NFC East: Seattle Seahawks

Live blog: Seahawks at Giants

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Seattle Seahawks' visit to the New York Giants. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
Bruce Irvin, Hakeem NicksAP PhotoBruce Irvin and the Seahawks are beatable on the road. Can Hakeem Nicks and the Giants win?

The 11-2 Seattle Seahawks have had their playoff spot wrapped up for a couple of weeks already and have their eyes on the top seed in the NFC. The 5-8 New York Giants were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday and openly admit that they're playing for pride from this point forward. These two teams meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium -- a place the Seahawks hope to return to in early February for the Super Bowl.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and Giants reporter Dan Graziano break down the matchup between the league's best team and one of its most disappointing teams.

Graziano: Terry, let's start with Seattle's exciting young quarterback. The Giants this year have seen Terrelle Pryor, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, who are the only quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Russell Wilson has. From your standpoint, what sets Wilson apart from those other mobile quarterbacks?

Blount: Dan, there are so many intangibles about him that defy description. Some obvious ones are his character, his attention to every detail in his preparation and his underrated skills as a passer. But more than anything else, Wilson has the unusual ability to perform at his best when things appear to be at their worst. I've never seen him rattled, and he rarely makes a careless mistake. He has led the team to nine game-winning drives in his short career, and he almost did it again Sunday at San Francisco. As for his mobility, one thing that clearly sets him apart is his ability to make accurate throws downfield while he's running in either direction.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Eli Manning got off to a really rough start this season. What happened, and where is he now compared with seasons past when he was playing at a Pro Bowl level?

Graziano: Manning's biggest problem at the start of the season was his protection. The offensive line, never great to begin with, was hit with injuries to key starters and never got the kind of blocking help it received in past years from supplemental positions like running back and tight end. Manning has already taken more sacks (33) than he has ever taken in a full season, and there are three games to go. He also had no running game whatsoever for the first half of the season until Andre Brown got healthy. And top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has had an awful season in the final year of his contract. Manning obviously could play better, and he'd admit he has missed his share of throws. But I think he's a quarterback who really needs to be comfortable with his surroundings, and this year that hasn't been possible for him.

The Seahawks are so dominant at home, but while they've been good on the road they are clearly not as good. We know about the home crowd and the advantage it gives them, but are there on-field things they don't do as well on the road?

Blount: One noticeable difference in the past three road games is that Wilson hasn't run much because defenses are trying to keep him in the pocket. Wilson had one carry for 2 yards last week at San Francisco, and only 38 yards on seven carries in the past three road games combined. They won two of those three games, however. Still, after Wilson ran for 102 yards at Indianapolis in Week 5 (ironically, one of Seattle's two road losses) teams have focused on not allowing him to beat them with his feet. He's running well at home (he rushed for 47 yards against New Orleans two weeks ago) but not so much on the road.

If the Giants pull off the upset Sunday, they'd send a message that despite a disappointing season, they still have the ability to get it done against the best of the best. Do you get the sense that they'll have a little added fire against a team that many people believe is Super Bowl-bound?

Graziano: I do. A few of the Giants have already talked about that in the wake of the loss Sunday that eliminated them from postseason contention. There's a lot of talk around East Rutherford about "playing for pride," and that's not hollow with this group. They held together after the 0-6 start and have been professional in their play and their preparation since. This isn't a team that has or will quit on its season. It's just a team that's not very good. I don't think they have the personnel to hang with the Seahawks on Sunday, but if they lose it won't be for a lack of effort.

They do have a tendency to seek and drum up external motivation, and Seattle's excellent record will provide some of that. Tom Coughlin said Monday that they looked forward to measuring themselves against a team like this. The only dissenter so far is wide receiver Victor Cruz, who said he'd be "even more disappointed" if the Giants won this game, since it would tell him they had the capability to play with top teams all year and just didn't.

San Francisco had a strong game on the ground Sunday, and the Giants' run game has been considerably better in the second half. Is it possible to run on the Seahawks, or was that a one-game fluke by Frank Gore?

Blount: Some Seattle fans might say it was a one-play fluke, the 51-yard run by Gore on the final drive that set up the game-wining field goal. Take that off the table and the Seahawks did OK against the 49ers' rushing game. However, one stat is a little scary. Of San Francisco's 163 yards on the ground, 137 were before contact, including Gore's big run. The Seahawks have been up and down on this all season. They held Adrian Peterson to 65 yards and allowed only 30 yards rushing at Arizona, but also had back-to-back games in which they allowed 200 yards rushing. Now they have to get it done without linebacker K.J. Wright, who had 80 tackles this season. He's out with a broken foot. It's hard to predict, but the Seahawks are so focused on the pass rush that they can get burned sometimes on the ground.

The Giants have struggled to stop the run, and Marshawn Lynch is one of the best backs in the league. I'm guessing the Seahawks are going to give him the ball early and often, especially if the weather is bad. Will the Giants load the box to try to stop Lynch?

Graziano: Actually, stopping the run is one of the few things the Giants have done well. They've held down some top backs, such as Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris and Eddie Lacy. Until the Chargers got 144 yards on 40 carries against them Sunday, this had been a fairly consistent strength. So they'll be keyed on Lynch for sure.

Before the Packers game a few weeks ago, I asked Justin Tuck if Lacy reminded him of anyone. He said, "a bigger Marshawn Lynch," and then complained that they had to deal with Lynch again a few weeks later. They stacked the box against Lacy that day, but they weren't scared of Scott Tolzien's ability to beat them downfield even if they used single coverage on his receivers. Wilson is likely to make them think twice about committing as much to the run as they did that day, and they'll likely rely on the guys in their strong defensive-tackle rotation to get off of blocks better than they did in San Diego.

Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo/Evan VucciMike Shanahan should have pulled Robert Griffin III when it was clear the offense was stalling.
LANDOVER, Md. -- He should have come out of the game. It's really that simple, and it's not hindsight.

Anybody who watched Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III hobble through the second and third quarters of his team's season-ending 24-14 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at FedEx Field could see that (A) he was badly hurt and (B) he was hurting his team's chances.

It's not a second-guess. I sat next to John Clayton all game, and he can assure you that I was saying the same thing in the second quarter and the third quarter that I was saying in the fourth, when Griffin's injured right knee finally collapsed like a tower of Legos and the situation went from clear to absurdly obvious.

