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Week 5 Preview: Matchup problems mean trouble for Cowboys

After a Super Bowl-winning 2013 season, are these the Seattle Seahawks you were expecting to see?

It’s proven to be a bit of a polarizing question so far in 2014. Their 3-1 record has them sitting atop the NFC West, albeit sharing it with the injury-riddled Arizona Cardinals. But the Seahawks’ stature is well-deserved. Russell Wilson is playing like a man among sub-6-foot boys. The run defense is the best in the NFL. Beast Mode has shown exactly zero signs of wearing down. And aside from getting edged in 110-degree heat in San Diego, the team has found a way to out-muscle and out-perform teams led by the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.

But good teams win ugly. The Seahawks are a physical team, refusing to surrender under any circumstances. They are built to dominate, to beat you up, and to win one-on-one matchups on every down. These are, by definition, ugly concepts. Because of their ferociously physical game, the ugliness has reared its head in 2014 through penalties and an occasional lack of discipline. Most notably, it surfaced in Monday night’s win against the Washington Epithets (sorry, Danny O’Neil), in which not one, not two, but three touchdowns were called back as a result of penalties.

While we can all agree that the officiating on Monday night left more than a little to be desired, the reality is this: The Seahawks, as good as they are now, can be even better. Russell Wilson even said it himself.

On Sunday, the Seahawks have a chance to do just that. After what seems like half a lifetime since the Seahawks last took the field at CenturyLink, they return to welcome our old friend Tony Romo and his Cowboys.

The Cowboys might be the biggest surprise of the NFC this year. Their explosive offense is anchored by DeMarco Murray and a league-leading 800 yards rushing. The Seahawks aren’t far behind, though, and lead the league in rush yards per game at 167. Curiously, they’re only no.8 in total yards at 669.

But that’s where the similarities for these teams end. And for the Seahawks, taking advantage of the areas in which they differ from Dallas will decide if they win this game.

Big plays. The Seattle offense is quietly leading the NFL in “big play percentage” at 10.25 percent. (Yes, football stats have officially reached “ludicrous speed.”) A big play, by definition, is a rush play over 10 yards or a pass play over 25 yards. Through four games, the Seahawks have 18 big rush plays and seven big pass plays on 244 total offensive plays. For you math nerds, that’s 25 total big plays.

The Dallas defense, meanwhile, has given up 25 big plays. Number conspiracies aside, that defense reeks of Swiss cheese. Expect big days from Wilson, Lynch, and Harvin on Sunday.

Shutting down the run. Early. The Cowboys can’t stop the run. They’ve allowed five rush TDs and have given up 160 yards on the ground on average this year, even with Rolando McClain looking like the comeback player of the year. Believe it – Beast Mode is liking this matchup. But DeMarco Murray is running wild, too, and he’s backed by a stacked Dallas offensive line. Up front, though, the Seahawks are giving up a mere 2.6 yards per carry against the run. Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel have been downright fearsome in the middle, and rendered Alfred Morris completely ineffective on Monday night. Repeating the formula against Murray from the Cowboys’ first possession will be the key here. Don’t let him get comfortable. Don’t give him anything. Force Romo to throw, and force him to throw it to Sherman. Hastily. Speaking of….

The best corner in the game. After getting “exposed” against San Diego and supposedly “beaten” by DeSean Jackson on a weird, fluky coverage call, the Sherman hater bandwagon expanded by a few thousand seats. Those of us paying attention in Seattle, of course, know the truth – most QBs are afraid to challenge Sherman because he still is the best in the game. That hasn’t stopped the Cowboys from declaring publicly that part of their game plan will be to challenge Sherman. We know how the rest of that story’s gonna pan out.

Improved discipline. 13 penalties is egregious for a regular-season NFL football game, save two things: 1.) The two teams are openly trying to punch each other in the face on every play; 2.) Jeff Tripplette is the official. Even though the Seahawks had to deal with the latter on Monday night, they still pulled out the victory. But there were moments when the offensive line looked in shambles – not only collapsing around the pocket like a stack of dominoes in a windstorm, but with maddening mental errors. Russell Okung said it himself, though – he’s not playing like his usual self. If the Seahawks are going to win, and win consistently, they have to get out of their own way. The battle is won in the trenches, and if the men in the trenches keep shooting themselves in the foot, the effects hurt all 11 men on the field – every time.

That being said, this team does have the discipline to win this game. They’re simply too well-coached to let the errors drag on. They do have the ability to play better, and to sharpen the skills that may appear dull for the moment. This game gives them the perfect test to do so – in their own house, against a quality opponent that they are superior to on both sides of the ball.

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