September 23rd, 2018 now feels like forever ago and the Dallas Cowboys, who lost to the Seahawks in Seattle that day, have run the gauntlet of the NFC East and are poised to host a home playoff game for the third time in five years. The game brought both teams to 1-2 on what might be one of the stranger NFL weekends of the season. In addition to the winless Seahawks beating the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins beat the Green Bay Packers, the Buffalo Bills routed the Minnesota Vikings by three touchdowns, the New York Giants beat the Houston Texans, and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Indianapolis Colts.
Those games in week three were an eternity ago in light of what's happened since then. The Indianapolis Colts became a threat in the AFC, the Washington Redskins lost Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to broken legs, and the New York Giants did what the New York Giants do and floundered for the rest of the season.
The Dallas Cowboys after starting 1-2 went 2-3 over their next five to finish the first half of the season 3-5 and struggling for answers. Yet, here Cowboys Nation sits in anticipation of the Saturday Night Wild Card matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
Much has changed from week three for both clubs, but the Dallas Cowboys have the Seahawks at home and look prime to set up a potential rematch with the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round.
With that, here are my Final Thoughts to get you ready for tonight.
In the first half of the season, the Dallas Cowboys offense was lackluster at best. In the first eight games of the season, they only scored 20 points three times, including the 40 point outburst against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They averaged just over 19 points per game, and struggled to score any of their points.
Nothing came easy for the Cowboys in the first half of the season. Teams weren't threatened by the passing game and elected to try to stop Ezekiel Elliott, which left the Cowboys with little answers to create balance.
During the bye week, the Cowboys made moves to replace Paul Alexander with Marc Colombo as the offensive line coach and they traded their 2019 first round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper. While Cooper's production has been down the last few games, their's no doubting the impact he's had on the Cowboys offense. They're completely different.
They've been a much more explosive team and have had much more balance than they were able to play with in the first half of the season. Over the last eight weeks, the Cowboys have totaled more than 400 yards four times. They only accomplished that feat once in the first half of the season.
Thursday, I wrote about Dak Prescott's last five games. He's been one of the best quarterbacks in the league the last five weeks of the season.
Amari Cooper's presence has opened up more for everyone on the offense. More throwing lanes for Dak Prescott to get the ball to his playmakers. Less coverage for guys like Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, and the recently emerging Blake Jarwin, and just as important, the running game.
The Cowboys struggled for a lot of the game against the Seattle Seahawks, but they had success on the ground as Ezekiel Elliott ran for 127 yards on 16 carries.
This Cowboys team taking the field tonight is a much different team than the one the Seahawks saw in week three. The Seattle Seahawks are as well, but not for the better.
No Earl Thomas
Earl Thomas talk was every where this offseason and even during the season until the former All-Pro safety broke his leg and later placed on IR October 2nd.
He made a significant impact in the first meeting finishing second on the team in tackles and picking off Dak Prescott twice in the game. Well, there's no Earl Thomas this time and that bodes well for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Seahawks have been up and down on defense all season. Since Earl Thomas was placed on IR on October 2nd, the Seahawks are allowing 331.3 total yards per game. In four of those 12 games since, the Seahawks have allowed more than 400 total yards. In those 12 games, they allowed 22.16 points per game and allowed opponents to score at least 24 points eight times.
On the road in that same stretch without Earl Thomas, Seattle allowed 359 yards per game and went 3-2 with wins over the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, and Carolina Panthers and losses to the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.
They are at defensive unit that is still capable of creating turnovers without Earl Thomas, as they finished the regular season 11th in the NFL in turnovers, but they'll allow some big yardage games on the road.
The Dallas Cowboys offense has trended in the right direction over the last eight weeks and seem to be an offense on the rise. If they can take care of the football and create some balance on offense, they'll be able to score some points against a good, but not great Seahawks defense.
Dynamic Defensive Lines
As it is each week of the NFL season, games are typically one and lost in the trenches. Generally, whoever is able to control the line of scrimmage is going to come away with the win. It will be no different tonight when the Seahawks and Cowboys take the field. Both offensive lines are going to be in for a long night.
On the Cowboys side of the ball, the feature one of the best edge rushers in the NFL in DeMarcus Lawrence. Though he was snubbed from the All-Pro teams, he's a forced to be reckoned with and plays the run and the pass as well as any player in the NFL, aside from maybe Aaron Donald. In addition to Lawrence, the Cowboys feature one of the hottest defensive ends in the game in Randy Gregory, who has five sacks in his last eight games. That's yet another improvement to the Cowboys that's occurred since the week three loss. Those two will have a tough challenge containing Russell Wilson in the pocket, but will get help from interior defensive linemen Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Caraun Reid.
For the Seahawks, they have a couple of guys who have been excellent this season. Defensive End Frank Clark and Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed. Both players finished the season with double-digit sacks, per Pro Football Focus, and both players gave the Cowboys fits in their first meeting. Poona Ford, who Pro Football Focus rated as Seattle's second best run defender this season, will be a player to watch tonight.
How the offensive lines are able to protect their quarterbacks is going to be a big factor in who wins the game.
Both teams finished the 2018 regular season playing good football and both came away with impressive victories. The Cowboys beat the New Orleans Saints in a tight defensive battle, while the Seahawks were able to win a shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs a couple of weeks ago in one of the more entertaining games of the season.
Like many games this season, this has the makings of a close game for the Cowboys. I think the things that are different for the Cowboys are going to be the difference tonight's Wild Card game.
Its going to be a close one, but the Cowboys pull out the win and move on to the divisional round. Who you got?