As much as any other professional sport, the NFL is a team game. No one player can be successful without the assistance of others. That said, individual matchups can and do determine winners and losers on a weekly basis. Scout.com brought in greater Seattle resident and football scout Rob Rang to help determine the individual matchups that will determine whether the Seahawks will win or lose this week. Here are his thoughts on the three critical one-on-one matchups for this week’s game.
Dez Bryant vs. Richard Sherman
From a strictly entertainment perspective, the obvious one-on-one matchup to watch when the Dallas Cowboys enter Century Link Field Sunday is wide receiver Dez Bryant against Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Typically, we’ll highlight less obvious matchups than this one, but folks, they don’t get much better than this one.
More than any other cornerback in the NFL, Sherman boasts the length, recovery speed and ball-skills to make Tony Romo think twice before simply lofting jump-balls to his potential All-Pro receiver. That said, Romo isn’t likely to pull an Aaron Rodgers and simply ignore Sherman’s side of the field, especially when Bryant is there. Romo is a classic gunslinger and Bryant is as competitive as any receiver in the NFL. Bryant won’t shy from the challenge of playing opposite Sherman; he’ll savor the opportunity.
Like virtually all long-legged corners, Sherman is most susceptible to smaller, quicker receivers, as San Diego’s Eddie Royal and Washington’s DeSean Jackson demonstrated. Bryant is one of the few big receivers who will give Sherman troubles as he’s very physical, uses his broad shoulders to shield defenders from the ball and is one of the league’s very best at high-pointing passes.
This matchup should play out to a draw, with each star having a few Pro Bowl-caliber moments. If either player dominates the matchup, his team will very likely win.
DeMarco Murray vs. Seahawks Linebackers
While the one-on-one matchup between Bryant and Sherman may be worth the price of admission, itself, the key to defensive football in the NFL remains stopping the run – especially when the NFL’s leading rusher, Murray, is being discussed.
Murray is a classic slasher with the vision to find holes and the first-step acceleration to take full advantage of them. To this point, he’s found gaping holes up the middle as Dallas is getting terrific play from their past two first round picks, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Each is powerful, tenacious and use their hands well to shock defenders. Neither, however, has faced a front line as stout as Brandon Mebane, which is why Seattle’s speedy (but undersized) linebacker corps of K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith may ultimately play an even more important role.
Murray is playing with great confidence but one of the knocks on him coming out of Oklahoma was his upright running style. Some believed that he was the type of running who’d shrink rather than step into contact. The fact that Murray leads the NFL with four lost fumbles thus far isn’t helping this reputation.
If Seattle’s top-rated run defense holds to form against Murray early, the Cowboys will justifiably look to get their playmaker involved as a pass catcher. Murray is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and his route-tree isn’t limited to just simple screens and wheel routes. The test Seattle’s linebacker corps will face in covering Murray the pass-catcher may be just as important as handling him in the running game.
Henry Melton vs. J.R. Sweezy
As Russell Wilson once again demonstrated in slithering past Washington’s defenders on Monday Night Football, he possesses rare vision, awareness and athleticism for the quarterback position. These traits are especially helpful in eluding edge rushers, as Wilson is often able to spin away from them and break contain.
Most quarterbacks are more adversely affected by pressure up the middle, which happens to be where Dallas’ most effective rusher, Melton, plays. Melton and his backup Tyrone Crawford have provided consistent push up the middle for the Cowboys this season. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge concern for Seattle given the presence of Pro Bowl center Max Unger. With Unger ailing (sprained foot) and primary backup Steve Schilling inexperienced at center, the Seahawks were wise to sign Patrick Lewis off of Cleveland’s practice squad.
Regardless of who is snapping for the Seahawks, right guard J.R. Sweezy will have to perform well to keep Dallas’ left defensive tackles from harassing Wilson. Sweezy has the athleticism and competitiveness to handle this duty but he’ll need to be quick passing off blocks to his center to handle the surprise blitzes that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is likely to send up the middle.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Dallas 17
Three Key Matchups - Seattle vs. Dallas
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