FRISCO, Texas — As good as the Dallas Cowboys feel about themselves following last Sunday’s epic 40-39 comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons, they are not in denial about their shortcomings, especially on defense.
The Cowboys (1-1) have offered little resistance in their first two games. They rank 24th in the NFL in yards allowed, have recorded just one turnover and only two sacks and opposing offenses have converted half of their third-down chances.
Owner Jerry Jones readily admits “we got some serious work to do” on defense.
What he didn’t say is that they have little time to do it with a match-up at the Seattle Seahawks (2-0) and sizzling quarterback Russell Wilson set for Sunday.
Wilson, who is playing as well as anyone in the league, leads the NFL with nine touchdown passes and a passer rating of 140.0.
He is the fourth quarterback with at least nine touchdown passes through the first two weeks of a season in league history, joining New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (2009), Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (2018) and retired Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (2013). Both Mahomes and Manning would go on to win league MVP that season.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick called Wilson the league’s best player before watching him throw a career-high five touchdown passes in a 35-30 loss last Sunday.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is equally impressed. Before Wilson was drafted by the Seahawks in 2012, McCarthy, who was coaching the Green Bay Packers back then, would watch Wilson when he was quarterback at Wisconsin.
“He’s playing at a great level,” McCarthy said. “He’s always been a dynamic player. I’ve had a chance to go up against Russell a bunch of times, have the utmost respect for him. This is the best I’ve seen him play. Just the big plays he’s put on films the first two weeks of the season are exciting. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
The Cowboys will have to figure out a way to meet that challenge, given their subpar play through the first two games and the added burden of losing yet another defensive starter to injury.
Cornerback Chido Awuzie will miss several weeks due a hamstring injury, joining linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Anthony Brown who were already sidelined.
It doesn’t help that rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs, missed practice on Wednesday with a shoulder injury, although he is expected to play.
The Cowboys are going to be hard pressed to cover receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett from making big plays down the field, especially with Wilson’s ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays with his feet.
“He generates so many plays above the normal time clock, just a basic drop back or an action pass,” McCarthy said. “He can make all of the throws. He can really spin it. I mean, his long ball accuracy has been off the charts the first two weeks. He’s had a number of big-time dime throws. The biggest thing is just try to keep the big plays to a minimum.”
That’s easier said than done for a Cowboys defense that had trouble getting to traditional drop back quarterbacks in Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams and Matt Ryan of the Falcons in the first two games.
Getting to Wilson and getting him on the ground will be even tougher.
“Our goal for this week is keep Russell in the pocket, don’t let him scramble and we have to do that by getting back there, generating pressure,” said defensive end Everson Griffen. “These past two games, we haven’t been generating pressure. We’ve got to do a better job at generating pressure. We got to be smart with our rushes and we can’t have no drive-by rushes. We have to pin down on the tackles’ outside edge, collapse the pocket and get in his face and be able to affect him early and often.”