent seasons. (Only five games missed in 2017.) Linebacker Jaylon Smith made his debut after missing all of his rookie season and while you could see the talent, you could also see the effects of his devastating knee injury from his last game in college. Another year to recover and the fact that he recently dropped his brace for drop foot could lead to Smith having a better 2018 campaign, but there’s no way to know that until the games begin.
Finally, there’s the Cowboys’ first round pick from this past draft, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. At 21, Vander Esch may not contribute significantly right away, but maybe he will. There’s nothing that says that he can’t and I’m sure Dallas didn’t draft him to have him only watch for a year. It’s just that with Vander Esch, as it is with any rookie, you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
And that seems to be the theme for these Dallas Cowboys: you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
The Cowboys could revert back to the 13-3 form they had in Dak and Zeke’s rookie season, or the team that started 5-6 last year, or most likely, somewhere in the middle. The defense has the potential to make huge strides but because of injuries, suspensions, likelihood of regression from some stars and inexperience by others, they could also finish 25th or worse again. The offense could be a top-five scoring unit, but because of the departures of two of their biggest weapons, the margin for error is thinner than ever for those that remain.
After two road games, the Seahawks could be 1-1 or 0-2 going into their home debut, so in this game it will likely feel necessary to get a win (more so than usual) in Seattle even though it’s only Week 3. The Cowboys look to be a tough test, and a test that surprisingly has come around a lot in the last eight years.
Can the Seahawks make it four times in the last five tries, or does Dallas get revenge for some of those bad memories?