The Morning After: Seahawks Calmly Dismantle Cowboys 27-17
There are two wolves and they are always fighting. One is lightness and hope. The other cynicism and despair. Which wolf wins? The one you feed. That battle raged on last night as one contingent of Seahawks fans found the evidence they were looking for to feel comfort in their belief that this Seahawks team is setup for a great season. Another group of fans had a harder time getting past the absence of Dez Bryant, the early exit of Tony Romo, and the gains that were made against some of the Cowboys second unit defense. We already know so much about this Seahawks team. The areas that were questionable, like the quality of the offensive line, are being answered in emphatically positive ways. We can nitpick, and I will below, but if the preseason is a mic check before the main act begins, all systems are go and this team is ready to rock.
Offensive line makes it three in a row
Cowboys fans who saw me last night may have thought they were back home. I was swooning like a Southern belle as the starting offensive line turned in another terrific performance. The Cowboys defense will never be mistaken for the Vikings or the Chiefs. They are limited in their pass rush, and bereft of impact talents. People forget how little that mattered at this time last year. Multiple teams faced the Seahawks early last season struggling mightily to get any pass rush going, only to find their salvation in the form of the Seahawks offensive line.
Chicago couldn’t sack groceries. They finished the game against the Seahawks, in Seattle, with four sacks. The Lions entered the game near the bottom of the league in sacks with just four total, and exited with an eye-gouging six in that one game. The 49ers were averaging 1.5 sacks per game in their first six games before piling up 5 sacks against the Seahawks. You get the point, I hope.
The logic of responding to a statement that the pass protection was great by saying, “Yeah, but their pass rush stinks,” is a cynical logic loop that limits your joy to the moments when the unexpected occurs. It is okay to celebrate the Seahawks doing exactly what they are expected to do.
It would have been concerning had Dallas mounted a meaningful pass rush. That did not happen. The run game has been strong throughout the preseason for Seattle, but exited the first half with just 22 yards on seven carries. The key number was the seven carries, only five by running backs. This was not a case of the Seahawks run game getting stuffed. It never really started.
Some of that was due to continued struggles in the penalty department, and some of it was due to a game plan that appeared to be intentionally focused on getting Russell Wilson and the passing game in rhythm. The team came out determined to establish the run in the second half and did so like a hot knife through butter. Dallas had brought on some of their reserve defenders, but after having seen this team run effectively against far better front sevens the past two weeks, I’m not going to doubt the success they would have had even if the Cowboys had left their starters in. I am fully bought into the quality of this Seahawks run game.
The only question mark that remains is where J’Marcus Webb fits into the mix. He played for the first time last night and got reps at right and left tackle. He looked fine from what I saw on first glance. If I had to guess, he is going to start the year as a reserve. The coaching staff likes the combination they have been starting. Should either Garry Gilliam or Bradley Sowell falter, Webb will be there to step in. He will also make for an intriguing sixth lineman to be brought in for jumbo packages, a role Alvin Bailey has filled in recent years.
Pretty good Russell Wilson piles up great numbers
That was not Wilson’s best game. If he was a restaurant, I’d give him 3.5 or 4 stars out of five. His throws were not always quite as accurate as we have come to expect. The timing was a bit off in a few spots, which could just as easily be on the receiver as the quarterback. That good, but not great, performance resulted in 16 completions in 21 attempts (76% completion rate) for 192 yards (9.1 YPA), 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a 135.4 passer rating. Imagine what he will do when the offense is great instead of just good. Oh wait, we already know. It was called the second half of the 2015 season.
Passes were coming out early. Scrambles were the exception and not the rule. After an empty first possession, the starters scored on three of their final four possessions and put up 20 points in less than three quarters. It had the feeling of a group that was finding their stride. They will not get more than a series next week in the final preseason game. This game provided them the reps they needed to enter week one ready to start with confidence.
Embarrassment of riches at running back
Christine Michael has already been the star of this Seahawks preseason, and that did not change after he broke off back-to-back runs of 20 and 17 yards to start the second half. He would finish with an average of 8.3 yards per carry to raise his preseason total to 6.5 yards per rush. Now, the Seahawks add third round pick C.J. Prosise to the mix. All he did was average 5.8 yards per run, including one memorable dash that featured a buttery spin move around a helpless defender. Oh, and that Alex Collins kid who so many Seahawks fans were through with after a couple tough early performances, ran hard while piling up 19 yards on 3 carries (6.3 YPC). And then there is their starter, Thomas Rawls, who did not even play.
Meet the 1 percenters. The Seahawks are hogging running back talent, and I love it.
This was our first look at Prosise, and he did not disappoint. The Notre Dame product showed a willingness to run with power and the ability to run with elusiveness. We saw none of the much-discussed utilization of his receiving skills as the Seahawks are likely keeping that under wraps until the games count. There was plenty to like about what we did see.
Michael was still the best of the bunch. His burst and speed are on another level from any of the backs Seattle has run out there.
Keeping perspective on Dallas offense, Seahawk defense
There were plenty of concerns about Ezekiel Elliott running around and over the Seahawks for 48 yards and 6.9 YPC, as well as backup QB Dak Prescott’s efficient passing. It is never good to see an opponent run the ball as effectively as the Cowboys did with Elliott in the game. What people forget is this is arguably the best offensive line in football and a running back that ProFootballFocus.com called the “best, most complete prospect since Adrian Peterson.” They are going to make a lot of run defenses look bad this year. Seattle had about as tough of a job as possible considering they had no film on how the Cowboys planned to run Elliott and were not game-planning anyway.
