Reporting Jason A. Churchill
In the past eight days, the Seattle Seahawks have laid two eggs. One versus the Rams at St. Louis on Monday Night Football, and another Sunday at CenturyLink against the winless Tampa Bay Bucs. They won both games, despite playing poorly for much of each game in many areas. If they do it again Sunday at Atlanta, they’ll fly home losers.
The Atlanta Falcons are not a good football team. They rank at No. 17 in total offense, No. 16 in total defense and are 2-6 on the season. They are without wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game — partially because their defense allows 27 points per game, 7th worst in football, and can’t get off the field on third downs — they rank No. 30 in the league at 45.8 percent at third down conversions on defense.
Even considering all of that, the Falcons are better equipped to take advantage of significant Seahawks shortcomings. How? Two words: Matt Ryan.
Ryan is among the top six or eight quarterbacks in the league, despite the loss of his two best outside receivers and the 10 interceptions he’s thrown. The way teams have beaten the Falcons this season is by forcing them to throw the ball predictably. To do that, those teams have stopped the run early and scored points offensively. The Hawks have had problems doing both the past two weeks.
Ryan still has weapons, too, in the greatest tight end of all time in Tony Gonzalez, and wide receiver Harry Douglas, who has 22 catches for 352 yards over the past three weeks, and has shown he and Ryan are on the same page.
The two backs that lit up Seattle of late — Zac Stacy of the Rams and Mike James of the Buccaneers, are very similar in size, speed and style. Both are Shorter — Stacy at 5-foot-8, James at 5-foot-10, but both have power bursts and run through poor technique on tackles.
That type of runner exists in Atlanta, too. Jacquizz Rodgers is 5-foot-6 and 200 pounds with the exact same style as Stacy and James. The Falcons also employ Steven Jackson, who is a power threat, but has lost the burst he once had in St. Louis. Still, the Seahawks’ poor tackling will haunt them if it shows up again. Ryan will make sure of it.
The Hawks’ linebackers struggled Sunday, particularly Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, but as Robbie Tobeck told us on The Steve Sandmeyer Show Monday, it’s not all on the linebacker corps. The defensive line has some responsibility to keep blockers off the linebackers.
The Falcons will not steer Ryan clear Richard Sherman, either, so the entire field will be in play for 60 minutes. If Seattle puts Sherman on Douglas, Ryan will still throw that way. And the linebackers will have to be better against Gonzalez and Jason Snelling through the air than they were Sunday against Tampa Bay. Snelling has 16 catches this season while Gonzalez has 44 as he closes in on 15,000 receiving yards for his career.
The Hawks’ problems against the run and on third down have to be fixed if they want to hit pay dirt and find themselves in East Rutherford for the Super Bowl in February, and the best route to Jersey is home field advantage. Getting HFA may require as many as 15 victories or a win at San Francisco December 8 after a win six days earlier at home against New Orleans. Winning Sunday versus a reeling Falcons team is the best path, and the most likely one.
Unless poor tackling and discipline grows its own personality, because Ryan then will execute other plans.
- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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