Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week six matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (3–1) and the Atlanta Falcons (4–1).
When: 1:25 p.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Rogers: There is no better way to spend a bye week than to play no football but still get elevated to the top of your division standings. The Seahawks achieved that when the Los Angeles Rams dropped a home game to the suddenly hot Buffalo Bills, leaving Seattle all alone at the top of the NFC West.
We turn our attention to the second-most surprising NFC team of the season: The Atlanta Falcons (second only to the 5–0 Minnesota Vikings). The Seahawks catch a scheduling break in facing the Falcons at home after a week of rest at the same time as the Falcons make the cross-country trip to Seattle after winning on the road last week in Denver.
Few defenses have an answer for All-World wide receiver Julio Jones. But the Denver Broncos defense managed to hold Jones to a workmanlike 29 yards on a mere two catches — 271 fewer yards than he put up just a week before. It wasn’t enough to win, in large part due to the breakout game by Tevin Coleman (four catches, 132 yards receiving, 31-yard TD catch).
Jess, which of these two will be more of a headache for the Legion of Boom on Sunday?
Ridpath: I was curious what happened the last time Jones faced off against Seattle’s defense. I was thinking 2013, when Seattle beat Atlanta in the regular season but lost to them in in the Divisional Playoffs. But it was actually way back in 2011, Jones’ rookie year (he was injured in 2013).
The outcome five years ago? He nabbed 11 catches for 127 yards facing off against a Seahawks secondary that looks awfully familiar (including rookie Richard Sherman and sophomores Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor).
Jones has been hot and cold this season (with disappointing yardage in weeks 1, 3, and 5) and is no longer the league’s leading receiver after last week’s yardage drought (he’s now ranked third). But he is still an obvious threat. No doubt the Seahawks’ secondary will treat him as such. I think they’re up to the task.
The bigger threat comes from Atlanta’s “two-headed backfield”: Coleman and fellow running back Devonta Freeman, who’ve combined to give the league’s #1 passing offense the boon of a 6th-ranked run game. That’s scary. Even scarier? How the Falcons’ dual air-ground attack rolled over Denver’s stalwart defense, which gave up season highs in points, total yards, passing yards, and yards per play.
Julian, Coleman racked up most of his receiving yards last week by lining up in the slot and taking advantage of Denver’s linebackers. Are K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Cassius Marsh, and their compatriots any better suited for the task of covering him?
Rogers: Those three, plus Cliff Avril who occasionally drops back to cover receivers, are excellent athletes, but are overall better suited for thumping than chasing/covering. Seattle’s best coverage linebacker is Wright. However, if you add Kevin Pierre-Louis &Brock Coyle to the players you named, and add up all passes defensed plus interceptions, you get a total of two passes defensed, both by Wagner. No picks from the linebackers.
That’s not necessarily a concern, but it suggests the Seahawks’ linebackers / defensive ends’ as coverage players are not so very impactful. The compact, fluid and fast Coleman has the matchup advantage for this contest.
Yes, I agree that the Seahawks will focus plenty on stopping Jones, but I’m certain they’re also planning on making sure they know what Coleman is doing on every play. The Seahawks don’t usually have Sherman follow No. 1 receivers around the formation; he stays on his side. He may have some opportunities to match up on Coleman, as well as probably a collection of linebackers, as you noted. Freeman will likely handle most of the rushing duties and he’s excelling at it: 5.3 YPC on 48 rushes so far for the NFL’s No. 1 offense.
Jess, the Seahawks under Pete Carroll have a spotty history right after a bye. They lost their first game after a bye in 2015 (vs. Arizona), 2012 (at Miami), 2011 (at Cleveland), making them a somewhat surprising .500 in games immediately following a week off. Is this a thing for Carroll’s blue birds? His post bye week record as the head coach of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots is even worse: 1–3.
Ridpath: Carroll may have done the same bye-week math that you did, Julian, because the Seahawks were on the field Monday for a “bonus” practice. Perhaps he’s hoping an extra workout will help Seattle shake off the rust that can build during a week off.
