By Matthew Postins
Can an unexpected season-opening win propel the Dallas Cowboys to a 3-0 start?
That’s the tantalizing prospect after Dallas’ 24-17 win over the New York Giants 10 days ago. The Cowboys’ next two games are against Seattle (7-9 last year) and Tampa Bay (4-12 last year). The perception is that Dallas is a more talented team than either the Seahawks or the Buccaneers. To some the Cowboys should beat both of them to head into their Week 4 matchup against Chicago undefeated.
Of course, that’s getting ahead of things.
Ten days is a long time to think about beating the defending world champions on the road on opening night. Ten days for players to hear how good they are. Ten days for the media to talk about how good the Cowboys could be. Ten days for fans to get high on the prospect of a Cowboys playoff run.
It all sounds so simple. Beat the Seahawks. The Cowboys beat the Giants. It should be no problem.
It also sounds like a recipe for a letdown game. One thing the Cowboys have not accomplished in the Jason Garrett era is following up a big win with another win. Doing so on Sunday might be a sign that this team is finally turning a corner.
In the end, I think talent will win out and the Cowboys will win this game by a touchdown. But it won’t be easy.
At least that’s how I see it. Here are three reasons why.
The pass rush. This Seattle offensive line isn’t exactly stellar. It features a solid left tackle in Russell Okung. But otherwise it’s filled with players that you would probably have a hard time picking out of a lineup. Okung, left guard Paul McQuistan, center Max Unger and right tackle Breno Giacomini have been on the roster for the past three seasons, but have not played together as consistently as the Seahawks would probably like. Plus, they’re breaking in a new right guard, J.R. Sweezy. This line is blocking for a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson and gave up three sacks last Sunday against Arizona. The Cowboys mounted a good rush on Giants quarterback Eli Manning last week, and that was against a veteran offensive line that is considered one of the best in the league. If the Cowboys can mount that kind of pressure on Wilson on Sunday, he and his offensive line will have a difficult day.
Slow down Marshawn Lynch. The pass rush needs help, and the best way the Cowboys can help the pass rush is to slow Lynch down. To be fair, this offense is built around Lynch, who had a career year rushing the football last year and is coming off a solid game against Arizona in which gained more than 80 yards. Lynch is a tough runner. He has the ability to bounce off of defenders and turn what should be short runs into long runs. All you have to do is go back to his memorable touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs two years ago. If Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff isn’t able to play, that’s a blow. But between his backups, Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore, the Cowboys managed enough push inside to limit the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw to 77 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys need their inside linebackers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, to meet Lynch early and often on Sunday. If they do, the game falls to Russell’s arm and that plays right into Dallas’ hands.
Get DeMarco Murray going again. Many were talking last week about what some considered one of the best performances of quarterback Tony Romo’s career against the Giants. But that wouldn’t have been possible without Murray. He gained 131 yards on 20 carries and he gained momentum as the game went along, thanks to an offensive line that got on the same page after a shaky first quarter and an injury to center Phil Costa. It’s easy to see why the Cowboys love him. He’s the best combination of former workhorse Marion Barber III and speedy backup Felix Jones. He’s capable of running inside and outside and, as we saw on his 48-yard run against New York, he doesn’t always need cohesive blocking to get it done. But here’s the real kicker. The Cowboys are 4-0 when Murray rushes for at least 100 yards. It’s a small sample, but a productive Murray really takes the heat off of Romo and the passing game.
One additional thing to consider. The Seahawks have a big advantage on special teams in returner Leon Washington. He’s returned seven kickoffs and punts for touchdowns in his career and he had a serious impact on last week’s game against Arizona, even though Seattle lost. Washington has the ability to change a game with one return, and the Cowboys will have to be careful with him on Sunday. In fact, kicking away from him whenever possible wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.