The Dallas Cowboys home playoff game vs. the Seattle Seahawks has been broken down in every way possible, cross-examined, predicted, and is finally set to be played from AT&T Stadium on Saturday night. Leaving the plethora of story lines for us to pass the time discussing recent Dallas and Seattle history, these teams have been preparing as two of the hottest in the entire playoff field.
The Cowboys have won two straight and seven of eight. The Seahawks, winners of six of their last seven, also ended their regular season with a two game win streak. Unlike in Dallas, there's no definitive turning point for how the Seahawks have rallied into the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
For the Cowboys, their late season run is certainly accredited to Wide Receiver Amari Cooper. Losing to the Seahawks without Cooper almost feels irrelevant in the schematics of this game, as the Cowboys trade acquisition from the Raiders has carried them to pivotal wins.
In a much quieter manner, the Cowboys tight end group has also developed well as an option for Dak Prescott in the passing game. The season-long integration of Blake Jarwin and rookie Dalton Schultz into the offense paid off last week, with Jarwin scoring three touchdowns at the Giants.
An entirely unproven position following the retirement of Jason Witten, the Cowboys original starter at TE was lost for the season when Geoff Swaim was placed on injured reserve. Unlike at WR, where the team actively chose not to do more before the season, the Cowboys were not prepared for life without Witten – something their “next men up” fortunately have been.
In my recap of the Cowboys week three loss in Seattle, I covered their struggles at tight end in Sean's Scout:
“The Cowboys' offseason approach at WR is yielding no immediate results, but so too is their confidence in Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers to step up in the absence of Jason Witten. While Witten isn't the missing piece for the Cowboys pushing the ball down the field, their lack of a threat at tight end is a serious detriment to Dak Prescott.
An early second half sequence that really hurt the Cowboys in this game began with a Gathers false start, the team's second straight penalty. Byron Jones‘ holding penalty on a Seahawks punt backed the offense up to their eleven yard line, and Gathers' ensuing procedural penalty had Dallas driving from their own six.
The Cowboys would do well to earn a manageable third down, despite a predictable run for no gain on first and 15, but Michael Kendricks' sack of Prescott forced a three and out.”
Featured more as a blocker than a receiver at Stanford, Schultz is a great fit for the Cowboys scheme, earning blocking snaps in the run game as he's developed receiving skills. The Cowboys play action and moving pocket game, a staple of their offense under Prescott, has worked nicely with Schultz.
Inactive in the Cowboys previous loss to the Seahawks, Jarwin was held without a catch as Swaim was targeted seven times. His five catches stand as a season high for Swaim, appearing in nine games.
On the season, the Seahawks have defended opposing tight ends very well. They are the fifth best team in receptions allowed to TEs, though they've faced the seventh fewest targets.
The Cowboys don't need to break this mold to advance in the playoffs. Simply acknowledging the progress made at a position other than WR could be key to a Cowboys team looking to control the ball in their effort to slow Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense.
Sure, there's even more to like about what the Cowboys defense has become this season, expecting to have their own say on the Seahawks offensive output on Saturday. In a game where both quarterbacks mean so much to their teams, the Cowboys have already seen one vote of confidence in Prescott pay off with a division title.
Left without many options at tight end, the Cowboys have instilled the same confidence in Jarwin and Schultz, with the two combining to fill in for Swaim admirably. The Cowboys must find ways to sustain second level blocks against the speed of the Seahawks defense, as well as produce easy completions for Prescott. Both tight ends can make a difference here, with Jarwin's week 17 performance proving he can even wreck a game for an opposing defense when given a chance to stretch the field.
Now, here's hoping this article didn't bring back any memories of a play involving a Cowboys TE from the only other time they've played the Seahawks in the postseason.