As the Cowboys head to Seattle looking to go 2-0 for the first time in four years, they’re playing in what many consider a “trap” game. The ‘Boys are clearly the superior team, but they’ll face a hungry Seattle squad that lost their first contest and wants to desperately avoid two straight losses to start the season. The Cowboys, coming off of an emotional road win against the defending Super Bowl champs, will also have to face perhaps the loudest crowd noise they’ll hear all season.
As the game unfolds, the Cowboys’ ability to win a few different matchups could very well dictate the outcome of the game. Here are four of the most important matchups for the Cowboys’ offense. . .
1. Miles Austin vs Brandon Browner
Browner is 6’4’’, 221 pounds. That’s big. He also allowed nearly nine yards-per-attempt in 2011. That’s bad. So the quick, powerful Austin should be a mismatch for the second-year cornerback. Austin lines up in the slot on 42.5 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive plays and Browner won’t follow him in there, so the Cowboys will need to exploit Browner from base or two-tight formations in which Austin is lined up outside. I really think you’ll see the ‘Boys go to Austin quite a bit on Sunday, especially because one of the league’s most underrated cornerbacks—Richard Sherman—could shadow Dez Bryant.
2. Jason Witten vs Kam Chancellor
Witten says he’s healthy, so it’s time to roll. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks play Witten, because I think they’re going to focus on halting the Cowboys’ outside passing game first and foremost. A linebacker will be on Witten a lot of the time, but so will safety Kam Chancellor.
Chancellor teams up with Earl Thomas (remember him?) to form one of the better safety duos in the NFL. Last year, opposing quarterbacks averaged just 6.41 yards-per-attempt
when throwing at Chancellor, which is remarkable for a safety. He recorded more interceptions than touchdowns allowed, and he yielded just a 64.0 passer rating.
3. Tyron Smith vs Chris Clemons
Clemons, who notched 11 sacks in 2011, is far and away Seattle’s top pass-rusher. In the Seahawks’ Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, Clemons lined up on the right side of Seattle’s defense on 76.5 percent of his pass-rushing snaps. He totaled pressure or a sack on 22.6 percent of all pass-rush snaps last week—the best mark for anyone in the league.
Watch to see what kind of formations Jason Garrett calls. If he frequently places Witten on the left side of the formation, chances are he wants to help Tyron Smith block Clemons.
4. Interior Line vs Alan Branch
Branch is a mammoth defensive tackle, especially for playing in a 4-3 scheme. He could be trouble for Nate Livings, Ryan Cook, and Mackenzy Bernadeau inside. It will be very interesting to see what Garrett calls in short-yardage situations, because I don’t think the Cowboys are going to be able to get a push on Branch and fellow defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Mebane recorded a tackle on 8.5 percent of his run snaps in 2011—the seventh-highest rate of any defensive tackle in the NFL. There’s a good chance you’ll see Garrett get creative on those 3rd and short plays this weekend, dropping the fullback dive for a toss, stretch, or draw.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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