The Seahawks are at home for the second straight week and are looking to improve to 3-0 for just the second time under Pete Carroll, but standing in their way is a talented Dallas Cowboys team that is coming off of improbable comeback win over Atlanta in Week 2.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since Dallas eliminated Seattle from the playoffs two years ago, and if the Seahawks are going to come out on top this time around, these are three matchups that could make the difference in Sunday afternoon's game at CenturyLink Field:
1. Dak Prescott & his weapons against Seattle's secondary.
A week after Russell Wilson took home NFC Player of the Week honors, Dallas QB Dak Prescott earned the award for his performance against the Falcons in which he threw for 450 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns.
And Dallas' offense is far from a one-man show thanks to weapons like running back Ezekiel Elliott (more on him later) and receivers like Amari Cooper and 2020 first-round pick CeeDee Lamb. Cooper leads the way with 181 receiving yards, while Lamb has added 165 in his first two games, and Michael Gallup is averaging 21.6 yards per reception so far, so there's big-play ability from that passing game.
Big-play ability from a passing game is cause for concern for the Seahawks, because through two games they've struggled to slow down explosive passing attacks. To a degree, Pete Carroll is willing to live with the yards his team has given up, particularly while playing with double-digit leads in the second half of both games, but what Carroll does not abide are big plays, and the Seahawks have allowed a league-high 23 explosive passes (16-plus yards) so far this season.
"We've given up too many explosives, particularly in the catch-up mode that we've been in," Carroll said. "We've got to do a better job there, we've got to execute better. We gave away, I don't know, maybe 80, 100 yards there (to New England) in situations there that we didn't need to give up. We have to play cleaner. We're just going to keep working at it."
The Seahawks should benefit form having Quandre Diggs back—he was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit early in last week's game—but they know they're facing a tough challenge in the Cowboys offense.
2. A star-studded, but so far not productive, Dallas pass-rush vs. Seahawks pass protection.
Everyone knows by now what type of start Russell Wilson is off to this year, throwing a league-high 9 touchdown passes with just 11 incomplete passes, and completing a league-best 82.5 percent of his passes to go along with a league-leading 140.0 passer rating.
The talent and depth of the weapons Wilson is throwing to has been obvious as well, particularly in the fast starts by DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. But an underrated part of Seattle's passing game success has been the protection Wilson has gotten from his offensive line. Yes, there have been five sacks and 18 quarterback hits, so it hasn't been perfect, but it's also worth remembering that the same playmaking ability and mentality that allows Wilson to extend so many plays to created big gains can also lead to him holding the ball long enough to take some sacks other quarterbacks might not. And when one also considers that the Seahawks are breaking in a line featuring three new starters in a year with no preseason, the overall result have been awfully impressive.
"The guys are doing really well," Carroll said. "Honestly, they're doing well. Brandon Shell's a good player, and he's holding up, he has been really consistent so far. Damien (Lewis) is doing a fine job too, he's a really good athlete for the position. Even though there's newness there, he's just got great feel for it, and he's really tough and really strong and all that. And (Ethan) Pocic is playing well. Ethan has given us a transition that was better than we might have thought with a new guy coming in, just because he's been a student of the game since he's been here. He really helps in that regard. And maybe there's a LSU thing going on here with the center and the guard, I don't know, but they're communicating really well. I just think that, plus the rhythm of the throwing game, is really at a good spot right now, so we'll just try to keep it rolling."
Dallas, meanwhile, brings to Seattle a defensive line loaded with talent, and a group that has to feel like it's due for a big game. Dallas so far has just two sacks from a unit featuring four players with Pro Bowls on their resumes—DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Dontari Poe and Aldon Smith—three of whom have recorded double-digit sack seasons in the past.
"I would start with edge players," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said when asked about Dallas' defense. "Aldon Smith is playing at a really, really high level, DeMarcus Lawrence is a great, great player, they go out to get Everson Griffen, so those guys are really, really good … As those three edge players get going is when you sense them playing their best level of football. So I think they're a really good group, I really do, and it'll be a fun matchup for us."
3. Ezekiel Elliott vs. an improved Seahawks Run D.
As mentioned earlier, Seattle's pass defense hasn't been up to its standard so far, but a big positive on that side of the ball has been a run defense that is allowing just 69.5 rushing yards per game and 3.0 rushing yards per attempt, both of which rank second in the NFL. After allowing 4.9 yards per carry each of the past two seasons, improving the run defense was a big focus this offseason, and so far at least the Seahawks have been doing a good job in that phase of the game.
Keeping that up will be a tough challenge this week, however, thanks to the presence of Elliott, who has rushed for 185 yards and two scores so far this season while also catching nine passes for 64 yards and a score. Yes, the Cowboys have a good passing game, but a lot of what they do is still predicated on getting Elliott going, so the Seahawks will want to do what they can to limit that part of the Dallas attack, particularly because when you add the threat of Elliott to Prescott's ability to run, that also opens up Dallas' passing game.
"With mobile quarterbacks, when they do RPOs and things of that nature, you have to respect their ability to run, but then also having a back like Zeke, we have to respect that as well," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "It kind of opens everything up for them. You've got to respect (Prescott's) ability to run, Zeke's ability to run, (Prescott's) ability to pass and find open guys off of those run actions."
The Seahawks and Cowboys face off for the 21st time during Week 3 of the 2020 season on Sunday, September 27 at 1:25 p.m. Take a look back at photos from previous games played between the two teams.