The Seattle Seahawks travel to Atlanta on Saturday to play the Falcons in the divisional round of the National Football League playoffs. After defeating inarguably the weakest team in the NFC playoffs, the Detroit Lions, this past Saturday, the Seahawks will play a team that is a significant upgrade in quality of opponent. What will this matchup look like?
The Seahawks May Have Re-found Their Running Attack and the Falcons Offense
For a team that relied heavily on the production of its rushing attack for the last several years (and crafted the identity of a smashmouth running team), Seattle struggled for most of this season in this facet. Partly due to injuries to several running backs and partly due to the ineffectiveness of the offensive line, Seattle finished 24th in rushing in the N.F.L. in 2016. This number was by far the worst Seattle ranked in this department in a number of years.
After Saturday’s game against Detroit, however, the Seahawks should go into Atlanta with the confidence that the team will not have to rely solely on the passing of quarterback Russell Wilson to be in a position to win a game. Running back Thomas Rawls ran for 161 yards and a touchdown against Detroit. He looked like the player Seattle fans saw in 2015. Rawls ran with force and seemed to know that holes would be there. Those holes were opened by the interior of the Seahawks line: Germain Ifedi, Justin Britt and Mark Glowinski. While the pass blocking was not great even against a poor Detroit defense, the run blocking was the best Seattle has seen all year.
Atlanta ranks 29th in defensive efficiency against the run. If Seattle can find a way to consistently run the ball against the Falcons, the Seahawks will be able to gain yards, score, and maybe most importantly, keep the Falcons offense off the field.
Atlanta had the number one offense in the league in 2016. They had two running backs that combined for 24 total touchdowns. Most Valuable Player candidate and quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 38 touchdowns against seven interceptions and led the league in total QBT at 83.4. Receiver Julio Jones had 1,409 yards receiving. Atlanta is formidable offensively.
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Yes, the Seahawks defeated the Falcons earlier this year in Seattle, but that was with a healthy safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks have had time to get used to Thomas not being on the field, but this particular matchup is where Seattle may miss his presence the most.
Remember the controversial last play the Falcons had in the previous game against Seattle this year where Richard Sherman could have been called for pass interference on Jones? Thomas was also covering Jones on that play. There is no one that does what Thomas does in the league; covering the deep middle without error. How Seattle masks that absence is key to making sure the Falcons do not simply outscore Seattle.
Also, getting to Ryan and forcing him to throw earlier than he wants will help Seattle’s secondary as well. Ryan was sacked 37 times in the regular season, tenth highest in the league. Ryan was also hit 106 times, sixth highest in the league. At times this season, the Seahawks have not been able to get to the quarterback consistently, for instance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For Seattle to win on Saturday, Ryan cannot have lots of time to throw.
In the Wild Card round of the playoffs, every home team won. Atlanta is favored in this game and they should be. The Falcons are the number-two seed in the NFC, have had a week off and remain relatively healthy. Even with the Seahawks gaining some confidence in their ability to run the ball after last week’s win, Seattle will have to prove they can be productive doing so this week. The team also cannot afford a slow start, yet has started poorly many times this year. Wilson must be accurate to begin the game. A lot of things have to go very right for Seattle to win.
Still, running back C.J. Prosise should be able to return this week. He and Rawls may be able to keep each other fresh for the entire game. If offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can prepare the correct game plan for his team and then Seattle can execute that plan consistently and well, anything can happen.
But since we at Cover32 seem to jinx Seattle when we pick the Seahawks to win, we will not do so…
Seahawks 3.7 Falcons 832