"If you didn't pull him out then," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, "then you should get fired."

Clearly, but prior to that point there were many at which Shanahan could and should have made the decision to pull Griffin and replace him with backup Kirk Cousins. He admitted after the game that the choice was difficult and that he wasn't sure even in retrospect that he'd chosen well.

"Very tough decision, and you've got to go with your gut," Shanahan said. "I'm not saying my gut is always right. I'll probably second-guess myself."

He should, because his gut was wrong. Deciding to keep Griffin in the game when he was clearly (A) injured and (B) not helping Washington move the ball was the decision that ended this Redskins season and could put part of the next one in jeopardy. Asked after the game if he thought he might have torn his right ACL -- something he did in college and therefore knows how it feels -- Griffin said, "Honestly, it's up in the air for me right now."

Griffin was defiant after the game, as he had been with Shanahan when he insisted that his coach allow him to go back in. He said that even if the fresh injury was an ACL tear, he'll simply "come back healthy from it." But he was clearly determined to stay on his tough-guy message, not sit and think and reason about smart decisions and long-term consequences.

"I'm the quarterback of this team," Griffin said. "My job is to be out there if I can play. And to answer the next question, no, I don't feel like me being out there hurt the team in any way. I'm the best option for this team, and that's why I'm the starter."

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Harry E. Walker/MCTRobert Griffin III injured his knee after a bad snap led to a fumble deep in Redskins territory.
He's a charismatic and convincing young man, and this mattered during the game when Shanahan asked him whether he could keep playing. According to Shanahan, Griffin fed him the old line about the difference between being hurt and being injured and said, "Give me the chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured."

"That was enough for me," Shanahan said.

The problems (plural) begin with the fact it wasn't true. Griffin was injured. He entered the game injured, still wearing a brace to protect against further injury from the ligament sprain he suffered four weeks earlier in Baltimore. On Sunday morning, a USA Today story quoted Redskins team physician James Andrews saying he was "a nervous wreck" letting Griffin play so soon after the injury. When Griffin clearly aggravated the injury on a first-and-goal pass attempt in the first quarter Sunday, alarm bells should have been going off, and Griffin's bravado should not have been enough to silence them. Not for the coach who traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get him, and who's charged with the care and maintenance of his long-term health.

This is easy for me to say, yes, but that's the point. I had no stake in the Redskins winning or losing Sunday's game. Shanahan did. This necessarily intensifies the difficulty of making the right decision with regard to a player's long-term health. Shanahan admitted as much, though he also insisted that, "If we felt it had something to do with Robert's career and injury, we wouldn't have left him in the game."

I say they got that wrong, and that letting your franchise quarterback stay in a hyper-intense football game on a sloppy field when he's favoring an already-injured knee is a high-level mistake. I give Shanahan credit for admitting that he may have made the wrong decision; I just believe it's clear that he did. In hindsight, for sure, and from the consequence-free comfort of the press box while it was ongoing. But the fact that it was hard for Shanahan to see the right decision does not excuse him from failing to make it. He gets paid $7 million a year to make the biggest decisions for the Redskins, and he whiffed on this one.

"I wasn't lying to him. I was able to go out and play, period," Griffin said. "If he had pulled me out, I would have been highly upset, but that's his prerogative. That's his choice. But he kept me in."

I believe Shanahan will kick himself about that decision for a long time to come, and for many reasons. What's amazing is that in failing to make the correct long-term decision he also failed to make the correct short-term one. The Redskins were moving the ball as if in their wildest dreams against the Seahawks in the first quarter, rolling up 129 yards on 20 plays and racing out to a 14-0 lead. Griffin got hurt at the end of the second touchdown drive, and in the final three quarters combined the Redskins gained 74 yards on 34 plays. Regardless of what Griffin says, his inability to move inside or outside the pocket mattered. Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen admitted that "It took a few things out of the playbook."

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said, "He wasn't able to take as many shots downfield."

There was a stadium full of people who could tell the Redskins' offense was impotent with this shell of Griffin operating it, yet Shanahan didn't decide to go to Cousins (a guy who has shown he can win games in Griffin's place) until it finally appeared that Griffin might not be able to get up.

"It was hard to watch RG III," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He was gallant."

No one's disputing that. It's Griffin's job to be gallant and tough and determined and all of the great things everybody was calling him after the game for his refusal to leave it. But it's Shanahan's job to make the clear-headed decision to overrule the 22-year-old superstar who wants to believe he's invincible. I do not know if Cousins would have done better against the Seahawks' defense in those final three quarters. I do feel confident in saying he couldn't have done worse. And even if he hadn't been an improvement, we wouldn't be sitting here right now thinking about how many games Griffin will have to miss in September and October if he has in fact torn his ACL.

"I can agree with you on that," Griffin said. "I think I did put myself at more risk by being out there. But every time you step on the football field, you're putting your life, your career and every single ligament in your body in jeopardy."

Inarguable. But that's why decisions like this one can't be in the hands of the player who wants to play. They need to be in the hands of the people responsible for making sure he's OK -- now and for the future. And on this day, Shanahan, a great coach who understands that responsibility, made the wrong decision. He paid for it with a season-ending loss, and he went home hoping -- but not certain -- that the bill is fully paid.




LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' injury-marred, season-ending playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at FedEx Field.

What it means: Unfortunately for the Redskins, it could mean much more than simply a playoff loss and the end of their season. Franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III collapsed in pain as his injured right knee gave in underneath him while he was chasing a bad snap with 6:19 left in the fourth quarter. He'd been playing in obvious pain since the first quarter, but this looked much more serious, even though he was able to walk off the field on his own power a few moments later. The fumble that resulted from the play gave the Seahawks the ball on the 5-yard line and set up the field goal that put away the game, which was obviously part of the story. But Redskins coach Mike Shanahan will face questions about why he allowed his obviously injured quarterback to keep playing all day. Not only did it hinder the Redskins' chances of winning the game, it put in jeopardy the long-term health of a player for whom the Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick in this year's draft.

