The Dallas Cowboys are riding high after starting this season at 4-1, but they’re traveling to a place where most teams come crashing back to earth.
Most Cowboys fans would probably like to forget what happened last time they played in Seattle, and Sunday’s game against the Seahawks probably won’t be much better. Here are three reasons why:
1. Earl Thomas
Cornerback Richard Sherman receives the most media attention, but former University of Texas safety Earl Thomas is the one who makes Seattle’s defense so dominant.
Seattle doesn’t even try to disguise coverage and, because of Thomas, they don’t have to. They are in Cover-1 man or Cover-3 zone coverage for nearly every snap. No matter the coverage, Thomas is their single-high defender, who basically plays center field, allowing Seattle’s other physical defensive backs to press and redirect wide receivers.
Thomas’ range and instincts are what separate him from other safeties. He always lines up about 15 yards off the ball to cover deep, but he’s also capable of tackling running backs near the line of scrimmage.
On defense, Seattle emphasizes speed and swarm tackling. The talent in their secondary allows them to basically employ anything from a 4-2 to a 6-2 front, depending on the situation. This philosophy has helped them become the No. 1 rush defense in the National Football League, allowing only 2.6 yards per rush, this young season.
Thomas’ value to the Seattle defense cannot be understated.
2. Percy Harvin
Two growing trends can be seen in effective NFL offenses: Blending physicality with explosion and “college-style” plays. In both categories, the Seahawks might have the most progressive offense the Cowboys will see this season outside of Philadelphia’s.
Seattle has been physical on offense for a few years now, preferring to set the tone by using running back Marshawn Lynch between the tackles, but adding Percy Harvin makes that group almost unfair. They like to play laterally more than vertically, often overloading to one side and pounding defenses with Lynch or getting the elusive Harvin into space. The Cowboys will see some new looks this weekend, and they MUST play with gap discipline to avoid a blowout at the hands of the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense.
NFL coaches eschewed “gimmick offenses" like the spread, zone read and packaged plays for too long. Seattle is testing the theory that what works in college will work in the pros with read-option looks and now packaged plays. These plays let quarterback Russell Wilson make reads after the snap and decide if he wants to run the ball, hand it off to Lynch or Harvin or throw to a wide receiver. Look for the triple-option pop pass at least once on Sunday.
3. 12th Man
Seattle is a different team at home. Not literally, but it's close.
Since their new stadium, now called CenturyLink Field, opened in 2002, no team in the NFL has enjoyed a greater home field advantage. The Seahawks are 68-30 at home since 2002 for a 69.4 winning percentage, as opposed to 40-58 on the road for a 40.8 winning percentage.
Basically, the Seahawks are an 11-win team at home and a 6.5-win team on the road during the last 12 plus seasons.
The broadcast crew will probably set up a few stunts to try to show viewers how loud the stadium can get, but the effect is obvious. Seattle outscored opponents by an average of 15.4 points per game at home last season, nearly double their +7.9 net point average in road games.
Sunday’s game should easily be the Cowboys’ biggest test of the 2014 season. Seattle has definitely looked more vulnerable at times this season, but they have a talented roster, a defined philosophy and a loud home crowd on their side.