One word is being hammered home to the Dallas Cowboys defense this week: discipline.
It started in the team meeting Tuesday and has been preached constantly by coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in advance of Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks and their diverse offense, led by quarterback Russell Wilson.
Stay disciplined. Do your job. Read your keys. And trust your technique.
That’s the only way the Cowboys will have a chance against Wilson’s passing and scrambling from the pocket, his zone read game with bruising running back Marshawn Lynch and the sweeps and play-action off that with speedy game-changing receiver Percy Harvin.
Lynch, the league’s 11th leading rusher with 69 carries for 306 yards, has always been the focal point of Seattle’s attack with his power running game. He remains a big key, but Wilson has emerged in his third year as the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for the defending Super Bowl champions.
His ability to run the read option, bootlegs, pass and scramble has made him arguably the league’s premier movement quarterback. He will face the Cowboys fresh off NFC offensive player of the week honors following a dazzling performance in Monday night’s 27-17 victory over the Washington Redskins.
Wilson completed 18 of 24 attempts for 201 yards, two scores and a 127.3 passer rating. And that doesn’t include three touchdowns to Harvin that were called back by penalties.
He also had 11 carries for a career-high 122 yards and a touchdown, becoming one of four quarterbacks in NFL history with 200 yards passing and two touchdowns and 100 yards rushing and a touchdown in a single game.
“He is definitely the one to stop,” safety Barry Church said. “He controls the whole thing. He orchestrates everything.”
It’s the off-schedule plays that make defending Wilson most frightening, whether it’s scrambles, designed runs or Houdini-like escapes from pass rushers before completing a pass to an open receiver.
Remember the play Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo made last week against Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, when he spun out of a potential sack and threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams?
The younger, more athletic Wilson does that on a regular basis, and he did it multiple times against the Redskins.
“I think it’s natural instinct,” Wilson said. “I think you work at your craft too. I’m sure Tony does the same thing to make players miss and stuff. I have played a lot of football games, so that helps too.
“I trust my instincts. I trust the guys working for me in the offensive line. If something is not there, then try to get something positive out of the play, whether it’s throwing it away, whether it’s running for it or looking downfield and hitting someone downfield.”
The defenders who will be under the most pressure to contain Wilson are the members of the defensive line. They have to rush in their lanes, they have to rush under control and they have to stay disciplined.
The defensive ends can’t relax because of the threat of a bootleg or a fly sweep to Harvin.
“It goes back to discipline, man,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “If you watch films on guys, guys are getting out of their gaps and over-pursuing. You can’t blame them. They’re just trying to make a play.
“With this team, you’ve got to be focused and disciplined and swarm the ball and have a bunch of hats on Marshawn and just be aware of Russell’s feet.”
Wilson and the Seahawks are such a challenge because of their diversity on offense and constant movement. The Cowboys will have to slow down their pass rush to make sure they stay disciplined in their technique. That’s normally unheard of in a Marinelli-led defense that focuses primarily on rushing the quarterback.
“Yeah, the quarterback is a really good player,” Garrett said. “There is no question about that. He’s very good throwing from the pocket. He’s very good in space. He’s got a good feel for the game.”