RG III and the knee: The Redskins started the game as though no one was going to touch them, marching right down the field twice against a team that allowed just 15.3 points per game during the regular season and taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. But along the way, Griffin appeared to re-injure the right knee he injured in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, and after that second touchdown drive the offense couldn't do much of anything. Seattle outgained the Redskins 168 yards to 11 in the second quarter as the Seahawks cut the lead to 14-13 by halftime, and they outgained them 99 yards to 27 in the third quarter though they were unable to convert the yardage into points. Griffin looked immobile. He appeared to be in serious pain when he did run. And it was reasonable to wonder why the Redskins wouldn't just put in backup Kirk Cousins, who rallied them to victory in Week 14 after Griffin got hurt and won the Week 15 game in Cleveland with Griffin sitting out. The threat of Griffin as a runner was clearly gone, so it's hard to see what they'd have been risking by putting Cousins in. But Griffin stayed in until the knee finally buckled, and the offense remained stagnant.

Doing his Doughty: The Redskins' defense looked helpless at times against Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who runs around the way Griffin used to before he got hurt. Wilson looked a bit lost in that first quarter but quickly settled in and operated the offense well. When the Redskins blitzed and did not get to him, he was able to complete the pass. But the Redskins very often did get to him, particularly with safety Reed Doughty, who came up with two of Washington's five sacks and also tackled Wilson at the line of scrimmage on a fourth-quarter run attempt. Surprisingly, Doughty showed the speed to stay with Wilson and disrupt him, which was a big reason the Redskins' defense was able to do so much bending without breaking for the middle part of the game.

Unstoppable: Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch looked like one of the day's goats when he fumbled at the goal line at the end of a 69-yard third-quarter drive and the Redskins recovered the ball. But he became the force Washington couldn't stop in the fourth quarter, beating the Redskins repeatedly with sharp cuts at the line in both directions. His 27-yard touchdown run on third-and-5 with 7:08 left in the game -- with Wilson as the lead blocker! -- gave the Seahawks their first lead of the day.

Key stat: It was only the third game this year in which the Redskins turned the ball over more than once. They lost the previous two, as well -- to the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants.

What's next: The Redskins head into the offseason obviously disappointed, but assuming Griffin isn't injured too badly, they do so with more hope for their future than they've had in a long time. Griffin's emergence and the seven-game win streak they rode into the playoffs provided a lot of thrills for a fan base that had gone a long time without much to cheer. They have pieces to add, especially on defense, and they don't have a first-round pick. But the way this year went prior to Sunday offered a glimpse of a bright future in Washington.
ASHBURN, Va. -- At the age of 37, not having seen the Super Bowl since his fourth season, veteran linebacker London Fletcher signed a two-year deal to return to the Washington Redskins. He had spent the previous five years with the Redskins, who had a composite record of 32-48 over that time and had made exactly one playoff appearance. But there was much about the place that drew him back. He liked the way he fit into the defense. He felt he'd been treated well by ownership and the coaching staff. And he couldn't escape the feeling that, if he left now, he might miss something.

"You put so much into it and you've gone through a lot of the losses," Fletcher told me in June. "You don't want to leave and then all of a sudden the thing kicks around and you're like, 'Shoot, I missed it.' I wanted to return, it was just a matter of getting a deal done."

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsLondon Fletcher's loyalty to the Redskins is being rewarded this season with a run to the playoffs.
So return he did. And of all the players in the Redskins locker room, there are few who are getting more enjoyment out of the fact that this year's team just went 10-6 and is preparing to host a playoff game Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

"Definitely, I'm appreciating this a lot more," Fletcher said. "You think about this group, this team and what we were able to accomplish, being 3-6 at one point during this season and then making the playoffs. I can say I'm enjoying this a lot more and I'm more appreciative of it because I realize how difficult it is to make the playoffs now."

There's also something special about making it here. The Redskins were once one of the NFL's flagship franchises -- a three-time Super Bowl champion with one of the most intensely loyal fan bases in sports. That fan base has remained passionate and loyal throughout a terrible and lengthy downturn. Until Sunday, the Redskins had not won a division title since 1999 and had only made the playoffs three times in 19 years. But the players who have played for the Redskins during this stretch -- guys like Fletcher, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Lorenzo Alexander -- they always felt something special about the place. Whether it was the fans or the history or the town, there was something that pulled these guys back -- a feeling that it would be better to stick it out and win here than to go off somewhere else and join an extant winner.

"Anytime you become a part of the team and the community, a sense of loyalty sets in," said Pro Bowl linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who's been a Redskin since 2006. "And when you're in it and it's not going well, you want to change it and be a part of that change. This is a team that's been pretty bad the last six, seven years, and now you get to be a part of that change. I think it's a little bit more memorable that way than if you go and sign with a team that wins all the time. I think you appreciate it a little bit more."

Look at Cooley, the veteran tight end who grew up a Redskins fan, has played here since 2004 and rushed right back midseason in spite of getting cut in August and being promised no significant role.

"I never had any doubt this would be a great place to win," Cooley said.

Look at Moss, who re-signed in 2011 and whipped himself into better physical shape this offseason after the coaches told him his roster spot was in jeopardy.

"This place is home. It becomes your home," Moss said. "So you feel like you're playing not just for yourself, but for this whole community that wants it so bad. And that's something extra."

There is something extra about winning as a Redskin, especially after the franchise went so long without anything to cheer. There's no way to know how long the current ride will last. It could end Sunday or it could take the Redskins all the way to New Orleans and the Super Bowl. But the special feeling around here is that of a corner turned -- a bright hope for the future behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and all of the new pieces Mike Shanahan has added the past two offseasons. The Redskins who have slogged through the bad years feel great about this very good year because they think it's the first of many to come.

"I think you feel a culture change, which is what was needed around here," Alexander said. "And when you go through the down times and you can be a part of that kind of culture change, it's very satisfying, I would say."

Final Word: Seahawks at Redskins

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North AFC: North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Seahawks-Redskins wild-card playoff game at FedEx Field:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jonathan Newton/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III is one of six rookie or second-year quarterbacks starting in the playoffs this season.
Fresh faces: Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks are two of the three rookie quarterbacks starting for teams in this year's playoffs. It's the first season in history that as many as three of the NFL's playoff teams had rookie starters at quarterback. (Andrew Luck of Indianapolis is the other.) And when you add in second-year quarterbacks Christian Ponder of Minnesota, Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco and Andy Dalton of Cincinnati (who started a playoff game last year as a rookie), that means six of the 12 playoff teams are starting first- or second-year players at quarterback. The folks at ESPN Stats & Information report that that's a record. The 2000 playoffs featured four first- or second-year quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb of the Eagles, Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings, Aaron Brooks of the Saints and Shaun King of the Buccaneers.

