And here we sit 302 days after our heartbreaking loss in Atlanta, sending the Seahawks home on the longest flight ever recorded in the history of earth (not really, but I am sure it seemed that way). Many things have changed since that day 43 weeks ago, both teams have taken divergent paths leading to the game this coming Sunday in Atlanta.
When the schedule came out April 16th there were a few games that Seahawk fans circled in the brightest colored crayon they could find, one of which was the Atlanta Falcons. We had a chance to return to the scene of the crime, where we were robbed of a unbelievable come from behind victory, and try to redeem a sense of retaliation.
Now that the time has come to play the game these teams look dramatically different and are playing this game for different reasons. Gone are the days of jockeying for playoff position for the Falcons, they are playing for respect and to win back their fans’ support. Seattle comes in looking to right the ship that has suddenly listed and yet maintain their 1.5 game lead in the NFC to ensure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
How does this game break down? Let’s take a look…
Atlanta comes into this game with many flaws and because of their lack of depth and creativity they have been hit relatively hard. The Falcons have been decimated by injuries to their receiving corps. They will be getting Roddy White back this week, but just how effective he will be remains to be seen.
I expect Atlanta to use his motivational return to provide an electrical spark on the field and in the crowd. Although he has played some this season his role has been more of a decoy. I suspect that he will play a larger role in their offense tomorrow and Richard Sherman better be ready for this new wrinkle in their offense. His return, coupled with Tony Gonzalez, and the emergence of Harry Douglas gives Atlanta a sustainable vertical attack, which is important because they throw on 70% of their offensive plays.
Matt Ryan comes into the game 3rd in completion percentage but is 31st in pass completion distance. This means he has been doing a lot of dinks and dunks of the football to get minimal yardage. Tony Gonzalez has been a huge component of their passing game and it doesn’t help that Seattle achilles’ heel has been coverage of TE on short routes. An ominous stat for Matt Ryan is the fact that he has thrown 7 interceptions in the last two games…yes, you heard me correctly, seven interceptions. Boy that sounds like a field-day for our big cornerbacks doesn’t it?
Steven Jackson was brought in to upgrade their running game, which has actually been statistically worse this season than last, partly due to injuries. Atlanta only rushes the ball 30% of the time and therefore their ability to control the game clock is hampered. However, I am nervous about defending against the run given the fact that we have given up 200 rushing yards in each of the last two games…to rookies.
Missing Red Bryant tomorrow will hurt our run defense for sure, but some of this can be tempered by playing Malcolm Smith, a nice run-stopping linebacker. Overall I would expect Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers to register in the neighborhood of 60 total yards rushing, which is not going to do much to change their league worst rushing attack.
Atlanta’s offensive line has been more porous than Seattle’s colander of an offensive line. Opposing defenses have been able to get pressure on Matt Ryan, even though he has only been sacked 14 times compared to Russell Wilson‘s 27 sacks. Atlanta is 30th in the league converting 3rd downs, which means that for short passes Mr. Ryan has been effective at getting the ball away but when he has to sit in the pocket for a long period of time to allow his wide receivers to get down the field he is not getting enough time and not completing his passes.
Even though the Falcon’s offense has had trouble this season it really is the defense that has caused them most concern. Osi Umenyiora was brought in to replace an aging John Abraham. They lost Kroy Biermann during game 2 for the rest of the season, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters are questionable for this game. However the Seahawks are not without issues as we are missing three starters on our offensive line. This should give their defensive line some ability to put pressure on Mr. Wilson; but watch out because, just like squeezing a balloon in your hand, he will pop out somewhere else and throw a strike. You can’t just be happy with putting pressure on Russell, but you have to contain him.
Atlanta has a very young and inexperienced secondary which will provide enough opportunity for big completions. Don’t fret because we don’t have big name receivers, our receivers are unflappable and will make the plays that need to be made against this secondary. I anticipate Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate to have big days against a weak secondary. I also expect Marshawn Lynch to run wild against their offense, I really don’t see anyway of them taming the beast. I see a lot of holes in his future and when he gets into their secondary…fogeddaboutit.
A couple of stats stand out in a testament against Atlanta. The first is the fact that they allow, a league worst, 36% conversion rate on 3rd and 10+ yards. This means that even though they may play tough on first and second down they allow a first down on 1/3 of long yardage third down attempts…how demoralizing for them. The more important stat is that they allow scoring on 47% of opposing team possessions, worst in the NFL, which bolsters the fact that they have allowed 23+ points in each of their games this season. I see a big scoring day in Seattle’s future.
When it comes down to it winning this game won’t change what happened back in January, we are still left with a sour taste in our mouth, but dominating this game will help to cleanse our palate just a little. Now is the time to rinse, spit and move on. Go Hawks!