Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Game I'll Be Watching On Sunday

Winning and losing is generally all that matters in sports. Moral victories do not count for anything in the standings, and ugly wins are wins, nonetheless. Despite these realities, the most interesting part of this game will not be the finale score. It will be the cat-and-mouse between Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, and Seahawks defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley. Mularkey replaced Bill Musgrave--who signed to coach the Vikings offense--has an enviable arsenal of weapons. Wide receivers Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones are capable of dominating a game with their size. Michael Turner averaged 5.6 YPC out of the backfield. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez still is a serious threat, especially in the red zone. Even rookie RB Jacquizz Rodgers has the ability to give a defense headaches.

Bradley is not without weapons of his own. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner and K.J. Wright are each unique for their positions. Chancellor is listed as doubtful for the game, and may be replaced by Atari Bigby. Bradley had success last week with either Marcus Trufant or Browner pressing Larry Fitzgerald at the line, with a safety over the top. In some cases, he even dropped a linebacker to form a triangle around Fitzgerald. It may make sense to employ a similar strategy against White in the Falcons game, but there are key differences that will make it more difficult. Jones is far larger threat than Andre Roberts was opposite Fitzgerald. Bradley could conceivably split his safeties to give both outside corners help, but that leaves the middle wide open for Gonzalez.

The Cardinals took advantage of the soft middle of the Seahawks defensive scheme last week by getting the ball to TE Todd Heap for six catches and 61 yards. Gonzalez only had two catches in last weeks Falcons' loss to Tampa Bay, but already has three touchdowns on the year. Bradley will need to decide where he thinks he can best hold-up in a one-on-one match-up.

I'd expect him to start with safety help on White wherever he lines up. Jones had his first big game last week (6 rec, 115 yards), but is still a rookie. The question of who to help with depends largely on whether Bradley is more confident in a linebacker like Wright, Hill or Hawthorne alone on Gonzalez, or a corner like Browner or Trufant alone on Jones. The latter seems most likely.

Keep an eye out for how many players are tracking the big three Falcons receiving threats. It will say a lot about the Seahawks respect for those players, and the confidence they have in some of theirs.

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