What To Watch – Cowboys DBs vs Seattle Receivers – Week 8 – 2015 Season

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how Seattle’s Defense is going to handle various matchups, which makes sense as it has been the Defense that has carried this team as far as it has gone this year. However, with all the injuries the Cowboys have experienced on offense in 2015 and the way that the Seattle D has shown it can hold it’s own still against even a quality offense I feel the bigger key matchup is how the Seattle Receivers will play against the Cowboy’s Defensive Backs. I mean, let’s face it…if somehow the spare cog (Cassel or Weeden) playing QB gets the ball to Witten or the Runningbacks then it has been shown this team cannot do a whole lot to stop them anyway.

So, in Dallas we are looking at one of the worst Pass Defenses in the NFL, crippled primarily by a set of Defensive Backs that cannot hold up in coverage time and time again. For the season the team as a whole is giving up some fairly good passing numbers to opposing QBs, especially when you consider that list of QBs includes Sam Bradford.

Cowboys

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So far on the year against the Dallas Cowboys Defense QBs are 133/201 for 1506 Yds, 7 TDs and 2 INTs while having been sacked 13 times. To put it out in a per game set of numbers, the line would look roughly like this:

Att

Comp

Comp %

Yds

YPA

TD

INT

Sack

22

33

66%

251

7.6

1

0

2

With Marshawn Lynch back running like the man he is again, a day like that from Russel Wilson would be a solid recipe for a win. Now, you could talk about the pass rush not having been fully available most of the season, but with DBs being dinged up now it really isn’t a huge difference. This is a passing defense that has had most of it’s weapons so far this year, and this is what they have produced. So, with these middling to poor results, the question becomes who is getting burned every week?

Well, let’s start with the Cornerbacks. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are the starting corners, and have played most of the snaps for the team so far this year. Carr is the veteran, and has been their top corner for a few seasons now, and his game is pretty well known. He is not an elite player, but outside of the 3-5 games a year he gets burned badly he tends to hold his own. So far this season his only really ugly day came against Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 4, when he surrendered 8 catches on 8 attempts for 57 yards and a TD. He gives up a catch once every 9.5 coverage snaps, and his lack of picks or batted balls has him surrendering the 5th worst NFL QBR of any CB playing 50% of their teams’ snaps. Really, he looks similar to Cary Williams last year when he was a functional corner playing against everyone else’s best receiver each week.

So how about Claiborne then? He actually looks fairly similar in that he is surrendering a catch on every 8.7 coverage snaps and a 98.8 NFL QBR. Poor play and injuries have made Claiborne’s playing time a bit more sporadic over his career, but he also has a pattern seeming to give up big days in about half his games every year, and just about any time they play a strong offense. For example, against Atlanta in Week 3 he gave up 6 catches for 77 yards and although there were 5 incomplete passes thrown to him he still gave up over 10 YPC when they did hook up. Even worse, in Week 5 against the Patriots Tom Brady was 4/4 throwing at Claiborne, with 120 yards and a TD. Julian Edelman absolutely took him to task and there were yards whenever New England wanted them.

Alright, so the Cornerbacks clearly are not a strength on this team. How about Safety? Barry Church is a bit bigger of a Safety and plays stronger as a run stuffer. He is basically a poor man’s Kam Chancellor, which is good against the run…but a poor version of Coverage Kam is not something that helps a team a whole lot. QBs are 13/14 throwing against Church, burning him for 9.7 yards a pop. Is there anyone on this team who doesn’t give up a 1st Down on every completion? Actually yes, J.J. Wilcox is a solid coverage safety coming away with 2 defended passes and a pick so far this year while only being targeted a hand full of times. As a Free Safety he helps fairly well and is probably the best weapon against pass coverage they have. He is not good against the run and Marshawn will make him pay for it, but that isn’t what this article is about so we’ll just set it aside for now. If any of the DBs are helping Dallas it will be J.J. Wilcox.

With a set of defenders like this, the Dallas Cowboys are really going to be counting on the pass rush to come up with a lot of pressure and outplay the (so far in 2015) easily outplayed Seahawks Offensive Line. Pressure is the key, because these Defensive Backs have shown that they likely are not up to the task of sustaining coverage for more than about 1.5-2.5 seconds. With Russell Wilson’s ability to get out and run both for yardage and to extend plays, this will be a taxing game for this group.

