For a team that’s been to consecutive Super Bowls while going 25-7, the mere mention of the number makes players and coaches shudder.
Five hundred. As in, an even winning percentage. As many victories as defeats halfway through the regular season.
Thanks to a malfunctioning first half, .500 is precisely what the Seattle Seahawks (3-4) are playing for Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys (2-4) at AT&T Stadium.
“I feel horrible about that we’re still there, we’re still trying to get there. It’s too long into the season,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “But if we can turn it now and get that going, then we’ll try to make a big push and keep focusing.”
Yet it’s really the way they are living right now. That’s because of a defense that has yet to be whole — Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor’s holdout (two games) and All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner’s pectoral injury — or play complete games.
It’s also because of a leaky offensive line that’s allowed a league-high 31 sacks of Russell Wilson, who is keeping up completion rates of 70 percent despite all the heat. And now left tackle Russell Okung, the only blue-chip draft choice on that line (sixth overall, 2010), is questionable to play after turning his ankle in practice Thursday.
If he can’t start, Alvin Bailey would be opposite Cowboys pass-rushing menace Greg Hardy.
No wonder Wilson has been getting two-hour massages five days each week.
“It’s a big part of being a professional, being a professional athlete, is taking care of yourself,” he said. “It’s kind of a major part, so it’s not like finding time. It’s really just in the schedule.”
The pass-protection issue has affected Seattle’s entire team. That includes a lack of sustained drives and red-zone ineffectiveness (five touchdowns in 15 trips inside the 20, the league’s lowest TD rate) on offense to a defense playing with less of a margin for error on the scoreboard and having to defend shorter fields.
Last week’s 20-3 domination of San Francisco said less of how far Seattle has recovered from four losses in its first six games and more about how bad the 49ers (2-5) are right now. The Seahawks’ issues may or may not be improving.
Did someone say issues?
Dallas has enough to fill a 10-gallon hat.
The Cowboys have lost four in a row — all the games quarterback Tony Romo has missed with a broken clavicle. He’s not due back until Nov. 22.
In his place, Brandon Weeden lost all three of his starts and threw two interceptions. Matt Cassel, Carroll’s backup to Matt Leinart at USC 11 years ago, started last week and threw three interceptions. Cassel will make his fourth start in two seasons Sunday against a Seahawks defense that thinks it’s getting back to its top-rated self.
“I really do think they’re one of the best defenses in the league, and we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” Cassel said. “And we know also that we have to expect a physical game because I think that’s what that defense is built off of, is being physical.”
Cassel’s three interceptions weren’t even the low point in the Cowboys’ loss to the Giants. It was Hardy shouting and gesturing on the team’s sideline at Dallas’ special-teams coach and his players for giving up a Giants touchdown. Hardy was two games into his return from an NFL suspension to start the season after a judge in North Carolina ruled it was likely the defensive end assaulted his ex-girlfriend, though the case ended when the alleged victim would not testify.
This week Cowboys running back Joseph Randle, the replacement for the departed DeMarco Murray, got miffed at losing his starting job to Darren McFadden, according to one report in the national media. ESPN reported the NFL has determined Randle violated the league’s personal conduct policy and could be suspended. In February, police in Wichita, Kansas, arrested him for marijuana possession after a call about a domestic-violence incident with a weapon involving Randle and the mother of his son.
Lately, the Big D stands for “Disarray.”
“The biggest thing we try to do is focus on our football team, and everybody coming to work every day,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Just try to be their best and certainly be their best on Sunday afternoon. And we all want to do it together. We believe in the culture of our football team, and the guys that we have and their commitment to this team and to each other.”
There’s more. Beyond Romo being out, Dallas has been without its best player for the past five games. All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant broke a bone in his foot in the opener, but returned to full 11-on-11 drills in practice Thursday. The Seahawks expect Bryant to play Sunday.
That means to expect a face off between All-Pros with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman shadowing Bryant all over the field, as Sherman has done effectively against top receivers from Green Bay, Cincinnati and San Francisco this season.
“It’s just good coaching in our minds,” Seahawks first-year defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “Taking our best guy and putting it on their best guy. At the end of the day we’ll see who comes out victorious.”
The Seahawks’ advantage in this one is they have far less adjusting to do than these reeling Cowboys. The Seahawks are 21-4 in November and December the past three seasons.
“This is a significant opportunity,” Carroll said, “to kick that into high gear.”
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (3-4) at DALLAS COWBOYS (2-4)
1:25 p.m. Sunday, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: Dallas leads the regular-season series, 10-5, including six wins in eight games in Texas, plus last season’s upset win in Seattle. The Cowboys haven’t lost to the Seahawks at home in 13 years, since Oct. 27, 2002. Shaun Alexander and Emmitt Smith traded fourth-quarter touchdown runs before Rian Lindell’s 20-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining won it for the Seahawks. Seattle has won the only postseason meeting, in January 2007 when Tony Romo dropped the hold on a game-winning field goal attempt.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Capitalize on all this: The Seahawks are finally feeling whole on defense, with even reserve DT Jordan Hill expected back from injury. This first day of November begins a month in which the Seahawks play a team that’s been a mess through four straight losses. They then have their bye and three home games. If the offense can even be semi-productive over the next four weeks, Seattle should be 7-4 entering December. If not, this championship-minded team will have only itself to blame.
Sherman vs. Bryant: It’s as star-powered a faceoff as the Seahawks will have this season. Their All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman opposite Dallas All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is expected back from a foot injury for his first action in six games. Last season in Seattle an injury to then-Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell put Sherman of Bryant for 48 snaps, six targets and two catches. This expected showdown will be the best game within this game. But beware: It would leave Terrance Williams on Seattle’s up-and-down CB Cary Williams.
Handle the blitz: Dallas doesn’t do it much; Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable says the Cowboys pick their spots. This is a spot they will choose. Seattle’s line with starters in three new positions has allowed an NFL-high 31 sacks. Each foe has been sending everybody except the equipment guy at Russell Wilson, who’s been running for his well-being if not yards, avoiding at least a half-dozen sacks each week. There has to be a game the Seahawks begin solving what they know is coming.
Seahawks, 16-9. The offense will run Marshawn Lynch just well enough to overcome its ongoing issues in pass protection. The defense will make Matt Cassel wish he was Pete Carroll’s backup at USC again. Just can’t see Seattle getting beaten by a third-string QB that wasn’t even with Dallas when this season began.
He is one yard from 9,000 career rushing yards and 41 yards from 11,000 total yards from scrimmage.
The brighter the lights, the bigger he usually plays — and talks. The lights will be glaring if he shadows Dez Bryant.
NFC’s defensive player of the week after 3 1/2 sacks at 49ers will chase not-exactly-fast fill-in QB Matt Cassel
Was last week’s 152 yards rushing against the Giants a return to prominence or an Oakland mirage.
Perhaps he shouldn’t be on any field, but he is, and he will attack Seattle’s biggest weakness — pass protection.
Expected return of its best player is Dallas’ best chance to stem its team disarray.