The Dallas Cowboys enter the playoffs winners of two straight, and are healthy at the right time with all the pieces needed to make a run as winners of the NFC East. All that stands in their way of a second trip to the Divisional Round in three years is a familiar opponent in the Seattle Seahawks. This era of recent Cowboys history can't be written without mention of Seattle, where Dak Prescott took over for Tony Romo in the preseason of 2016 and never looked back. For as much motivation as the Cowboys should have for Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, there's an added sense of urgency for Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard.
Richard has already been asked to interview for head coach openings with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For as much as Richard's passion for coaching with the Cowboys is evident, so too is the indisputable truth that out of eight current openings for HC positions in the NFL, Richard is already a candidate for three of them.
Though he won't entertain these requests until after his current team's playoff game against his former team, the Cowboys are potentially facing losing Richard after just one season.
Ranked 13th in passing yards allowed per game and fifth in rushing yards, Richard's impact has been felt throughout the Cowboys turnaround – lead by a defense that's consistently done it's job all season while waiting for the offense to find its footing.
Dallas did just that in a big way last Sunday, ending the regular season with a 36-35 win at the Giants. If consistency in the passing game was the last thing the Cowboys needed to see before the playoffs, Prescott's four touchdowns (including a fourth down game winner to Cole Beasley) should be enough.
Paired with a defense that has plenty to learn from their previous loss to the Seahawks, the Cowboys are hardly the same team now.
The Cowboys week three loss at the Seahawks was an anomaly for Richard's defense. The Seahawks familiarity with Dallas' new system spurred a Tyler Lockett 52-yard touchdown against the Cowboys Tampa 2 coverage to put the home team up 14-3 in the first half.
After the game, the Seahawks openly said they stole signals from the Cowboys defense to exploit coverage, coming out victorious 24-13. It's worth noting this was one of four games this season where Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee played at least 50% of the defensive snaps. Dallas is 1-3 in these games, and 2-5 on the season when Lee plays at all.
The 24 points allowed by the Cowboys in this loss came with the offense turning the ball over three times. With the Seahawks averaging 30.4 points a game over their last five, Quarterback Russell Wilson is leading one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, one the Cowboys will need better ball control on offense in addition to adjustments by Richard to contain.
A strong showing by Richard's defense throughout this postseason is the best way for him to remain relevant as a head coach candidate. Starting off against the Seahawks is no easy task, the challenge of which is put into context when considering what they've accomplished in their first season without Richard.
Quietly, Saturday's match up between the Cowboys and Seahawks features two of the best coaching jobs of 2018 lined up across each other. Jason Garrett leads the NFC in wins since 2016, and behind Sean Payton, Seahawks HC Pete Carroll follows closely.
If Garrett won't get the respect he deserves, perhaps it will be left to the next NFL head coach on his staff, with Richard etching another chapter in Seattle vs. Dallas in his first playoff appearance with the Cowboys.