By Matthew Asher
For the third straight week, Seattle is playing against a team that, on paper, they should crush. But with the past two games coming down to the wire (and then some against Tampa Bay in overtime), nothing is a given. If the Seahawks want to remain undefeated against the NFC this season, here are three keys to ensuring their ninth win of the season.
3. Force Atlanta to beat you with their running game.
This year the Falcons were supposed to get a huge upgrade in their running game with the addition of Steven Jackson. It hasn’t exactly panned out the way they were hoping, with Jackson only playing in four of Atlanta’s eight games so far, thanks to an injury he suffered in Week 2 against his former team.
There’s no nice way to say this: Atlanta’s rushing attack is dreadful. Averaging 64.4 yards per game is the absolute worst in the league. Even with Jackson back in the lineup, Atlanta is still using backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who leads the team in rushing attempts, yards and rushing touchdowns, on occasion to give Jackson time to get back into playing shape. Rodgers and Jackson have combined for 360 rushing yards on 105 carries for a less than awe-inspiring 3.4 yards per attempt.
2. Don’t turn the ball over.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a little more in depth than win the turnover battle because Atlanta does a terrible job of holding onto the ball and an even worse job of forcing turnovers. The Falcons defense has forced only six fumbles and interceptions apiece while they’ve thrown 10 interceptions and coughed up five fumbles for a negative-seven in the turnover department, the fifth worst in the league. Seattle is currently at plus-six, the sixth best ratio in the league.
1. Shut Down Tony Gonzalez
Even with Roddy White injured the entire season so far and Julio Jones now out for the rest of the season, the Atlanta Falcons still average almost 290 passing yards each game, the fifth best in the league. Matt Ryan may no longer be on pace to break his current personal bests, but he’s not far off. He’s on pace to throw for almost 4,900 yards and 30 touchdowns.
With White’s status still unknown for this game, expect Ryan to turn to his security blanket in the form of a 6’5”, 247 pound sure fire first-ballot Hall of Fame tight end, Tony Gonzalez. Even when Julio Jones was in the lineup, Tony Gonzalez was doing his part to keep Atlanta in every game. In back-to-back weeks against the New England Patriots and New York Jets Gonzalez was double-teamed through the majority of the game. It didn’t matter as he pulled in 22 receptions for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
Gonzalez still leads the Falcons in receptions and touchdowns with 44 and four, respectively. Seattle’s best bet to neutralize Gonzalez is to have their best defender match-up with him anytime he’s on the field. If Ryan has to beat the Seahawks with Harry Douglas and ‘Quizz Rodgers as his primary options, so be it.
Kickoff is scheduled for 10 am PDT.
For more Seahawks news and updates, visit Seahawks Central.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.