This is not the Same Cowboys team that lost in Seattle in late September. Dallas has won seven of its last eight games, while Seattle has won six of its last seven. Something's got to give on Saturday night.
The Seahawks defeated the Dallas Cowboys 24-13 at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 23.
A lot has changed since then (beyond the Cowboys adding Amari Cooper and the Seahawks losing Earl Thomas).
Before the two teams meet again in Dallas on Saturday night, here are five things to know about the 10-6 Cowboys.
1. The Cowboys’ offense rests on the shoulders of the 2018 NFL rushing leader, Ezekiel Elliott.
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Despite sitting out last weekend’s win over the Giants, Elliott — Dallas’ 6-foot, 228-pound running back — finished with 1,434 rushing yards, 4.7 yards per carry, six rushing touchdowns, 567 receiving yards and three receiving scores in 15 games. His 1,434 rushing yards were 127 more than the NFL’s runner-up, Giants rookie Saquon Barkley.
Elliott also led the NFL with a whopping 304 rushing attempts, 43 more than Barkley. So what does that tell us?
Like the Seahawks, the Cowboys are going to establish the run on Saturday — and Elliott is their most legitimate option.
That was also the case on Sept. 23, when the 23-year-old running back racked up 127 rushing yards and 7.9 yards per carry (as well as a lost fumble) in the Cowboys’ 24-13 loss in Seattle.
The Seahawks may need to defend Elliott more effectively to escape Dallas with another win.
2. Dak Prescott may have found a new receiving threat, and he’s not named Amari Cooper.
Sure, Cooper made his mark since being traded to Dallas on Oct. 22. In his final game as a Raider, Cooper failed to catch a pass in a blowout loss to the Seahawks in London. But in nine games with the Cowboys, the 6-1, 210-pound wide receiver hauled in 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns.
But maybe he doesn’t need to do it all by himself. In last weekend’s 36-35 win over the Giants, 24-year-old tight end Blake Jarwin caught seven passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns. He was the first Cowboys tight end with three touchdown catches in a game since Billy Joe DuPree in 1973.
Of course, Elliott continues to be the focal point of the Cowboys’ offense. But Cooper, Cole Beasley, rookie Michael Gallup and Jarwin are all attractive targets for Prescott, who threw for just 168 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Seahawks in Week 3.
3. Standout rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch left last weekend’s game with a bruised shin, but don’t expect that to hamper him against Seattle.
The 22-year-old linebacker — who led the Cowboys with 140 tackles and two interceptions in his rookie season — called the injury a “minor bruise” after the game. Still, Vander Esch’s presence is critical on Saturday night, considering that veteran linebacker Sean Lee has appeared in just seven games this season because of a hamstring injury.
Granted, Vander Esch doesn’t represent the entirety of the Dallas defense. Linebacker Jaylon Smith has been one of the best stories in the NFL, with 121 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence leads the Cowboys with 10.5 sacks.
The Dallas defense will present the Seahawks with a formidable challenge either way, but Vander Esch’s presence may push the Cowboys to the divisional round.
4. The Dallas defense allowed 30 points or more for the first time this season in the regular season finale against the Giants.
The Cowboys — who currently rank fourth in the NFL in opponent yards per carry (3.8) and fifth in rushing defense (94.6 yards per game) — uncharacteristically allowed 143 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry and two rushing scores against Barkley and Co. last weekend.
That begs the question: how will they fare against the top rushing offense in the NFL?
5. The Cowboys enter the playoffs having won seven of their last eight games.
Granted, only three of those wins came against playoff teams. The lone loss was a 23-0 road shutout at the hands of Indianapolis on Dec. 16.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks have also won six of their last seven games (against just one playoff team).
What does this all mean?
Something’s got to give on Saturday night.