Countdown to kickoff

ARLINGTON, Texas – Greetings from Cowboys Stadium, or the entertainment center for the world’s largest TV screens. Oh, and also the home of a 3-4 Cowboys team that hosts the 2-5 Seahawks today, with kickoff and TV coverage on Fox set for 10 a.m. PST.

First, a good news/bad news situation. The bad? The last two times the Seahawks have played the Cowboys they’ve been outscored 72-26, with both losses in the Lone Star state. The good? Only eight players on the 53-man roster played in the last game – Nov. 1, 2009.

More good news? The fans and media in Big D are more frustrated with the Cowboys than those who inhabit Seahawks Nation are with their club. Impossible, you say. Well, the ’Boys, as they’re called down here, had higher expectations coming into this season, so that 3-4 record is not cutting it – especially after last week’s embarrassing 34-7 loss to the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles, on national TV no less.

But the Cowboys are still favored in today’s game.

If the Seahawks are going to be able to find a way to pull off another upset of an NFC East team on the road, here are some factors that will need to go their way:

Start Tarvaris Jackson – The Seahawks simply are a different, and better, offense with Jackson at quarterback. He understands and operates the no-huddle offense better than backup Charlie Whitehurst – who started the past two games and produced three points in five quarters.

But is Jackson ready to start? Coach Pete Carroll was vaguely coy on Friday when asked about the strained pectoral in Jackson’s right shoulder. The thought earlier in the week was that Jackson was ready to return after sitting out those five quarters but then taking over in the second quarter against the Bengals last week. Jackson practiced on Wednesday and then said on Thursday that he was ready. That was before being very limited in practice that day.

Jackson did practice Friday, but afterward Carroll offered, “Tarvaris does not feel great. He’s barely making it through practice. But he did.” And that leads to …

Protect the passer – Be it Jackson or Whitehurst, the Seahawks need to do a better job in pass protection. They have allowed a league-high 28 sacks – 20 for Jackson and eight for Whitehurst.

Today, they’ll be staring down the daunting task that is trying to block DeMarcus Ware, who got four of his 12 sacks in last week’s loss to the Eagles. The dude is a force, as evidenced by his 84 sacks since the start of the 2006 season, tops in the NFL.

Then there’s coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme, which allows Ware to move around more than he has in past seasons. Friday, Ryan labeled his unit’s efforts against the Eagles “a dud.” He also gave reporters who cover the team this assessment of what he’ll do regarding what the Seahawks might try to do:

“If teams want to open it up, hell, we’ll knock the quarterback out. If they’re going to max protect, we’d rather cover and get off the field than try to go after some sack record.”

That last part? It was a reference to Ware being on pace to break the NFL single-season sack record of 22 that was set by the Giants’ Michael Strahan.

Stop the run – No problem for the Seahawks defense, right? Not in their first seven games, when the Seahawks have allowed the lowest per-rush average in the league (3.2 yards). But the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray has averaged 9.9 yards a carry the past two weeks while subbing for an injured Felix Jones.

The Seahawks need to continue to be stout against the run, because …

Which Tony Romo shows up? – The Seahawks coaches have been gushing about the Cowboys QB all week. But Romo has not consistently been that passer.

Yes, he has completed 62.7 percent of his throws. Yes, he has almost 2,000 passing yards. Yes, his passer rating is 89.7. But Romo also has served up too many oh-no throws.

So the easier-said-than-done plan for the Seahawks is to put Romo into must-pass situations and then pressure him into mistakes.

We’ll be back later with the inactives for each team, and there could be some significant situations. The Cowboys already have ruled out cornerback Mike Jenkins and Jones. If linebacker Sean Lee plays, it will be with a cast on the left wrist the Cowboys’ leading tackler dislocated last week. Mat McBriar also is questionable because the Pro Bowl punter has a nerve problem in his left foot. Chris Jones was signed off the practice squad Saturday incase McBriar can’t go.

For the Seahawks, defensive tackle Alan Branch is questionable, and he has been big key – literally – in the success against the run.


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