For Part One, where Rob is kind enough to answer our questions about the Seahawks, go here.
1. Seattle has struggled in pass protection. Strictly on the field, what has Greg Hardy provided the Cowboys and is Demarcus Lawrence emerging as anticipated?
First things first, Hardy has been as advertised. He is truly one of the game's best pass rushers, logging 3 sacks in his first two games, against quarterbacks that aren't normally easy to take down in Brady and Eli Manning. His 7 total pressures in two games is exactly what Dallas has been missing, as his ability to move up and down the line of scrimmage and take on tackles, guards, double teams and chips means fun times for the rest of the DL rotation.
As for Lawrence, things haven't quite been as successful as hoped. Before Hardy returned, Lawrence was the only player getting any sort of consistent pressure, so the thought process was that with the attention shifting to the opposite side, things would improve. They haven't yet. He ranks near the bottom of the league in pass rush productivity, which rates a player's QB pressures based on the number of pass rush attempts. By contrast, rookie Randy Gregory has started off well in his limited role as a third down specialist. While only logging 29 snaps for the year, he already has 5 QB pressures. Expect to see him between 15-20 snaps on Sunday.
2. What is the latest on Dez Bryant and the likelihood that he'll return to action Sunday?
Dez returned to practice for the first time since his surgery on Wednesday, and it's looking good for his return. How much he plays is still in question, but team officials have announced that if things continue on the current trajectory he'll suit up. They'll need him. Backup quarterbacks are often easily dissected once a team has a chance to prepare for them and preparing for Matt Cassel without a legitimate number one receiver to be concerned with probably looked like an early Christmas present for the Hawks defense.
Since the injury happened, Bryant and the club have maintained their belief that it would be a six-week injury, and it was maddening to see the national media continuously trot out medical experts that had no access to his files, and players who had suffered foot injuries to say that he'd be out for 10-12 weeks. Bryant's six-week mark was this past Tuesday, an off-day. He practiced the next morning.
3. Matt Cassel is no Tony Romo but from afar it appeared that he provided more consistency than Brandon Weeden had. What is the feeling in Dallas? Can Cassel get the Cowboys a few wins before Romo returns?
Well Weeden was very consistent in being late delivering the ball, missing wide open receivers and things of that sort, but I doubt that's what you were referring to. The truth of the matter is NFL games are normally won by whomever has the better quarterback and going to battle with a backup is normally a recipe for disaster. Cassel brought the big play back to the Dallas offense; they had 10 explosive plays (25+ yards on a pass, 10+ yards on a run), after not even having 10 total in their previous two contests.
They also had three interceptions, one that was returned for a score, another that if thrown on time would've been an easy score as Terrance Williams was 3 yards behind the corner but Cassel bunny-hopped before releasing the ball and throwing a rainbow that would make Judy Garland envious.
When Romo went down, the refrain for Cowboys fans was the team only needed two wins to remain viable in a shaky NFC East. Four losses later, those two wins are still needed and there are only three opportunities left.
4. It appeared that Darren McFadden seized control of Dallas' rushing attack last week. Is he "the man" moving forward or would Joseph Randle earned significantly more action had he not suffered the back injury?
Life comes at you fast. After earning his starting gig back during the practice week, on Sunday around 435pm eastern, Joe Randle had just started the game with two consecutive 10+ yard runs. Then, he strained his oblique, an injury he says pops up from time to time since his collegiate days. Darren McFadden took over, the Cowboys eschewed their usual ZBS scheme for power-man that suits McFadden's skillset (initial burst as opposed to the lateral agility necessary for outside zone runs). On Tuesday, Dallas named McFadden the starter and now we're learning that Randle is about to be suspended by the league for an offseason incident in Wichita, KS with the mother of his son. Randle went AWOL from the facility Wednesday (yes, he actually DID go AWOL unlike Greg Hardy) and it's become a complete cluster.
McFadden will take the reigns, and we'll have to see how well he can perform in back-to-back games, and if he can hold up to the workload. We have this guy Seahawks fans might've heard of before, Christine Michael, that will serve as our RB2. Michael was slated to take Randle's starting gig, but a few days of underwhelming practice tapped the brakes on that for the coaching staff.
5. While Seattle can hardly be characterized as a passing team, its receivers have a tendency to make big plays in big moments. How has Dallas' secondary performed this season? Who should Seahawks fans be hoping Russell Wilson avoids among the Cowboys DBs?
I know who they should target, Brandon Carr. After ending last season on an upswing (from a hideously-low level for most of 2014), Carr has struggled again. As a shock to almost everyone, Dallas has gotten a drastically improved performance from Mo Claiborne who has done a great job save for a difficult matchup with Julian Edelman. Mo's skillset isn't suited for small shifty receivers as he's more of a physical press corner and it's so difficult to get hands on a slot receiver. He's performed admirably against Odell Beckham and Julio Jones (who ate very well when matched up with our other corners).
The guy to look out for is rookie Byron Jones, the Junior Senator from Connecticut. Jones is an athletic freak, a 3 Sigma Athlete with the bulk to not be bullied. He did great work against Rob Gronkowski a few weeks ago and has really grown into this hybrid corner/safety reminiscent of Darren Woodson back in the Cowboys heydays. He'll follow Jimmy Graham all over the field and see if he can keep your star tight end from any breakout performances.
All in all, the secondary has been average. The other safeties are nothing to get excited about, taking bad angles and having issues tacking. The key for Dallas will be taking advantage of the Hawks' protection issues and not having the DBs covering for too long.