DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks are gearing up for their Wild Card matchup on Saturday Night. This will be their second matchup this season and their second Wild Card matchup since 2006. Right now, the Cowboys are on a two-game postseason losing streak dating back to 2014.
This will be a huge matchup between two teams that are very similar on paper and hope to play the role of spoiler next next weekend in the Divisional Round.
The Cowboys are facing a team that is in the top 12 in both offense and defense points per possession. This will be quite the test for them. A win here would give the Cowboys a lot of confidence before most likely playing on the road for the rest of the postseason, unless some upsets were to take place over the next two weeks.
The Cowboys had a top 10 defense in this category until the last few weeks. The hope for them being that they get back to that level of play now that there's something to play for.
The key offensively is for Dallas to get back to running the ball efficiently with a rested Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott – who sat out the Week 17 win over the Giants – was the NFL rushing champion this season and earned Pro Bowl and 2nd Team All-Pro honors.
Elliott did rush for 127 yards against the Seahawks on 16 carries in a losing effort back in September. It was the only game all season the Cowboys lost when Elliott rushed for at least 100 yards. The Cowboys will need to establish that same sort of run presence early in this game. Of his 1,434 rushing yards, only 680 came in the first half of games. Elliott touched the ball a total of 13 times in the first half in the first matchup between these two teams when Dallas was down 17-3 at the half.
Dak Prescott needs to have a bounce back performance from his subpar effort against Seattle earlier this year. Prescott was sacked five times when these two teams met in September and had a passer rating of 54.5.
The key for Prescott from then to now is the man who picked him off twice won’t be suiting up for the Seahawks this time around as safety Earl Thomas is out for Seattle. Two of Dak's top receivers from that game – Geoff Swaim (five catches on seven targets), and Deonte Thompson (two catches on two targets) – won’t be playing either but Amari Cooper will be. The Cowboys didn't have Cooper in that first contest, not to mention the steady improvement of Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin who will also look to make plays for Dallas in a revamped passing game.
The Cowboys will have a healthy Tyron Smith and Zack Martin for this one which is a big key as the two Pro Bowlers can help rookie Connor Williams with buying Prescott some time. Recent starting guard Xavier Su’a-Filo is listed as doubtful and he played well in Williams' earlier absence. However, Williams did get reps at right guard and showed he can definitely have success inside. Now Williams moves back to the left if Su'a-Filo can't go and he will need to step up for the Cowboys in this game.
Jarran Reed is the defender who Williams will likely be pitted against and he sacked Prescott twice in their last game. Additionally, the offensive line will need to find Bobby Wagner throughout the evening and keep him from wrecking the run game as one of the top defenders in the league.
Defensively, the Cowboys need to find a way to contain Russell Wilson. He was only sacked twice in their previous matchup. Randy Gregory has come on strong over the last seven weeks with five of his six sacks on the season coming after Week 9.
Gregory and the pass rushers will need to have an impact on this game if Dallas wants any chance to move onto the Divisional Round. The offensive line for Seattle has struggled all season and the Cowboys need to find a way to make life miserable for Wilson. The Seahawks have averaged giving up 3.5 sacks a game on the road this year. DeMarcus Lawrence will also be a huge factor and will likely get a lot of attention on the right side.
The secondary and linebackers are going to be relied on to create turnovers and short fields for the offense. Sean Lee had a big game when these two teams last met, along with Leighton Vander Esch.
The trio of Jaylon Smith, Lee and LVE should all have ample opportunities to make plays in this game. They will be counted on to stop the rushing attack of Seattle and also wrangle Wilson when he tucks the ball and tries to make plays with his legs. The secondary's ability to keep Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett in check will also be something to keep an eye on.
Both teams are heavily run first on offense with a reliance on timely passing from mobile QBs and both teams feature an aggressive defense. The question is which one makes less mistakes in this game. One should expect the Cowboys won’t have the same problems with blown coverages this time around as they did back in September. And, of course, where the game will be played makes a huge difference.
Prediction: Home cooking serves Dallas well as the Cowboys win 26-23 and set up a likely date with New Orleans for the Divisional Round.
Will the Cowboys hold serve at home and advance or will the Seahawks come to Dallas and end the Cowboys season? Make your own prediction with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.