A possible matchup between Richard Sherman and Dez Bryant will likely draw the bulk of the attention for Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
How Seattle’s top-ranked rushing defense fares in containing NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray figures to be more important in terms of determining the outcome.
The Seahawks look to slow down the record-setting Murray and snap the visiting Cowboys’ four-game winning streak in a showdown of teams that feature football’s best rushing attacks.
Bryant’s spectacular 37-yard catch from Tony Romo on third down in overtime last Sunday helped set up Dan Bailey’s 49-yard field goal in a 20-17 victory over Houston. The play was part of a nine-reception, 85-yard effort for Bryant, who has scored once in every game of the win streak.
Now the fifth-year pro will face a secondary led by Sherman, who had a league-high eight interceptions a year ago but has none this season.
”He’s a great corner, arguably the best in the league,” Bryant said. ”I do look forward to it, just a great battle. It’s not about that. It’s really about trying to get this ‘W.’"
Bryant may be the biggest deep threat for either offense, with both similarly built around powerful running games. Seattle (3-1) is first in the league with 167.3 rushing yards per game while Dallas (4-1) is second at 160.0.
The Cowboys have been led by Murray, who has 670 yards and five touchdowns and is the third running back in NFL history along with Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson to gain at least 100 yards in his first five games. Brown is the only one to get there in his first six games in 1958.
Murray could have problems reaching that mark again since the Seahawks are limiting opponents to 62.3 rushing yards per game. That would be the fifth-best mark in league history over a full season.
"I think if you look at that defensive front, you see a lot of good guys that they rotate through," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "… They play a lot of run-style defense, they have an eighth guy around the line of scrimmage a lot."
Seattle also features a bruising back in Marshawn Lynch, who has 306 yards, and the running attack has an extra dimension in Russell Wilson.
Wilson was named NFC offensive player of the week after he became the second quarterback to have two regular-season games in his career with 200 or more yards passing and 100 or more yards rushing in Monday’s 27-17 win at Washington. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 201 yards and two scores and ran 11 times for a career-best 122 yards and one TD.
”I don’t think running is ever part of the game plan for me really. It just kind of happens,” Wilson said. ”We want to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin and those guys. If something is not there I just try to take off and get something positive and keep the drive alive."
Wilson leads the NFC in completion percentage at 70.3, with Romo right behind him at 69.2.
The Cowboys’ signal-caller, partly benefiting from Murray’s rushing prowess, has produced a 98.5 passer rating that is the second-best mark of his career. Romo has performed well despite being limited in practice time due to ongoing back issues.
It was Romo’s first season as a starter when he famously mishandled a snap on a late field-goal attempt in a playoff loss at Seattle after the 2006 season. His only other visit there was a 27-7 loss two years ago in which the Seahawks held a 182-49 advantage in rushing yards – with 122 from Lynch.
That contest was Wilson’s home debut and his first career victory. He is 19-1 in Seattle including the postseason in what is widely considered one of the league’s best home-field advantages.
"We’re certainly going to use crowd noise," Garrett said. "That’s a big part of their home-field advantage up there, that’s well documented."
The Cowboys could be prepared for the noise since Romo revealed this week that he has been forced to use a silent count at home due to the amount of visiting fans.
Both teams are in competitive divisions.
The Seahawks are tied for first with Arizona in the NFC West, with San Francisco one-half game back. Dallas is tied with Philadelphia for first in the NFC East, with New York one behind.
The Cowboys last won five straight in 2007.
”This gives us a tremendous challenge with a little bit of cushion in every way you look at it,” owner Jerry Jones said. ”If we can go up to Seattle and come out with a win when no one is expecting it, we can build off it.”