Can the Cowboys Shut Down the Seahawks’ Running Game Again?

The Seahawks Offense finished the regular season ranked 1st in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 5th in yards per attempt. Seattle’s offense is built off of their running game, primarily via inside and outside zone runs. But continued success on the ground won’t come easy this weekend in Dallas. The Cowboys are among the best in the league at stopping the run, ranking 5th in both yards per game and yards per attempt allowed.

When these teams met in Week 3, a 24-13 Seahawks win, the Cowboys all but shut down Seattle’s rushing attack, holding them to 113 yards on 39 attempts (2.9 yards per carry). How did they do this?

It’s going to sound boring, but the Cowboys played great team defense. They controlled the line of scrimmage. Defenders played to their responsibilities. They read and reacted quickly to their run keys. They played fast and physical, tackled well in the open field, and showed great team pursuit of the ball carrier. This is the style of play we’ve seen all year out of Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli’s crew.

On the below three plays, you can see exactly what we mean. This first play was an outside zone run to the weak side. First, focus on defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. He would be facing a double-team block from the center and left guard.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

A stalemate against a double-team is considered a win for the defense. This prevents the offensive line from reestablishing the line of scrimmage and it keeps blockers from getting up to the second level.

Also, watch defensive end Taco Charlton on the right side and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford on the left.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Charlton was able to set the edge and keep running back Chris Carson from bouncing it to the outside for a big play. Carson was forced back inside, where Woods had held up his double-team and Crawford had won his 1-on-1 matchup, preventing a cut-back lane.

Pursuit by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (#55) and safety Kavon Frazier (#35) helped hold Carson to a 1-yard gain.

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On this next play, focus on linebacker Sean Lee.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Watch how he saw the double-team block right in front of him and immediately attacked the line of scrimmage.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

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Lee read and reacted to that play so quickly that he didn’t give any blockers the chance to get to him at the second level. He filled the hole at the line of scrimmage. The result here was a 2-yard loss. Sean Lee is such a good run defender. While he’s battled injuries again this season, having him as a part of the linebacker rotation on Saturday will only help the Cowboys’ chances.

On this next run, the Cowboys mixed things up a bit. Marinelli called for his defensive end and defensive tackle on the right side of the formation to slant inside with Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith scraping over the top.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

The idea here was to either get quick penetration inside and create a negative play, or to at very least create hesitation and/or confusion in blocking assignments. The slanting up front prevented blockers from getting to the next level.

The play was finished off by Smith and Vander Esch.

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Take another look at this play and see how Smith stayed on the fullback’s outside shoulder as he took on the lead block.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This was to force the running back inside or at least make his path to the outside longer. A longer path to the edge gives defenders more time to pursue. That’s exactly what Vander Esch was able to do here.

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Vander Esch is very good at open field tackling. Had he not been able to make the tackle, though, the Cowboys had almost their entire defense pursuing and ready to make the play. That’s great team defense.

Yes, Seattle’s top-ranked rushing attack has taken off since these teams last met. Dallas always seems to fly around the field a bit faster at home, though. Given the Cowboys’ team speed and ability to stop the run, the Seahawks will need to generate big plays through the passing game to escape Dallas with a victory. Don’t be surprised to see them use max-protect play-action to try and generate those big plays, something they’ve done often this season.

What happens on the other side of the ball will dictate a lot about how the Seahawks can approach this game on offense. They were able to stick with the running game in Week 3 against Dallas because they held the lead for most of the game. Maintaining balance is critical to Seattle’s success on offense. They ranked 31st in the NFL in sack percentage this season, so keeping Russell Wilson upright will be a major point of emphasis against the Cowboys’ pass rush. The Seahawks do not want to find themselves in a situation where they have to throw the ball on every down.

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