Seattle’s game Sunday with Dallas represents not only a matchup of two leading MVP candidates — quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott — but also a chance for the Seahawks to achieve one of their best starts in franchise history.
A win Sunday would make Seattle 3-0 for just the seventh time in 45 seasons but also the only time under Pete Carroll other than 2013.
Seahawks fans shouldn’t need reminding how that season ended.
Let’s look at some keys to the game:
Matchup to watch
Seattle’s defensive line and pass rush versus Dallas’ banged up offensive line
Seattle’s pass rush is going to be portrayed as a big question mark until it proves it isn’t. The Seahawks have just three sacks and only one by a lineman despite opponents attempting 98 passes, the most in the NFL, and now is without veteran Bruce Irvin for the rest of the season and Rasheem Green for at least three games. Benson Mayowa — who has the only sack for a Seattle linemen so far — is also questionable with a groin injury.
Seattle at least gets Dallas at less-than-full strength on its offensive line. Right tackle La’el Collins remains on the injured list and left tackle Tyron Smith is battling a neck injury and didn’t play last week and as of Friday hadn’t practiced all week and was listed as questionable for the game.
Prescott is tough to bring down, though, and has been getting rid of the ball quickly so far this year.
Player to watch
No reason to overthink this one this week. Wilson has led Seattle to 73 points in two games, the most by the Seahawks in the first two games of the season since 1985, with a staggering 9-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and completing 82.5% of his passes.
Now comes a Dallas defense with a banged-up secondary (cornerback Anthony Brown went on IR last week and Chidobe Awuzie was placed on IR Saturday) that has allowed a passer rating of 103.1 in the first two games, 10th-worst in the NFL, and 8.1 yards per attempt, ninth-highest in the NFL and not far off the 8.6 of Seattle’s beleaguered defense. There’s simply no reason to think the Seahawks won’t keep with the aggressive early-down passing approach (all of Wilson’s TDs last week came on first or second down) and that he won’t have another big day.
Coaching decision to watch
Will the Seahawks continue to blitz more than a third of the time?
Under Carroll, the Seahawks have typically been in the bottom half of blitz percentage in the NFL. But this year, with the addition of one of the best blitzing safeties in the NFL in Jamal Adams and a line that has struggled to get consistent pressure out of a four-man rush, the Seahawks are blitzing as much as they ever have under Carroll — 35.9% of the time, sixth-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference.
Seattle blitzed Cam Newton 18 times on 44 pass attempts last week, according to PFR, but got just one sack — that by Adams. Without Irvin, whose three quarterback hits lead the team, Seattle may need to continue to be aggressive defensively.
Ugo Amadi and Jordyn Brooks stepping into starting roles
Amadi now takes over for Marquise Blair as the nickel and gets a tough matchup right out of the gate in Dallas rookie CeeDee Lamb, who has 11 catches for 165 yards in two games. Lamb has 112 snaps lined up in the slot, the most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Seattle, meanwhile, has allowed 264 yards to slot receivers, also the most in the NFL, according to PFF.
Worth watching is whether the Seahawks let Amadi handle all the nickel duties or at times mix things up to get both Tre Flowers and Quinton Dunbar on the field.
One other quick X-factor player — rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks, who will take the place of Irvin. But how Seattle will use Brooks and K.J. Wright — meaning, whether Wright will move to strongside backer leaving Brooks at weakside — the team was leaving somewhat vague, but that seems to be the indication.
Players who could surprise
Alton Robinson/D’Andre Walker/Shaquem Griffin
With Irvin gone for the year and Rasheem Green possibly missing another game, the Seahawks are certain to have Robinson — a fifth-round pick out of Syracuse — active for the first time in his career.
The Seahawks might also find a way to get Walker on the field, too. Walker was a fifth-round pick by Tennessee last year but sat out the season due to injury. Seattle claimed him off waivers Sept. 6 and he has been playing primarily strongside linebacker. Seattle could look to get him into pass-rush packages if he’s active. The Seahawks on Saturday elevated Griffin to the active roster and he might factor in to pass rush packages. Whoever it is Seattle will need to replace the production of Irvin and maybe Mayowa.
That’s the average rush per play allowed by Seattle in the first two games of the season, the one big positive for the Seahawks defense so far. That ranks third in the NFL.
But the Seahawks will be heavily challenged Sunday by a Dallas rushing attack averaging 4.5 yards per carry led by Ezekiel Elliott, who his third in the NFL in rushing yards with 185 while averaging 4.2 per carry. Making defending Elliott tricky is that he’s also a good receiver, having also caught nine of 11 targets for 63 yards and a touchdown — his 53 total touches ranks third in the NFL.
Seattle, though, will worry first about Elliott’s run, hoping to contain it the way it did the rushing attacks of Atlanta and New England in the first two games.
The final word
Seahawks 35, Cowboys 31
A matchup of two hot offenses and MVP-candidate quarterbacks points to a lot of, well, points being scored. Both teams are also riding the momentum of winning their most recent game on the final play. Seattle’s defense is obviously troublesome, but right now it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that can stop Wilson and the offense. But this time, it may be Wilson who needs to make the last-minute play to pull it out for Seattle.