The Seahawks and Cowboys both went 12-4 last season, but both have had their struggles this season. And while the Seahawks feel like they are on the verge of turning things around following a dominant Week 7 win at San Francisco, the Cowboys are still trying to find their way having lost four straight. To find out more about the Cowboys, we reached out to DallasCowboys.com beat writer David Helman with five questions.
Q: Other than injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant, what are the reasons for Dallas' four-game losing streak? Or is it as simple as the fact that the Cowboys are missing two of the best in the game at their respective positions?
Helman: It certainly doesn't help that the Cowboys are without two All-Pros, but there's something else worth looking at. Dallas is dead-last in the NFL in turnover differential, with an unbelievable mark of -9. They're also last in the league in takeaways, with a mere three on the year. They've given at least one turnover away in five of their six games this season. More ridiculous than that, they have only forced a takeaway in one game all year – when they created all three of their turnovers in the Week 2 win at Philadelphia. The offense has to be better at protecting the ball, and the defense has to improve at taking it away. If that doesn't happen, it won't matter who's playing quarterback or receiver.
Q: Along those lines, any update on Bryant's status this week? And is Matt Cassel the guy at QB until Romo returns, or could Brandon Weeden be a factor in Sunday's game?
Helman: The Cowboys got some of the best news they've had in the last six weeks on Wednesday, as Dez returned to practice for the first time since Sept. 11. Jason Garrett said he'd be limited, so we don't know what this means for his game status. But it can only be encouraging to have him practice at the first available opportunity this week. The Cowboys will monitor him as the week goes on, and if he can continue to work without any setbacks, it's a great sign for his chance of playing. For now, we'll just have to wait and see.
As for the quarterback spot, Jerry Jones said himself on Sunday that Cassel will be the guy going forward until Tony Romo returns. Cassel's three interceptions against the Giants weren't encouraging, but all you have to do is watch the tape to see that the Dallas offense looked far more potent with Cassel as opposed to Weeden. The Cowboys have three more games until they get Romo back from IR, and my guess is Cassel will start in all of them barring some kind of injury.
Q: On the other hand, there's obviously still plenty of talent on Dallas' roster. What are some things that are going well and could make the Cowboys dangerous against Seattle?
Helman: Whatever off-field storylines he might be creating, it's obvious why the Cowboys took a chance on Greg Hardy. He's got three sacks in two games with the team, and he's doing his best to single-handedly invigorate the team's pass rush. Given Seattle's struggles to protect the quarterback, the Dallas coaching staff has to like the odds that Hardy, Tyrone Crawford and the rest of the Cowboys' pass rushers can make life difficult for Russell Wilson. On top of that, the Cowboys' rushing attack finally woke up in Week 7 against the Giants, and it'll be interesting to see if they can sustain that against a talented Seahawks front.
Q: The Cowboys kept Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the rest of Seattle's offense in check last season. How similar/different is this year's defense compared to the group that held the Seahawks to nine first downs and 206 total yards in Seattle?
Helman: A lot of the faces will look familiar. Rolando McClain, Barry Church and Jeremy Mincey all played well in that game and are back. But there have been several important changes, as well. I've already mentioned Hardy, who has been a dynamic addition to the pass rush through two games. On top of that, the Cowboys are also getting healthy production from Sean Lee, who is leading the team in tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions. Both of them will need to have big games if the Cowboys are going to duplicate last year's success. Here's another name to watch for: rookie defensive back Byron Jones. The coaching staff has Jones playing the role of the utility man this season, swapping back and forth between dime back and safety. But Jones' main assignment this season has been defending the opposing tight end. He has proven pretty adept at it through six games, as he has limited guys like Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz to pedestrian outings. I'm guessing you'll see Jones draw the task of defending Jimmy Graham.
Q: Things didn't work out for Christine Michael in Seattle despite being the team's top pick in 2013. How is he fitting in in Dallas/does it look like he'll have a significant role going forward? And did Darren McFadden's 152-yard performance against the Giants change things for that position group?
A: More so than McFadden's strong outing is the fact that Joseph Randle appears to be limited by an oblique strain. We don't yet know whether Randle will play this weekend, but McFadden might be in line to take over the starter's role simply because of that injury. As for Michael, he stands to have a huge opportunity if Randle is in fact ruled out. In his first two games of the season, he managed just one carry per game. The coaching staff vowed to improve his role after the bye week, and that was technically true – but he only carried the ball five times for 18 yards against the Giants. If Randle can't go against Seattle, though, Michael would figure to be the No. 2 back, which means he can certainly expect an opportunity to show his stuff against his former team.