Home cooking: The Seahawks were 8-0 at home this season and just 3-5 on the road, so it's a good thing for the Redskins that they get to play this game at home. Home teams went 4-0 in this round of the playoffs last season, though at least two road teams won games in the wild-card round in each of the four seasons before last year. The Redskins are 13-3 all-time in home playoff games. The Seahawks are 1-8 all-time in road playoff games and have lost eight in a row dating to 1983.

To blitz or not to blitz? ESPN Stats & Info tells us that 12 of the Redskins' 21 interceptions this year have come on plays on which they rushed five or more defenders. Wilson has not thrown an interception against that kind of pressure since Week 7 against the 49ers. Wilson saw an extra pass-rusher on 69.1 percent of his drop backs this year, but he showed drastic improvement against blitz pressure as the season went along. In his first eight games, in which the Seahawks were 4-4, Wilson had a 50.0 completion percentage, 5.2 yards per attempt, no touchdowns and two interceptions against five or more pass-rushers. In his past eight games, in which the Seahawks were 7-1, Wilson had a 67.9 completion percentage, 9.2 yards per attempt, eight touchdowns and no interceptions against such pressure. So the Redskins will have to be judicious and creative with their blitzes, because they can't assume blitzing in and of itself will rattle Wilson.

The running backs: Washington's Alfred Morris and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch finished second and third in the NFL in rushing yards this year, behind the inhuman Adrian Peterson. Morris had 55 rush plays that gained at least 10 yards, which was second only to Peterson's 61 and the third-highest single-season total since 2001. He rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's division-clinching victory over Dallas. Lynch has four straight games with at least 100 rushing yards and has reached 100 in eight of his past 10. His 16 games with at least 100 rush yards are the most in the NFL over the past two seasons. No other team in the NFL called a higher percentage of run plays this season than did these two. Seattle called designed runs on 49.8 percent of it offensive snaps this year and Washington called them on 47.9 percent.

Disparity: The Redskins finished 28th in the league in total defense. The Seahawks finished fourth. That would seem to indicate something of a mismatch. What the Redskins are hanging their hopes on is the fact that last season's Super Bowl teams ranked 27th and 31st in total defense during the 2011 regular season, so it's not crazy to think you can give up a ton of yards in the regular season and then win playoff games.
Lee Singer of ESPN Stats & Information put together this preview for this Sunday's playoff game between the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks:

When the Seahawks and Redskins meet Sunday, two of the most rush-heavy offenses in the NFL will square off. But what's most interesting about these rushing attacks isn't the volume of rushes. It's the wrinkle both offenses feature -- the read option.

The Seahawks and Redskins are two of five teams to run at least 30 option plays this season. While Robert Griffin III and the Redskins have featured it all season, running at least five option plays in all but three games, the Seahawks have only recently opened up this portion of their playbook for Russell Wilson.

Nearly 30 percent of the Seahawks’ rushes in the last five weeks have utilized a variation of the option. That figure leads the NFL over that time. Seattle is averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per rush on these plays. This has represented a big change for the Seahawks. They used the option only five times –- or on 1.4 percent of their rushing plays -– over their first 11 games.



The addition of the option has contributed to Seattle averaging a 211.8 rushing yards per game and 38.6 points per game during its five-game win streak, both of which lead the league over that span.

While both the Seahawks and Redskins have had success with the option, they've relied on different schemes to do it. The Seahawks like to spread the field and run the zone-read almost exclusively out of the shotgun, while the Redskins run the play primarily out of the Pistol formation with their base personnel.

Forty of the Seahawks’ 55 option rushes this season have come with three or more wide receivers on the field, the highest percentage in the league (min. 30 plays). The Redskins have run just 48 percent of their option plays with three or more wideouts.

All but one of the Seahawks’ option rushes have come out of the shotgun. A league-high 82 percent of the Redskins' options have come out the Pistol. The Redskins have run an NFL-high 25 percent of all of their non-option plays out of the Pistol. This serves to disguise the tactic, keeping defenses off balance.
Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III Getty ImagesThe playoff matchup involving rookies Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III won't be lacking intrigue.
ESPN.com NFC East blogger Dan Graziano and NFC West blogger Mike Sando discuss this Sunday's playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, in Landover, Md.

Sando: Well, Dan, we meet again. It wasn't all that long ago that I was reduced to fly-on-the-wall status during a three-way discussion with our AFC South guy, Paul Kuharsky, over which quarterback -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson -- was looking like the offensive rookie of the year. That was before Week 11. Griffin and Luck were still seen as prohibitive favorites. Since then, all Wilson has done is go 5-1 as a starter with two road wins while leading the NFL in Total QBR and ranking second to his wild-card counterpart, Griffin, in NFL passer rating. This should be a showcase game for both.

Graziano: Yeah, this year's NFL playoffs mark the death of patience, I fear, as those three rookie quarterbacks have led their teams into the playoffs and now people will expect one-year turnarounds all over the league. It seems these are a couple of pretty special cases, though. I was arguing Wilson for rookie of the year on TV last week on the grounds that his team has performed the best of the three, but that was merely a random tiebreaker I picked -- the idea that while Griffin, Wilson and Luck have all elevated their teams, Wilson has elevated his to the highest level. What amazes me about Griffin is that he has been the same guy from Week 1. I know Wilson had to work his way into his current level of excellence, while Griffin had one of his best games in the opener against the Saints and hasn't looked back. Even the past couple of weeks, as he plays on a bad knee, you see a level of maturity and confidence that just leaves you unable to believe this is a 22-year-old rookie. He makes the right throw and the right decision regardless of pain or dire circumstances, and while the knee does appear to be affecting him when he runs, it doesn't appear to affect the other key aspects of his game -- most notably operating this complex Shanahan offense from play to play.

Sando: Yes, Griffin has been the same guy all the way through. I give the Redskins' coaches credit for having the flexibility to basically install the offense Griffin ran in college. That had to smooth the transition. How many Super Bowl-winning offensive coaches would do that for a rookie? Not many. Wilson had run one system at North Carolina State and another at Wisconsin before learning yet another in Seattle -- all while sharing practice reps with one or two veterans (we forget that incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson (!) was on the roster for a while with Wilson and Matt Flynn). Once the season started, the Seahawks' coaches seemed to suddenly realize they had a rookie behind center. It was as though Pete Carroll's defensive background hit the override switch on all the preseason excitement. Seattle didn't really unleash Wilson for several weeks.