This was just a really good running offense getting the best of a really good run defense for one series. In fact, it was just four rushes over five yards for Elliott before he exited. Alfred Morris, his replacement, just came off a game where he rushed for 85 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per run. Seattle held him to 17 yards and just 3.4 yards per run. What does it all mean? The Cowboys are going to be a potent offense, featuring a punishing run game. The Seahawks are going to be a very good defense. Over the course of a real game, both sides would inflict harm on the other. The difference between these two teams would likely never come from the Cowboys offense and the Seahawks defense. It would be the other side of the ball and special teams that represent the true mismatch.
One area that is a mild concern is the lack of encouraging play from the SAM linebacker spot. Mike Morgan appears to be the starter, but he has yet to make a positive impact on a game. The brute force of someone like Bruce Irvin would be useful in a game against a team like Dallas. That is a weapon this defense is missing. It appears that neither Cassius Marsh nor Eric Pinkins have done enough to unseat what is likely to be an average or below average starter in Morgan. It won’t keep the defense from being strong, but it is disappointing there is not a better prospect with more upside in that role.
Dak Prescott hype train
Prescott entered the game as one of the biggest national stories of the preseason. He got early action in this game due to the injury to Tony Romo. He was efficient and poised, and deserves praise for the game he played on the road against a veteran defense. Still, we are talking about a guy who finished with a 5.0 average yards per attempt. That included a pretty bad touchdown throw that should have been incomplete at worst and more likely intercepted by K.J. Wright. If it was possible to give a touchdown throw to a receiver instead of the quarterback, it would have been appropriate on that play with Hall of Famer Jason Witten making a miraculous snag over Wright. Take that play away, and you have a QB with an 81.4 passer rating and just 4.5 YPA.
By comparison, he threw for 2 TDs and an 11.6 YPA against the Rams on the road while posting a 154.5 rating. He threw for another 2 TDs, while running for two more and averaging 13.3 YPA for a perfect 158.3 rating against the Dolphins.
He played well against the Seahawks. He was nowhere near up to the task of beating the Seahawks over the course of a full game with a true game plan in place.
Tony Romo carrying Cowboys on his weak back
Many Cowboys fans will look at this as an encouraging game. Look how the team hung in there and was tied at halftime without Romo. The problem with that logic is that it assumes what happened to Romo on the third play from scrimmage will not happen when the games start counting. Sure, Romo could have re-entered the game after they confirmed he was okay, but that guy does not look ready to survive the rigors of an NFL season. He certainly did not last year.
Performances that mattered
Tanner McEvoy entered the game for just one play and caught the longest pass of the night (43 yards). Carroll mentioned after the game that he was injured, but the dark horse continues to ride up the ranks. He is being tried out as a tight end now, which seems odd considering how slightly he is built. Either way, the kid keeps making plays and Kasen Williams is nowhere to be found. No position may be more contested going into the final preseason game than the fifth wide receiver spot.
It was great to see Paul Richardson pull down that touchdown after how hard he has worked to get back onto the field. People kept asking where he was this preseason. He’s been there doing his job, waiting for opportunities to come his way. This guy will be an important contributor to the offense this year without being a main cog.
Brandon Williams is cementing his role as the best blocking tight end on the roster. I can’t put into words how excited I am to see a true inline blocker back in the mix at tight end. He had some terrific one-on-one wins in the run game that guys like Luke Willson and Jimmy Graham simply are not capable of.
Speaking of Graham, it was a shock to see him in full pads before the game running through warm-ups. He looked fluid and fast. Nobody is counting on him, which would make his availability all the more sweet.
Bobby Wagner continues to look like the player he was prior to a step back last season. He made some great tackles near the line.
Tony McDaniel started at DT with Ahtyba Rubin starting at nose tackle in place of Jarran Reed, who was out injured. That very well could be the starting line come opening day. No matter who starts, each of those three players will see plenty of time. That will form the deepest, most physical run-stuffing trio since the team had Brandon Mebane, McDaniel, and Clinton McDonald back in the day.
Quinton Jefferson made another step forward. He has been playing wonderfully physical football throughout the preseason. On one play last night, he threw his blocker aside and tackled the running back for no gain. His style is not flashy, but there are some promising signs.
Jahri Evans got some time with the starters, but I did not get a great look at his performance. It is unclear what the future holds for the veteran. He will not be a starter. The questions are whether the team wants to keep him around as a veteran presence to help teach the young pups how to be pros, and whether Evans is interested in a role like that after being a starter his whole career.
Final dress rehearsal
Things start moving quickly from here on out. The Seahawks will need to cut their roster from 90 to 75 players on Tuesday. They play their final preseason game on Thursday in Oakland, and then need to make their final cuts to 53 players by 1 p.m. PT on Saturday, September 3rd. Many of the decisions are already made. A few at the back of the roster will be incredibly difficult. The Seahawks will be cutting guys who go on to play meaningful snaps for other NFL teams.
Hemorrhaging talent is okay as long as you are keeping the best of it to yourself. What really matters is the Seahawks look to have their horses ready to ride. It cannot be overstated how remarkable it is that the Seahawks offensive line appears to be a strength heading into the regular season. That could be the best kept secret in football. I love secrets. They often lead to underestimation by opponents.
Seattle has shown me everything I need to see from their biggest question marks to feel confident that good things are ahead.