Or perhaps he just realizes that his squad is facing this season’s toughest challenge yet. By far. ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia has astutely observed that facing the Falcons will be “a good test of where this team is.” Among his points:
- Seattle’s three victories have come against teams who have a combined record of 3–12 (the Dolphins, 49ers, and Jets).
- While the Seahawks’ #1-ranked defense has allowed a mere 13.5 points per game so far, they’ve done it while playing the league’s softest offenses.
From this perspective, the blue birds’ defensive performance this season (2nd in passing defense and opponent passer rating; 3rd in scoring defense, with just one touchdown allowed) seems decidedly less impressive. The Falcons on-fire offense has the potential to bring them down a notch a two.
Julian, we’ve already talked about the many offensive threats in Atlanta’s arsenal. Let’s talk about their defense. Last week, the Falcons surprised Denver with a formidable pass rush, taking Paxton Lynch to the turf six times and holding the Broncos to a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry. Will Seattle fare any better?
Rogers: If you’re asking me to project a clean pocket for Wilson in this game, I can’t. I’ve learned (again and again) to not doubt Wilson, but the blue birds’ offensive line still ranks among the league’s worst.
However, the Falcons, who nabbed six sacks in Denver after amassing a mere four in their previous four games, won in circumstances far different than what they’ll encounter in Seattle. Namely, the Broncos were playing a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start and he looked very much like a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. Lynch was slow to diagnose and execute plays and also held onto the ball longer than is designed for the Broncos’ offense. That’s a juicy set of menu items for even a team with a sub-par pass rush.
Wilson won’t be as easy a target as Lynch. I say cut the six sacks in half on this Sunday.
Jess, the Minnesota Vikings are this year’s last undefeated team. For now, the race is for the NFC’s silver medal. I have to put Seattle and Atlanta as the top two NFC contenders not from Minnesota. Is this a statement game?
Ridpath: It’s certainly an intriguing match-up, especially considering that Falcons coach Dan Quinn used to be the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. That familiarity will give both teams some interesting insight and will up the ante a bit for Quinn.
I think you’re absolutely right that these two teams are currently among the NFC’s top three contenders. If it’s a close game, well-played on both sides, that won’t change — no matter which team is victorious. If Seattle wins by a largish margin, we can point to home field advantage as an obvious edge. But if Atlanta delivers a sound thumping like they did in Denver, two clear statements will be made: 1) the rest of the league should be very afraid of the Falcons, and 2) Seattle’s position as a top playoff contender may be in question.
Julian, I can’t recall a game that has been tougher for me to predict than this one. As much as I would love to see a Seahawks victory, my gut feeling is that the Falcons’ multi-faceted offense is too hot for even Seattle’s formidable defense to handle. And even if Wilson is at his superhero best, I’m worried about his o-line’s ability to both open up the run game and handle Atlanta’s surging pass rush. It pains me to say it, but I gotta give this one to the Falcons. Prediction: Seattle 23, Atlanta 27.
Rogers: It’s the NFL’s No. 1 offense going against the No. 1 defense. Should be a good test for both teams. I’m going the other way on this one. I see the Seahawks as a more well-rounded team at this stage. Plus, they’re playing at home. Prediction: Seattle 27, Atlanta 24.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: I went out on a limb and picked the New England Patriots to beat the Cleveland Browns. Whew.
What he got wrong: Why so negative? Why is everybody so obsessed with pointing out what went wrong? Can’t we all just get along?
What she got right: I outperformed my esteemed colleague in our week- 5 predictions, calling 6 of the 9 match-ups correctly—thanks to victories by the Patriots, Steelers, Bills, Vikings, Cardinals, and Falcons. Atlanta showed they can beat a top-ranked defense on the road. I sort of wish I hadn’t been right about that one.
What she got wrong: My three blown predictions? The Eagles dropped a close one to the Lions; the Cam-less Panthers fell to the Buccaneers; and the Bengals got steamrolled by the Cowboys.