Photo Credit: seahawks.com
Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Site: Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Georgia)
On January 13th in the NFC Divisional playoffs, the Seahawks erased a 27-7 deficit and with 31 seconds remaining in regulation, the Seahawks held a 28-27 lead over the Atlanta Falcons. If they had held Atlanta it would have been the biggest comeback in franchise history and would have carried the Seahawks to the NFC Championship Game. Key words: would have. The Seahawks could not protect 35 yards in less than 30 seconds and the Falcons kicked a game winning field goal to win the game and end Seattle’s season.
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
On Sunday, the Seahawks return to the Georgia Dome to face a 2-6 Falcons team that has arguably been the NFL’s most disappointing team of the 2013 season. The Seahawks are 8-1 and are looking to maintain their NFC West lead and while the Falcons have not mailed their season in just yet, they are looking to play spoiler and try to build some sort or momentum into the weeks ahead. Seattle leads the all-time series with Atlanta 8-6. Here is what you need to watch for this week against the Falcons.
Last week at home the Seahawks patchwork offensive line did not allow a sack of quarterback Russell Wilson but the pressure provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense did flush him out of the pocket on many plays. Two weeks ago against the Rams, Wilson was sacked 7 times. That game was on the road and parallels what Wilson and the offensive line faces again this week. Until Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini come back from their injuries I feel obligated to continually make the Seahawks offensive line and passing game my number one thing to watch on offense, especially in road games. After the pressure patterns that have forced Wilson out of the pocket the past couple of weeks, I believe screen passes must be a focal point of our offensive gameplan against the Falcons. Last week against Tampa Bay Doug Baldwin led all Seahawks receivers with 75 receiving yards and a touchdown. Baldwin must make a big impact again this week. Of passes caught by wide receivers last week, all but one went to three different receivers (Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Jermaine Kearse). Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters made no impact in last week’s game and I believe it will be the same story this week in Atlanta. The wild-card this week will be Golden Tate. Tate can catch screen passes while also creating room to run in the open field and he can go up and grab deep passes. If Baldwin is used short and if Kearse is targeted for moderate-length passes, it will be Tate that Atlanta should worry the most about, as he can catch any type of pass that Darrell Bevell calls.
“Roddy White? Top 100? No. I just don’t think he’s a top 100 player.” This came from cornerback Richard Sherman during NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2013” countdown during this past offseason. After Sherman’s trash talk going into last year’s Divisional playoff game and after White beat Sherman on a deep 47-yard touchdown early in that game there has been subtle tension between these two players over the past 10 months. Call it a rivalry or call it a competition, this matchup will be the one to keep an eye out for when the Seahawks are on defense. White has not played since October 7th when he injured his hamstring and he believes he will be ready to go this week. With Julio Jones out for the season, White, regardless of his health status, instantly becomes the Falcons number one wide receiver moving forward with Harry Douglas on the opposite side.
Although I suggest keeping an eye on Sherman and White, that does not mean I think that is the most important matchup for the Seahawks on defense. The secondary has done a good job shutting down receivers wide and deep the past few weeks and this week should be no different. What hurt us down the stretch of last year’s playoff game could be the same thing that gives the Seahawks defense problems this week; stopping the middle of the field and shutting down Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. If Seattle can stop the Atlanta running game to force third downs, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan likes to throw in Gonzalez’s direction in the middle of the field. A strong performance by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright could limit Gonzalez’s effectiveness and will force punts. Man-to-Man coverage and limiting separation for the Falcons wide receivers could be a big ally for the Seahawks this week. Expect a conservative passing game from Ryan this week to prevent throwing into the Legion of Boom.
One of the weaknesses of the Seattle defense over the past two weeks has been stopping the run. They’ve given up an average of 202.5 rushing yards per game over this span. That does not bode well against the Falcons as they feature two very talented, yet very different running backs; power back Steven Jackson and the speedy, agile Jacquizz Rodgers. Having said this, the Falcons rank last in the league in rushing yards per game. If the Falcons are competitive and make this a close game, I believe it will be because of Jackson and Rodgers. The difference in running styles could be a disadvantage for a Seahawks defense that tends to gravitate towards making bone-rattling hits instead of fundamental tackling. The potential absence of defense end Red Bryant could also play a factor in the effectiveness of the Falcons running game. On the other hand, the Seahawks have seen Jackson twice a year dating back to 2004 so they understand what it takes to stop him. I believe if the Falcons offense shows they can be productive in the running game early on, they will try to ride Jackson and Rodgers for most of the game. One other thing to note in the Atlanta running game is the way carries are split. In their last two games, Steven Jackson has gotten 77.4 percent of the carries while Jacquizz Rodgers has gotten the remaining 22.6 percent. I think it is safe to expect a more even split-up of carries this week and the hotter hand could wind up seeing more playing time. To start the game however, expect Steven Jackson to get the first chance in the backfield and if he gets off to a cold start, they may hold off on giving Rodgers carries to try to see if they can get Jackson going later on in the first half.