Graziano: I think the interesting part of this game will be what the defenses decide to do to try to slow down these rookie quarterbacks. Washington's defense ended up ranked 28th in the league, but they're winning lately by forcing turnovers and getting sacks at a higher rate than they did earlier in the season. And defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has excelled at changing schemes week to week and sometimes even within games to confuse offenses. The blitz-heavy package they used against Tony Romo and the Cowboys on Sunday night was unlike anything they'd put on film all year, and it clearly confused the Cowboys, who never adjusted to it. I doubt Wilson can expect to see the same kind of defense Romo saw Sunday. The numbers seem to indicate that they'd be wise to blitz him, but having watched the Redskins for the last couple of months there's no way to predict what Haslett will come up with.

Sando: The Seahawks led the NFL in fewest points allowed this season, but it didn't always feel that way. Their ability to generate a pass rush late in games has been a problem, particularly on the road. They aren't a heavy blitzing team. Sometimes I think they've been too conservative defensively late in games. They were leading late at Detroit and Miami, but broke down defensively in the end. The Seahawks also ranked only 24th in QBR against play-action passes, an area where Griffin averages an additional 5.0 yards per attempt (11.7). Seattle does have the defensive speed, however, to handle running quarterbacks. Cam Newton had his roughest outing of the season against Seattle. My thinking is that Griffin is going to have to beat this defense with his arm.

Graziano: Griffin has been pretty lethal against the blitz, so the Seahawks probably are better off in coverage against him anyway. And he has beaten plenty of teams with his arm. Dallas on Thanksgiving comes to mind. I am intrigued about the matchups in the secondary, as Pierre Garcon and the Redskins' receivers are big and physical but don't often see the kind of big, physical corners the Seahawks have in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. (Who does?) The Redskins were 9-1 this year in games in which Garcon played (he missed six games with a foot injury), and his ability to win his matchups deep as well as on slants over the middle has added a great deal to the Washington passing game in the second half of the season. How will the Seahawks play him?

Sando: I'm not anticipating any special plan for Garcon. Seattle played more zone than usual when holding Calvin Johnson to three catches for 46 yards, but the defense sprung leaks everywhere else. Seattle did not appear comfortable changing its style for that game. Matthew Stafford wound up having a career day on third down. Garcon is good, but I don't think the Seahawks will feel as though he's a scheme buster. They'll need to watch him on first down. Garcon has 66 percent of his receiving yards on first down. He has 13 catches for 337 yards -- that's 25-plus yards per catch -- from play-action throws on first down. Those types of plays haven't been pivotal against Seattle this season. The Seahawks have been more vulnerable, at times, against good slot receivers. Santana Moss might be of greater concern to Seattle.

Graziano: Interesting. And what about the run game? Alfred Morris finished second in the league in rushing yards, and I know Seattle has a reputation as a tough run defense, though I see the Seahawks finished in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed per attempt. Morris and the Redskins' play-action passing game go hand-in-hand (obviously), but is he going to be able to find anything like the running room he found against Dallas the other night? Teams have had to back off a bit because of the threat of RG III as a runner. You mention the way they handled Cam Newton as a running quarterback, but Morris seems to add something Carolina didn't offer as a threat from the running back position in Week 5.

Sando: The Seahawks ranked 30th in yards per carry allowed from Week 7 forward. They became vulnerable to trap runs against Frank Gore in Week 7. In my view, that game and perhaps another one at Miami were the only ones in which poor run defense played a meaningful role in a Seahawks defeat. Adrian Peterson had a monster game against the Seahawks, but that said more about Peterson than it said about Seattle. The Seahawks won that game by 10, anyway. I'd be surprised if Seattle's defense struggled against Morris the way Dallas' defense struggled against him. The Seahawks are so much healthier. I really liked the way Cincinnati defended the Redskins earlier in the year, cutting off the perimeter and delivering big hits. That is how Seattle will try to play.

Graziano: Yeah, the game I'm looking at is the Monday night game against the Giants in Week 13, when Washington trailed 13-10 at the half and won 17-16. They couldn't stop Eli Manning and the Giants from moving the ball in the first half, but they totally changed their defensive game plan at halftime, increasing the pressure on Manning and playing more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. New York was able to contain Griffin but for a 46-yard run in the third quarter, but the Redskins stayed patient and won a close game. That patience is going to be the key. Washington, for the past month or so, has displayed a patience and maturity befitting a team that has been here before, and if that continues Sunday I think they have a chance to slug it out with Seattle and be in position to win it in the end. It'll be the toughest game they've played in quite a while (heck, we haven't even talked about Marshawn Lynch!), and it's likely to be a lower-scoring game than they're used to playing, but as long as the playoff stage doesn't freak them out, I anticipate they'll have a chance.

Sando: Having covered the Seahawks for some time and knowing their playoff history, it’s odd seeing them favored to win a road playoff game (something the team has not done since the 1983 season, by the way). That’s how much of a game-changer Wilson has been. Seattle is a team without a glaring weakness. Not much about this team surprises me any longer. I feel as though the Seahawks have the healthier and hotter quarterback at this time. That could be the difference.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Redskins

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
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Five things to know about next Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Washington Redskins playoff game at FedEx Field:

1. Tough to contain. This playoff game features two of the NFL's three sensational rookie quarterbacks in Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Redskins fans who haven't seen Wilson should know that he is just getting started when he is flushed out of the pocket. Wilson was 8-for-9 for 173 yards on throws outside the pocket in Sunday’s victory over the St. Louis Rams, according to ESPN Stats & information. For the season, Wilson led the NFL with 57 completions when throwing from outside the pocket, and his five touchdown passes from outside the pocket ranked second in the league.

2. Good memory. The Redskins did not play the Seahawks this season, but they beat them 23-17 in Seattle in Week 12 of 2011. That was a somewhat shocking game in which the Redskins trailed 17-7 with 10 minutes to go but managed to score 16 unanswered points with Rex Grossman at quarterback and Roy Helu rushing for 108 yards on 23 carries in the game against what was then one of the toughest run defenses in the league. Different personnel, to be sure, in key spots, but the Redskins who played in that game might be able to draw some confidence from the memory of beating the Seahawks in Seattle not that long ago.

