Can the Seahawks Upset the Cowboys in a Battle of Red-Hot Playoff Teams?

The Seahawks are slight underdogs in Dallas, but both red-hot teams have a shot to advance.
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Before wild-card weekend, Andy Benoit is giving a blueprint for the four underdogs to win on the road. Here’s his plan for the Seahawks in Dallas.

On offense…

Seattle pounds the rock more than any NFL team, and sustaining that ground game is crucial for sidelining a Cowboys offense that’s also built on high-volume running. But in today’s NFL, your running game is only as effective as the explosive passes you build off it. The Seahawks have been stellar with downfield play-action, highlighting Russell Wilson’s arcing deep ball, which might be the best in football.

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Typically against a zone-based defense like Dallas, you attack by sending wide receivers on deep crossing routes through the zone area of a linebacker or box safety. Dallas’s ‘backers and safeties, however, are well-schooled at spotting these and have the speed to defend them. But when a linebacker or safety turns and runs with a receiver, he leaves a void in his zone. That’s where Seattle must attack. Think Tyler Lockett running deep across the field and Doug Baldwin, a great intermediate route runner, trailing and throttling down inside. The question is whether Wilson has the discipline to wait on these throws, and whether Seattle’s vastly improved offensive line can fend off Dallas’s talented pass rush long enough. It will help if those deep shots come on 1st and 2nd down, where the Seahawks will be playing with a sixth offensive lineman (George Fant) and the Cowboys likely won’t be blitzing.

On defense…

The Seahawks must load the box and make Dak Prescott, not Ezekiel Elliott, beat them. Prescott is an excellent ball-handler and distributor on loosely defined pass plays, where he’s afforded extra time and margin for error. (Bootlegs and rollouts are the best examples.) If he were a point guard, he’d be Rajon Rondo. Just like how opponents try to force Rondo into long jump shots, Prescott must be forced into downfield throws. He can hit these, though he’s not an innately precise passer, and he doesn’t throw with great anticipation. So don’t panic if Prescott finds Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup on a few in-breakers—keep loading the box and make him do it again and again.

The Seahawks still run their foundational Cover 3 zone, but quietly, designer pressures—usually involving linebacker Bobby Wagner—are also part of their scheme. Bringing these on 2nd downs, not just 3rd downs, would give the defense a nice texture while doubling as a run-stopping tactic.

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Teams have been a little less eager to load the box and come after Prescott since the Amari Cooper trade. That’s the mismatch the Seahawks must live with. They should be comfortable when Cooper aligns on the offense’s right, across from cornerback Shaquill Griffin. It’s when Cooper aligns left, opposite fifth-round rookie corner Tre Flowers, where nerves will tighten. Flowers has improved over the course of this season but, being so long-bodied, he still struggles to transition against in-breaking routes. And so when Cooper, a great direction-changing route runner, is over there, Seattle must bring pressure from the other side, allowing a linebacker to sink back into Cooper’s window.

Chance of an Upset: 35%. The Cowboys have a lot of speed on defense and Elliott is coming in fresh.

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