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Scout's Eye: Third Down Conversions Are The Key Stat

Posted Oct 10, 2014


Cowboys Win If:

I thought one of the best games to study when preparing for this game against the Seahawks was their matchup against the San Diego Chargers in Week 2. The way the Chargers were able to attack the Seahawks was impressive because they managed to put them in several bad situations without making huge chunk plays.

Phillip Rivers was content to stay ahead of the chains and take what the Seahawks were willing to give him with some timely draws and simple pass plays underneath to backs and tight ends. The Chargers ran 75 offensive snaps to the Seahawks’ 40 that day and held a time of possession advantage of 42:15 to 17:45.

Maybe the most telling stat from that game was that the Chargers were an incredible 10-of-17 on third down. The Cowboys come into this game leading the league in third down conversions at 54 percent, while the Seahawks’ defense at home is getting off the field 43 percent of the time -- which puts them in the middle of the pack.

Where this game will hinge for the Cowboys is staying ahead of the chains offensively. Manageable downs and distances are going to give them the opportunity to keep the ball away from this Seahawks offense. There are going to be some snaps for this Cowboys offense where things are not going to go well, but if they can play with patience and take what the Seahawks are willing to give, they have a shot to do the same thing to the Seahawks that the Chargers did.

Seahawks Win If:

There are so many ways the Seahawks attack your defensive scheme, but it all starts with Russell Wilson. In my opinion, he is the key in this game for them.

If the Cowboys don’t handle him in this game, he will make it very difficult for them to win. The problem in trying to defend Wilson is that he rarely makes any mistakes with the ball. He is more willing to take the ball and run up the field instead of throwing it up for grabs, and that presents problems. Where Wilson also puts the defenses in a bind is his ability to throw the ball on the run. In all of my years of scouting players, I have never seen a right handed quarterback break to his left and throw the ball with the velocity and accuracy that Wilson has shown. He can put the ball right on the money for some back breaking plays.

Where teams have had some success defending him is if you can build the rush around him by pushing the middle and keeping the edges tight and force him to throw moving straight back in the pocket. The Chargers were able to do that this season and the Cardinals in 2013. If you can get him to retreat in the pocket, two things happen -- he will either eat the ball and take the sack, or he will attempt to throw it into the stands. This Cowboys defense is going to have to play with discipline and focus to combat with all the tricks that Wilson has up his sleeve. If they play him any other way he will make it a very long day for them.
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