3. Stingy Seahawks. Seattle allowed just 245 points this season, an average of 15.3 points per game and the lowest total in the NFL. They have not allowed more than 17 points in a game since Week 12, and they only allowed more than 20 once in the second half of the regular season.

4. Home cooking. One of the perks of being a division champion is getting a first-round home game, and that’s especially helpful when the opponent is the Seahawks. Seattle is 8-0 at home this year and wins by an average score of 30-12 in home games. The Seahawks are just 3-5 on the road. They did win their last two road games -- 23-17 in overtime at Chicago in Week 13 and 50-17 at Buffalo in Week 15. But road losses in places like Arizona, Miami, St. Louis and Detroit bolster the case that it’s much better to get the Seahawks in your own place than it is to try and beat them in their rowdy, raucous home stadium.

5. Win downfield. One area in which the Seahawks are not strong is at wide receiver, where they don’t have the kinds of playmakers who dominate matchups even against suspect secondaries such as Washington’s. If the Redskins were able to handle Dez Bryant on Sunday night, they should be okay against Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Seattle’s best big-play threat is running back Marshawn Lynch, but the Redskins have looked good in recent weeks against power run games.

RG3, Luck, Wilson: Debating rookie QBs

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell WilsonUS PresswireHow does the QB class of 2012 stack up against 1983 and 2004?
So I got to talking Wednesday with AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and NFC West blogger Mike Sando about rookie quarterbacks and how they're judged. It started with Paul and Mike talking about the proper statistical perspective in which to view the Colts' Andrew Luck and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson, and they were kind enough to rope me into the discussion to include the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III. Not sure we were trying to reach any real conclusion here, just discuss the ways in which these guys are being evaluated against each other in terms of who's the best this year and who might be the best in years to come. Here's a transcript of our discussion. Hope you enjoy:

SANDO: Wilson has gotten less attention as he's played better, it seems to me. There was quite a bit of buzz around him heading into the season simply because people following along from afar expected Matt Flynn to win the job. The idea that a head coach would willingly go with a 5-foot-10 rookie third-round draft choice over a $19 million free agent made waves. Wilson didn't play all that well early in the season, however. Part of that was because Pete Carroll pulled back the reins on the offense in an attempt to bring along Wilson slowly. That wasn't really anticipated given how effusive Carroll had been in his praise for Wilson's readiness to perform right now, not just in the future. Meanwhile, RG3 was sensational out of the gates. The Wilson buzz went away. I think that's going to change as Seattle continues to make a playoff push and Wilson continues to become a bigger part of the reason why.

KUHARSKY: Critics who want to say Luck is over-hyped are, in my opinion, off their rocker. You look at his completion percentage, you look at his passer rating. I'll watch him play. He's remarkable for a rookie. Heck, he's remarkable for a third-year guy. He's got characteristics of both Peyton Manning (anticipation, smarts, understanding) and Ben Roethlisberger (ability to extend plays or to stand in and make throws while getting hit) as well as enough speed to be a constant threat to pull it down and run for a first down. I understand RG3 is more explosive. But I'm a pocket passer guy. And if I am choosing a young pocket passer to build a team around, I have no question about who it would be right now. It would be Luck. His team isn't very good, and he's got it positioned as a front-runner for a playoff berth. Don't just look at his stats, look at his play. He's worthy of all the talk/ hype/ praise/ applause/ etc.

GRAZIANO: Nobody got attention like Griffin got it in September, when he was being talked about as an MVP candidate and not just Rookie of the Year. In truth, he's been dazzling, and has handled every situation, in-game and off-field, as well as you could ask a rookie to handle it. But if the bloom is coming off, it's understandable. The Redskins have lost three games in a row, and Griffin's two most recent games are the only ones this year in which his completion percentage has been under 60. I think the problem is more about the group around him than it is about the league figuring him out. The Redskins' offense simply may have reached the limit of what it can do in this particular season, given the injuries to top passing-game playmakers Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis. The plan for Griffin is not to run college-style option stuff his whole career, but at this point the Redskins' offense is reaching a point from which it can't evolve much further until it has its top receiving threats back. In the meantime, Griffin is stuck throwing to secondary receivers who drop too many passes, or scrambling so much that it puts his health at risk. We may have seen the best of Griffin for 2012, but things are likely to get better in 2013 and beyond once they improve the team around him.

KUHARSKY: They are all great stories. And heck, Ryan Tannehill and even Brandon Weeden have done some good things, too. If we're not entering an era of quick impact quarterbacking from newcomers, then a lot of teams with high draft picks in the near future are going to be disappointed. I know Cold, Hard, Football Facts took me apart for my praise of Luck. But nowhere in that have I suggested anyone else unworthy of his fair share of respect. Luck's in a unique situation. The Colts were horrific last year, it's a new regime that cut a bunch of people and is eating a lot of dead money. It's a thin roster. It found a purpose in rallying to win for Chuck Pagano after his leukemia diagnosis, and while the Seahawks are a maybe and the Redskins are a no, the Colts are very much a probably for the playoffs. I'm far more interested in that than nitpicking completion percentage for a guy who hardly ever throws a checkdown pass.

GRAZIANO: That's the thing, Paul. Are we analyzing what these guys are right now, as compared to the top QBs in the league? Or are we talking about what they've shown in terms of what they can be? All of these rookies have obvious areas in which they can improve, but at least in the case of the guys who were picked 1 and 2 in the draft, I think we're talking about rare talents with incredibly high ceilings. Whether Griffin has been asked/required to throw downfield as much this year as he'd eventually like to seems immaterial to me, especially with the Redskins not yet ready to contend. He's shown presence in the huddle. He's shown an ability to lead a game-winning drive. He's made good decisions. Much of what he's accomplished is tied to his remarkable all-around athleticism and speed, sure, but he hasn't relied exclusively on that the way, say, a young Michael Vick or Jeff George might have. Griffin's shown a desire and an ability to treat the quarterback position as a craft to be honed, and a willingness to work on the minuscule detail aspects of it. That speaks to where he's headed as much as anything he's done on the field does.

