Fresh legs. Fresh minds. One long, tranquil stretch of games to finish the season.
For the Seattle Seahawks, a season that at one time seemed to be teetering on the edge of doom now sets up perfectly for a triumphant return to the elite.
After their Week 2 loss in Los Angeles, the Seahawks looked as lost as we’ve seen them under Pete Carroll. The offense was irrelevant; the health of their franchise quarterback was eroding; and with the emergence of the Rams, it appeared another NFC West obstacle had made themselves known.
But three wins later, a return to health for Russell Wilson, and a come-back-to-earth week for the rest of the conference, the Seahawks once again are surrounded by the good vibes that hovered over the team before the season began.
But before the schedule slides fully into pre-Harbaugh Big 10 levels of navigability, the NFLs hottest team, the Atlanta Falcons, bring their forceful offense into CenturyLink Field.
Despite the all-world defense of the Seahawks, this game will come down to the battle at QB.
Wilson, who has transformed seemingly overnight from a scrambling, semi-accurate playmaker into a reliable pocket passer, ranks out as the third best overall quarterback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
“Russell Wilson has faced his usual diet of pressure behind the Seahawks’ offensive line this season, as he’s been under heat on 38.3 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in the league. That’s actually lower than his normal rate and is playing a large part in his career-low 2.54 seconds from snap to throw—over 0.4 seconds quicker than last year’s 2.98 marks. Playing injured and not extending plays is likely a factor, but regardless, it’s led to quicker, shorter passes, and one of the league’s best grades in the short game.”
His counterpart, Matt Ryan, isn’t far behind, coming in at #8 on the list. It's an odd ranking, considering what has he accomplished this season:
League leader in yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating. No big deal.
More importantly for Atlanta, he’s not only playing the best football of his career statistically, but he’s getting help from his star-laden supporting cast (i.e., Julio Jones) as well. Ryan, after his handcuffed run under Mike Smith, is finally showing off the skill set that made him such a high pick coming out of Boston College. And while Jones is the headliner – especially after his 300-yards performance against Carolina two weeks ago - it’s been the wealth spread that’s allowed for the blistering start. In last Sunday’s win over defending Super Bowl champion Denver, for example, three of the top five graded offensive players were linemen.
When Ryan and Jones have time to connect, and outlets behind them to subset the pressure, Atlantic instantaneously rockets to the top of the toughest-to-defend category.
To counter the offensive onslaught of Atlanta, currently ranked 1st-overall, Seattle, who will be 14 days of rest in, will send out the 2nd-best defense in the NFL, according to PFF. After some early season mental slips, Seattle appears to be in mid-season form, evident from their past two wins by a combined score of 64-35. The 35 is misleading, to boot; San Francisco piled on with two late TDs, and the Jets scratched out a score right before halftime in the Seahawks’ last game.
When engaged, Seattle’s defense has been as lockdown as ever before.
After the Falcons, Seattle’s next three opponents have a combined record of 6-8. With 12 straight weeks of football to end the season, Carroll and his staff will have to be smart in how the divvy up usage. And with Wilson already suffering two injuries in the first four games, it’s an even more precarious situation. Matchups at New England and Green Bay look to be the only toss-ups; every game should see the Seahawks as favorites going forward. That leaves this week’s battle against Atlanta, a potential NFC title game showdown, as one of the few opportunities for Seattle test their mettle against the NFLs elite.
Also – and it’s never too early to look at these sorts of things – this game could go a long way towards settling home field advantage should they, in fact, meet in the playoffs.
"Their offense is just out of this world right now," Carroll said earlier this week. "Their quarterback is on fire."
The same could be said about his own. On Sunday, they’ll get to settle it on the field.
Atlanta 24 Seattle 21
With the Falcons possessing one of the stronger pass rushing attacks in the league, led by Vic Beasley, this looks like the week for Wilson to get back to his scrambling ways. Look for him to get three touchdowns - two on the ground, one in the air - to be your safe fantasy bet.