Dallas Cowboys: Analyzing the Seattle Seahawks’ front seven

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

Ezekiel Elliott is the focal point for the Dallas Cowboys, but he will be running against a great front seven of the Seahawks. How can Dallas get some push?

The Dallas Cowboys finally won a game without a strong running attack. In Week 17 against the New York Giants, the Boys only ran for 51 total yards. But quarterback Dak Prescott was able to put the team on his back and lead the squad to a victory in a tight, tight match.

But do not be tricked into thinking the Cowboys are suddenly switching their scheme. They still rely on the league-leading rusher, running back Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas is set to play the Seattle Seahawks in the wildcard round on Saturday night. Though Seattle does not have the dominant defense bearing the Legion of Boom, they are still to be respected.

The power of Seattle’s defense is in their front seven. Starting off with linebacker Bobby Wagner. Once again, Wagner surpassed 100 tackles in the regular season, something he’s done his entire seven-year career.

As much as Cowboys’ fans are mad that neither of the teams’ linebackers, Leighton Vander Esch or Jaylon Smith, made the Pro Bowl– it would be a tough argument to not put All-Pro Wagner on the All-Star squad. Undoubtedly, Wagner is the leader of the Seahawks’ defense. They go as far as he goes.

Wagner probably is the best overall linebacker in the league. He shoots between gaps and makes tackles to stop the run. But also he is great at playing in coverage. Wagner excels in both zone and man defense.

When the Cowboys played the Seahawks in Week 3, Wagner smothered tight end Geoff Swaim in coverage. He was not letting Swaim get any separation. Prescott tried to squeeze in a throw once, but Wagner was there to tip it up in the air for safety Earl Thomas to intercept.

In front of Wagner, the Seahawks vaunt an aggressive defensive line. Rookie defensive tackle, Poona Ford, is not the best pass-rusher but he excels at run-defense. In the last three weeks, Ford has recorded eight defensive stops, per Pro Football Focus.

The Cowboys’ interior of the offensive line struggles against these big defensive tackles. If active, right guard, Zack Martin, should have no trouble. But, the Seahawks likely will match him up over left guard, Xavier Su’a-Filo.

That is not a good matchup for the Cowboys. The Seahawks also have a good pass rush. Defensive end, Frank Clark, and defensive tackle, Jarran Reed, both have double-digit sack total, per ESPN.com. Clark wins with a rare combination of speed and strength. He can pull out the spin-move, but also just straight up bull-rush to get to the quarterback.

Reed is atop the list of underrated linemen. He has one of the best releases among all defensive tackles in football. Reed often wins with his burst but is also very patient during run-stunts and twists. The Cowboys struggle with dominant defensive linemen, and the trio of Clark, Reed, and Ford are likely to give Dallas’ line fits all day.

In Week 3, the Dallas Cowboys had success running the football with Elliott against Seattle. Schematically, the Cowboys would line up under center and run outside zone, and inside trap runs.

The outside zone has been seen less and less by Cowboys’ fans as of late, primarily to the loss of speed my Elliott. However, with Zeke resting in Week 17, he should be fresh enough to run those stretch plays. They cannot just stick to running the ball outside, they must also balance the running game with trap runs and screens.

Trap blocks could provide an easy way for our interior offensive linemen, not including Martin, to be effective blockers. Su’a-Filo has impressed when he down blocks, but when he is forced to stretch and make an athletic block, he is often exposed.

A solid running game would only make the outside running game that much more effective. The screen game, which has become a cornerstone for the Cowboys, could yield great results. Seattle’s defense is so aggressive that they often will get fooled on screens to the running back.

The Cowboys excel at running screens, so as long as a lineman can get his hands on Wagner, the play should work. For Dallas’ passing game to even have a chance, they need to protect Prescott.

Elliott is a proven blocker and having an extra tight end like Dalton Schultz to chip the Clark’s of the world could be invaluable. Prescott is great at moments, but when he has pressure in his face, he often panics.

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The Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has been given a tough task this weekend, but if they can get some rhythm going, the offense just might explode.

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