SANDO: I'm with Paul in looking beyond passer rating with Luck in particular. He ranks among the NFL leaders in attempted passes. He's carrying that offense. The Colts are also asking him to make more difficult throws. His passes travel 10.3 yards past the line of scrimmage on average. That leads the league and it's not even close. We're not talking about a team dinking and dunking to protect its rookie passer. Luck is doing so much more than that. I think this is a perfect test case for our Total QBR metric. It's got Luck trailing only Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan when it comes to doing the things quarterbacks must do to help their teams win. Those five rushing touchdowns he has aren't showing up in the passer rating stat, to cite just one example. It's why I've listed Luck in the last couple MVP Watch items. The Seahawks did not ask Wilson to do nearly as much early in the season. They've asked him to do more in recent weeks and Wilson has responded. He's improving quickly and ranks among the NFL's top seven in QBR and top five in passer rating since Week 6. Wilson has a real chance to finish this season as the best rookie quarterback in the league.

KUHARSKY: And there we have the crux of the question, I believe -- what would make him the best? Passer rating? QBR? Team success? I love Wilson and his story. I hope he opens doors for others who don't look the part. But Luck looks the part and fits it too, and I'm not downgrading him for it. For what's left of this season, of the rookie quarterbacks, he's the one I'd take, without question. For what's left of their careers, he's the one I'd take, without question. And my picking him is all about what he has, not about anything the other guys don't. And he should be the choice. He was the top pick for a reason.

GRAZIANO: I think you're right, Paul. I spoke with Mike Shanahan last week, and as much as he raves about his guy, he still insists he'd have been thrilled with Luck and that the whole point this year was to get one of the first two picks because you were looking at two transcendent talents. Stats? RG3 is ninth in passer rating, 10th in QBR, sixth in Pro Football Focus' rankings (eighth as a passer and second, behind only Luck, as a running QB). There's not a rating system that doesn't love him, and again, he's done this without the wide receiver they signed to be his top target and big-play guy. If Griffin has to "draft" Luck his whole career and be a close No. 2, I imagine he could do worse. But it appears he's got the stuff he needs to keep it a good debate for years to come. And while it may be a matter of taste, when this year ends, you're going to be able to make the case for Griffin as the top rookie quarterback.

SANDO: Most never expected Wilson to be part of this discussion. Even the Seahawks weren't sure how much his lack of height would limit him. Wilson has demonstrated an ability to find and create throwing lanes. Jared Allen alluded to this before his Minnesota Vikings watched Wilson toss three first-half touchdown passes against them. If the height isn't going to be a negative, then Wilson can absolutely become an elite quarterback. He has the arm and the professional baseball pedigree to prove it. He has big hands, not just for his size, but overall (10 1/4 inches, fourth-biggest at the 2012 combine and bigger than Luck's or Griffin's hands). His work ethic led Carroll to joke about how Wilson decided to take some time off -- maybe three hours, he said -- during the bye week. The results have certainly been positive on the field. From everything I've seen, Wilson will be part of this conversation in the future.

Jerry Jones thinks you're stupid

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
11:05
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Jerry JonesRon Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesCowboys owner Jerry Jones says he didn't watch the end of the Packers-Seahawks game Monday.
Here it is, folks. Your NFL officials controversy in a nutshell. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, asked about the controversial ending to Monday Night's Packers-Seahawks game, said on the radio Tuesday morning that he didn't see it and hadn't heard about it. Per ESPNDallas.com:
"I didn't see that ending last night," Jones said on KRLD-FM. "I cut it off about halftime."

Jones said he hadn't received any phone calls about the controversy: "I just read a little note in the paper that the Seahawks pulled it out," he said, quickly switching the subject to praise Seattle's team.

...

Pressed further on the matter, Jones made his best sales pitch.

"We can have all kinds of what-ifs," Jones said. "We've played three games and we've got 16 to play. It's exciting. It gives us a lot to talk about on our shows that we have. But fundamentally, when I look at where the league is over the first three ballgames, it's great. Lot of competition."

That's it, right there. That's the NFL owners' stance. They don't care how ridiculous the proliferation their lockout of the officials makes them or their league look, because people are still talking about and watching the games. And that's why nothing that happens on the field with these replacement officials is going to change anything about the situation.

A couple of people have suggested that Jones' take on this might be different if it had been his team that had lost on the bad call. I do not believe it would. I think the owners have dug in on this, that they believe they are in the right and that what they are hoping to accomplish in terms of dictating and establishing work rules for their employees that are as beneficial as possible to their own bottom lines. I believe a conversation very much like this took place some months ago in a plush hotel banquet hall in Palm Beach, Fla.:

Hypothetical voice of reason (the commissioner, a fellow owner, a league PR rep, somebody): "OK, so another lockout. Second year in a row. This is what you guys want to do, right?"

NFL owners, including Jerry Jones: "You betcha!"

Hypothetical voice of reason: "OK, then. You know it's very likely that if we go ahead with these replacement officials, we're going to look really foolish, get ripped like crazy by media and our broadcast partners and a few of our teams are probably going to lose games we should have won. That's OK with you guys too?"

NFL owners, including Jerry Jones: "Well, is any of that going to affect TV ratings, attendance or advertising revenue?"

Hypothetical voice of reason: "Nope. Not one bit. We'll actually probably keep setting records for that stuff."

NFL owners, including Jerry Jones: "So, what was the problem again?"

Face it, the NFL's owners are fine with things the way they are and aren't about to change the way they're operating this situation. This is what they wanted, and they don't see anything wrong with the way it's working out. That's why Jones can come out and ask us to believe he didn't see the game and didn't get any calls about it. He and the rest of his fellow owners know you're going to keep buying their product no matter how they present it to you. So why should he act as though anything's wrong?

How the Seahawks bottled up Dez Bryant

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
2:08
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As I've already written, my first impression when I watched the Dallas Cowboys' loss to the Seahawks on Sunday was that Seattle beat them by challenging them physically and winning all over the field. Specifically, though, this worked with the big Seahawks defensive backs against the Cowboys' wide receivers. Even more specifically, Tim MacMahon has a look at the way those defensive backs handled Dez Bryant all day by jamming him at the line of scrimmage:
Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 195) jammed Bryant at the line of scrimmage on the majority of snaps in Sunday's loss. He didn't catch a single pass against that type of coverage. He simply didn't get open, with Tony Romo targeting Bryant only twice after a corner jammed him.

"That's what good press corners do to you," coach Jason Garrett said. "You have to keep fighting and keep battling. Typically, what happens is the game feels a little uncomfortable to you when you play a style of defense like that. It's hard. It's not like you have free access and you just get into your route and everything is comfortable. Everything's hard."