Seahawks

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So now that we know who is tasked with trying to play coverage for Dallas, let’s take a look at who is catching passes for Seattle. I said before the season, and I still hold to it that even though no WR is as good individually as Golden Tate right now, this pass catching crew is overall much better than the one that the Seahawks won the Super Bowl with 2 years ago. I say WR, because comparing Jimmy Graham to Golden Tate would be fun, but would also be an entire article all by itself and really not much of a point as they are such different types of players. Baldwin, Lockett, and Kearse are really the top options right now. I will also use this time to talk about Paul Richardson who coaches say may end up playing this week, finally returning from his injury against Carolina in the playoffs last year.

I’ll start with an easy one, Jimmy Graham. Graham is a matchup nightmare for the Cowboys (and most teams really) to the extent that the biggest thing stopping him from having a big day is probably how he is used in the offense. For his career he is averaging 64 yards per game against the Cowboys in four contests, so I would look for at least similar numbers this week. Also at TE don’t be surprised to see my least favorite pass catching option Luke Willson have a good day as they will need to create pressure and their ability to cover 2 TEs will be compromised on a lot of plays. I more root to see Will Tukuafu keep getting snaps as a blocking TE, but I guess I can see why Willson may get snaps.

Next up are the veterans, Kearse and Baldwin. These two receivers have great chemistry with Russell Wilson and in games against less talented Defensive Backs they often seem to have good days. While Baldwin doesn’t have a lot of career success against Dallas, he has also only faced them one time since his breakout season in 2013. If they end up playing zone look for him to settle down in the soft spots and have a nice game. Quietly Doug is having a solid season averaging only 45 yards a game but over 11 yards per catch. He is due for another big game and this matchup could be it. Kearse on the other hand does not match up especially well as his lack of speed and similar size to a good sized group of DBs make it hard for him to get separation. It is always possibly he’ll have a big play or two, but I could also see him getting shut out this week.

Now on to my favorite part, the kids. I’ll start with Richardson, who may or may not be playing this week. As I mentioned on the Podcast, he really came on at the end of last season posting a 16 Rec 190 Yds 1 TD (11.88 YPC / 2.94 YAC AVG) line from Week 14 until his injuring in the first playoff game. The big thing to notice about Richardson is that he is really fast, and he uses that speed to get in and out of breaks fast and create space to make catches. He really developed into a technical route runner as the season went on and if he carries that into this year he will be a dangerous weapon the defenses will have to worry about blowing past them or sticking a double move on them for shorter yardage. That skill set complement what Tyler Lockett has shown he can do well so far in his rookie campaign. In a lot of ways his highlight reel touchdown catch last week against the 49ers shows what kind of weapon he is, with the speed to make a move and really sure hands that made a tipped ball look like an easy catch on a big play. What speaks to me as an even better sign though are the throws he is catching on the sideline to bail out a scrambling Russell Wilson. Those catches show chemistry and a young receiver understanding what to do to help his QB. Those are the catches that will make it so even if he doesn’t make a big play he can still move the sticks and be a big part of the offense. If Lockett plays I would look for him to be the top WR statistically this week because I don’t see who on Dallas can really cover him. If Richardson plays I am not sure what to expect, but believe I will be watching him closely.

The Wrap

The only way I see this game going south is if all the demons of the Seahawks come into play. I’m not sure who would hurt Seattle catching the ball out of the backfield with Randle out for Dallas, but Jason Witten is still a good pass catcher. There are enough players on the Dallas Defensive Line to get pressure on Russell Wilson and it is possible he makes some poor decisions with the football. If those things happen, I could see Carr or Wilcox having a good game and that would make for a potential Seattle loss.

However, the more likely scenario I see is a team that pounds the ball in the run game and really forces Church into the box, allowing Baldwin to find holes in the coverage and Lockett to get work over the top. I would look for at least one long TD pass to either Lockett or Graham in this game, as I think the ability for the Seattle receivers to get open will take pressure off the O-Line and Russell will be able to get the ball out early for good yardage. If the team plays like it is supposed to with a QB as bad as Matt Cassel throwing it they should not do much better than the Jimmy Clausen Bears did earlier this year.

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