Dallas got back on track this week with a victory at a canter over the Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys took their time getting into a comfortable position, and a dubious refereeing decision on simultaneous possession deprived Seattle a consolation score, but they had this game in hand and move to 4-4. They owe a debt of gratitude to a defense that clamped down on Tarvaris Jackson and the Seattle passing game, and a running game that opened up holes for their backs to take advantage of.
Despite their defeat Seattle will take some positives from this one, notably how they were able to run the ball. It may be a little late (already) to catch the 49ers in the battle for the NFC West, but if they can carry on this success in the ground game then they’ll be competitive in the second half of the season.
Let’s look at some of the more noteworthy performances from this one.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Carrying the load: Part 1
He didn’t quite reach beast mode but Marshawn Lynch’s (+3.0) 135 yard performance marked a welcome return to form for the Seattle running back. His first 100 yard performance and the first time since week 4 (two games) that he hasn’t put the ball on the ground. Lynch ran with a familiar attitude and determination, punishing the Cowboys between the tackles where he was able to pick up 113 of his 135 yards, breaking two tackles and scoring his touchdown. With the 49ers running away with the division, the focus for the second half of the season for Seattle must be moving this team forwards, after last year’s divisional victory created some unrealistic expectations. Getting players like Lynch performing and molding the team for next year should now be the stated aim for the Seahawks.
Lukewarm pass rush
On 35 passing plays the Seahawks registered only nine total pressures of Tony Romo. Putting that another way it took 148 individual pass rushes/blitzes from their defenders to record nine pressures – an average of one pressure for every 16 pass rushes. The stats tell the story on this one, both individually and as a unit as the Seahawks failed to put the pressure required to bring out the bad Tony Romo. In spite of improved coverage displays by their corners, with Richard Sherman (+1.5 coverage) particularly impressive, the Seahawks just didn’t get the job done up front. Seattle were able to get tremendous pressure from their front four last season, in particular Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons, but that production is not being matched in 2011 and is a large part of why their record is what it is. These players may not be playing poorly in 2011, but without the exceptional performances up front they’re not good enough as a unit to overcome.
Continued rookie struggles
For the fifth time in 2011 rookie offensive tackle James Carpenter (-4.3) graded worse than -3.0 overall for a game. Five of his eight career starts have been very poor and he has had only one good start since moving to right tackle in week two, ironically in week two at Pittsburgh. For the sixth time this season Carpenter gave up four total pressures and was a glaring weakness on the open side of the quarterback that the opposition was able to exploit. Carpenter got off to a slow start giving up pressure to Anthony Spencer on a bullrush at 0:17 in the first quarter and rarely recovered from there. The rookie is yet to put in that one glaringly terrible performance this season, but his consistently poor performances must be starting to raise questions in Seattle.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Carrying the load: Part 2
If Lynch’s 135 yards was a return to form, DeMarco Murray (+2.1 rushing) was simply continuing a rich vein of form filling in for the injured Felix Jones with another 139 yards. Murray’s performances in the last three weeks must now raise questions as to whether Jones’ injury will cost him his starting job given that Jones has never put in a series of displays the likes of which we’ve seen from the rookie. Murray’s decisiveness running the football is noticeably better and the Cowboys running game is seeing the benefit with. Murray’s near touchdown at 11:41 in the second showed his real potential, making two defensive backs miss and then having the speed to challenge Earl Thomas to the endzone with Murray only denied a score by Thomas’ facemask giving the Seahawks defender the leverage to stop him short of the goal-line. Will we see Murray continue these impressive displays, and can he put up a game winning performance in a crucial stretch game late in the season? The Cowboys will need Murray at his best for some time to come if they are to make a serious assault on the playoffs.
Starting ends outplayed
The Cowboys will be glad for the depth that they are boasting at defensive end this season. Their starting pairing of Kenyon Coleman (-1.6) and Marcus Spears (-3.3) were poor this week and, in combination with the absence of Sean Lee and the poor play of his replacements, take a large portion of the blame for the Cowboys’ vulnerability to the Seahawks’ running game on Sunday. Fortunately for Dallas they are getting excellent play from their backups, Sean Lissemore (+2.4) and Jason Hatcher (+1.7). Lissemore’s two defensive stops were more than the starting pairing of Coleman and Spears combined for. Spears in particular must be beginning to fear for his starting spot, or at least seeing his snap count eroded into, as he is being comfortably outperformed by Lissemore to this point of the season.
Rookie continues to impress
After a shaky game in Philadelphia statistically Tyron Smith (+2.4) recovered the impressive form that has marked out his rookie season, yielding only one pressure on 35 pass blocks on Sunday against Seattle. Smith showed the ability to stick with speed to the outside but also the talent to stick with inside moves, which against players of the style of Chris Clemons is crucial. Sell out too much to the speed outside and you become vulnerable to the inside move. Smith gave up his sole pressure off of his outside shoulder to Clemons, but his block on Raheem Brock at 11:37 of the second quarter was the perfect illustration of how to deal with an inside spin move. Brock’s attempt to come back inside on Smith stoned perfectly.
– Jesse Holley registered a solitary offensive snap. Since his first career reception against San Francisco in week two, a rather decisive one, the Cowboys receiver has recorded only ten offensive snaps.
– Kam Chancellor missed more tackles this week, three, than he missed in his first six appearances this season, two.
– Bruce Carter registered the first eleven snaps of his NFL career but failed to get on the stat sheet.
PFF Game Ball
In the last three weeks DeMarco Murray now is averaging 8.5 yards per carry on 55 carries. Another 139 yards this week, but when will he start getting the scores that this rich vein of form deserves?
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