The good news for Bryant and the Cowboys is that very few teams, if any, have cornerbacks big and physical enough to play that style of coverage against Bryant. The bad news is that, having seen it on film, other teams may be more inclined to challenge Bryant at the line of scrimmage even if they normally wouldn't play that way, figuring it's the best way to get him off his game. Bryant has the physical tools to make defensive backs look very bad if he can get off the line against them, but if all you need to do is wrestle with him at little bit at the snap in order to get him into a game-long funk, it may be worth a shot.

This is part of Bryant's development, of course, in his third year as an NFL wide receiver. But that third year is generally a big one for a receiver's development, and the Cowboys need Bryant to be able to win his matchups consistently, even if he's seeing a variety of different coverages. As with everything else, the extent to which Bryant learns from Sunday's bad experience will determine whether it was a valuable educational tool or a sign of more trouble to come down the road.

Why didn't the Cowboys blitz more?

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
4:50
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Tim MacMahon is wondering, as many of you are, why Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't call more blitzes in an attempt to rattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson in Sunday's game. It's a good question, and one for which Tim doesn't expect an answer until Friday, which is the day on which Ryan deigns to speak to the media and explain himself to the public. All we can know for sure in the meantime is that the defensive game plan Ryan drew up didn't work:
Ryan called only six blitzes on Wilson’s 25 dropbacks. And this came after Wilson went 6-of-18 for 47 yards and was sacked three times against five-plus-man pressure in a Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, according to numbers crunched by ESPN Stats & Information.

It’s not like Wilson burned the Cowboys when they blitzed. He was 3-of-5 for only 21 yards and was sacked once.

Wilson, who had plenty of time in the pocket against the Cowboys’ three- and four-man rushes, completed 12 of 15 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown when Dallas didn’t blitz. He also scrambled three times for 26 yards and was sacked once, in garbage time.

Ryan didn't blitz often last year, and we assumed that was because he didn't trust his cornerbacks to cover. This year's cornerbacks can cover, and cover quite well, so the assumption was that he'd blitz more. He blitzed Eli Manning more in the opener than he did last year, though still not a remarkable amount.

Now, the Cowboys did fall behind very quickly 10-0 on Sunday, and once that happened it was fair to assume the Seahawks would try to pummel them with the run game (which they did, to great success). And so it's possible that the plan was to blitz more but the plan had to be changed to account for the likelihood of more run plays. Regardless, as Tim points out, if DeMarcus Ware isn't going to be able to beat substandard tackles and generate pressure of his own, the Cowboys' pass rush isn't going to be very imposing whether they blitz or not. I'm interested to hear this explained as the week goes along, but in the end I think it gets back to the point I made earlier today. I think the Cowboys were manhandled on the road by a physically tougher team, and I think that got them out of many things they likely planned to do.


SEATTLE -- The Dallas Cowboys want to be taken seriously in the NFL. They don't want to be known as a team with all the hype but no substance.

The Cowboys didn't respond well Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. After a 27-7 defeat at Century Link Field, one thing is clear: The Cowboys are not ready for the big stage.

There were five drops, two turnovers and two costly penalties that hurt the Cowboys. It wasn't a terrible performance, but the Cowboys came up small after such a statement victory 11 days ago over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

What it means: The Cowboys failed to take any momentum with them following the season-opening victory against the Giants. It was an opportunity for the Cowboys to maintain a one-game lead over the Giants and remain tied with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Now just two weeks into the season, the Cowboys raised questions about their ability to become an elite team.

SportsNation

What was the most disappointing aspect of the Cowboys' loss to the Seahawks?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,068)

Defense doesn't respond: Yes, it was hard to stop the Seattle running game, but this was bad. The Cowboys failed to pressure rookie quarterback Russell Wilson on a consistent basis and didn't stop the run overall. Marshawn Lynch rushed 26 times for 122 yards and one touchdown. Wilson completed 15 of 20 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate laid a hit on Sean Lee, knocking him briefly from the game, and DeMarcus Ware was also hit hard on a run play. There was no response from the defense, but it's not totally to blame for this one. It did allow just six first-half points, but it's a 60-minute game. Despite losing several players to injuries, the D didn't play well in the second half.

Offense struggles: It's not Tony Romo's fault that tight end Jason Witten dropped three passes or Dez Bryant dropped two, but overall, the run game didn't get going. DeMarco Murray rushed for just 44 yards. The protection was there at times for Romo, but he just couldn't get to his prime receiving threats in Miles Austin, Bryant and Witten. Romo did overthrow a wide-open Bryant and had miscommunications with other receivers. He had a loud discussion with receiver Kevin Ogletree after one series in which receivers coach Jimmy Robinson stepped in.

Time to move on from Felix: We're not saying cut the backup running back, but Felix Jones' fumble on the opening kickoff and his questionable decisions on kick returns, leaving 5 and 8 yards deep, didn't look good. The Cowboys have to find a playmaker on this unit. Jones returned five kicks for a 21.8 average and didn't make an impact.

Injuries: Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), Alex Albright (stinger), Kenyon Coleman (unknown), Barry Church (quad), Lee (checked for concussion) and Marcus Spears (leg) suffered injuries. Lee and Spears returned.

What's next?: The Cowboys will have their home opener next Sunday at Cowboys Stadium against Tampa Bay. The health of several key players will have to be evaluated.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Seahawks

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
12:46
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As the Dallas Cowboys get ready to play the Seahawks later this afternoon in Seattle, here's one reason for Cowboys fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Cowboys' receivers should have enough speed to take advantage of the weaknesses in the Seattle secondary. The Seahawks' cornerbacks are unusually big and physical, and likely will try to disrupt Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree at the line. But if they cannot do that, Tony Romo should be able to find at least one of them open downfield, potentially for a big play. A high-scoring game will favor Dallas, and it likely would feature several long pass plays since the Seattle defense gets shakier the further back it goes.

Cause for concern: The Dallas defense looked great in Week 1 against the Giants' pass-heavy attack, but they will get a very different challenge in Week 2 as the Seahawks try and run the ball down their throats with Marshawn Lynch. It will be important for the defensive line and the inside linebackers to stay patient and strong up front to slow down the Seattle run game and limit big gains there. The Seahawks will want to control the clock and keep the ball out of Romo's hands as much as possible, and this week's defensive challenge is quite different from last week's.

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