The Falcons have added many new faces on defense this season and they feature an interesting mix of veteran leadership and youth in each level of the defense. According to the official Falcons depth chart on their website, their three starting linebackers have 4 years of NFL experience combined, including two rookies. It will be necessary to spotlight how the Falcons use these young linebackers when rushing the passer. Although Atlanta averages only 2 sacks per game they are facing their easiest challenge of the season as they will go up against both Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie on the left and right sides respectively. My X-Factor player to watch this week for the Falcons is rookie outside linebacker Joplo Bartu. Bartu is tied for 3rd on the team with 2.5 sacks on the season and has also recorded 42 tackles which ranks 2nd on the team. Although veteran pass rushers Osi Umenyiora and Corey Peters have been productive and cannot go unnoticed, Bartu adds a dynamic in the second level of the Atlanta defense that could give both our passing game and running game trouble. Don’t be surprised to see the Falcons use Bartu in blitz formations against Seahawks right tackle Michael Bowie. Whether he blitzes on any given play or not, the confusion that Bartu could potentially create could allow Umenyiora, Peters, or a different Falcons defensive end to beat Bowie off of the line, creating problems for Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense.
Random Thoughts: After this game 4 of our remaining 6 games are at home. I may be stating the obvious but that is a huge advantage for us moving forward… Along the same lines (sort of) I am going to one of our remaining two road games so after we play Atlanta I will only watch one more regular season Seahawks game on television… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch have the call for FOX this week. The last Seahawks game they broadcasted was our loss to the Indianapolis Colts in week 5. Bad omen? Maybe… Bill Vinovich is the referee this week… My prediction: white jerseys and white pants this week, the same combination we wore in Atlanta in the playoffs last season… It’s sad that Tony Gonzalez came back for one final season to a “contender” but the Falcons season has not gone as they planned. If I were him I would have asked for a trade to a contending team at the trade deadline… This is our first 10am start since losing to the Colts… Only one more 10am kickoff after this game… A win in fantasy football this week would put me at 4-6 and a playoff push could be in my future… The Falcons do something that really annoys me. Try to hear the Georgia Dome PA announcer when the Seahawks offense faces a 3rd down. The announcer says ttttttthhhhhhhhiiiiiiirrrrrrrddddddd down with increasing pitch tone, kind of like a game show announcer if you know what I mean. Hopefully we won’t face many third downs on offense… Go Panthers. Go Cowboys… Once again, here’s the bold prediction I have told my friends and I have posted on the blog before. If we beat Atlanta this week, we will win the NFC West and will be well on our way to home field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Prediction: I hope you guys are back to full health after the heart attacks the Seahawks gave us last week because this week is going to be the exact same story. Over the past couple of seasons there seems to be one game per year that leaves me beyond angry; closer to pissed off. It was our 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns in 2011 and our 24-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins in 2012. I get a bad feeling that it could be this game this season. The Falcons will be effective in the running game and I believe we will have significant trouble stopping the Falcons offense on third down. This game will go to overtime and the Falcons will drive down the field on their first possession and score a touchdown. If the Seahawks can win the turnover battle I think we can win but I think the Falcons will find a way to pull this one out.
We have played terrible football overall the past two weeks and unfortunately this week on the road is when I think it will finally nip us in the bud. We are the better team. Unfortunately we are not completely healthy and we would definitely win this game if we were completely healthy. Of course I hope I am wrong but with the way Seattle has played the past couple of weeks you need to take a good look in the mirror if you seriously expect the Seahawks beat the Falcons easily this week, especially on the road in a hostile environment.
Falcons 26, Seahawks 20 (OT)
Check back Sunday night for my Seahawks/Falcons review and a quick look at week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings. Enjoy the game and go Seahawks!