By Chris Cluff
When the Seahawks face the Falcons, the NFC’s top seed, in a divisional playoff game today in Atlanta, playing for the right to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, a big key will be whether the Hawks can control the high-powered passing game of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez.
A lot has been written and said about the matchup between the 6-foot, 211-pound White and the 6-3, 220-pound Jones against Seattle’s even bigger corners, 6-4, 221-pound Brandon Browner and 6-3, 195-pound Richard Sherman.
But perhaps the biggest player in that equation will be 6-3, 248-pound Bruce Irvin.
With leading sacker Chris Clemons out for the rest of the playoffs, the Seahawks need Irvin, their first-round pick, to step up and bring Ryan down.
The training wheels are off for Irvin, whom the team took with the 15th pick last April because they loved his speed. Irvin led NFL rookies with eight sacks this season, setting a team rookie record. They were second on the team to Clemons’ 11.5, but they came in a part-time role on passing downs.
Now Irvin will have to show he can be a three-down player.
“This is Bruce’s opportunity,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters last week. “It’s what we drafted him to play. And we’ll see how he does. We expect him to do really well as he steps up.
“He’s been prepared for it. It won’t be a big transition, other than just playing time.”
Irvin was able to play behind and with Clemons all season but now will be counted on heavily to carry the pass-rush load.
“Clem has done a great job of preparing me for situations like this,” Irvin told the TNT. “Clem helps me a lot with my technique: proper angles, hand placement and stuff like that. But it’s about the dog inside you, man. It’s me against you. You’ve got to win your one-on-one battles and hold the edge. I’ll be all right.”
Irvin had a huge sack of Robert Griffin III at Washington last week and also got a couple of other QB hits and knocked down a pass by Kirk Cousins. He knows he is going to have to do just as well against Ryan.
Irvin will be going up against left tackle Sam Baker, who played for Carroll at USC. Baker, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2008, gave up just 3.5 sacks this season.
Some are concerned he will not hold up against the run, but he points out the Falcons are not a running team. They averaged just 87.3 yards per game and 3.7 per carry this season.
Irvin knows the key will be getting to Ryan.
“People talk about me playing the run,” he told the TNT. “I could see if we were playing San Francisco, but we’re playing Atlanta. … If we don’t get there and pressure (Ryan), it’s going to be a long day for us.”
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Seahawks news, see CBS Sports Seattle.
Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.