Listen to people that follow the Falcons, and you are likely to hear a myth being propagated. The story goes something like this: someone asks the Falcons expert how the team will handle Russell Wilson and the read option, and the expert replies that the Falcons faced Cam Newton twice, Robert Griffin III, and Michael Vick so the team knows how to deal with the likes of Wilson. It sounds plausible. It is also very misleading. The Eagles do not run much read option with brittle, fumble-prone Vick. RG3 ran exactly one read option play against the Falcons before leaving the game with a concussion. Newton did run it quite a bit, and absolutely trashed the Falcons in both games with it.
The Panthers posted rushing totals of 199 yards in Atlanta and 195 yards in Carolina. Newton ran for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first game and 116 yards and a touchdown in the second. The Panthers should have won both games, but a late Newton fumble led to a slim Falcons victory in game one. Below are some selected examples of how Carolina pounded the Falcons with the read option.
NOTE: Click on any image to see it full size or to restart the video clip. Each image is a clip, so if it is not playing, click it. Please excuse the poor quality in some frames.
Cam Newton Read Option Keep for 17 yards
DeAngelo William Read Option Right Side for 10 yards
DeAngelo Williams Read Option Dive, 13 yard TD
Cam Newton Read Option, 72 yard TD
There were more, but you can see the Falcons never were able to adjust. The last clip of the 72-yard touchdown happened in the last game. If Mike Nolan and the Falcons defense had a scheme to stop the read option, you would expect to see a notable difference. Not only did the Panthers rush for nearly the same massive total, but they scored 30 points after scoring 28 in the first, and went for 475 yards of total offense after 404 in the first. Watch both games and it will be hard to come away believing the Falcons have the personnel to stop this type of offense.
The Redskins did not run the read option for some reason. They did post 129 yards rushing by hitting the edges of the Falcons defense. They had a lot of success running the left side of their line. Two of Newton’s runs above came running left as well. Do not be surprised to see the Seahawks test that edge, possibly with the help of Zach Miller and/or Anthony McCoy. The following two clips are consecutive plays from the Redskins game. Note: Check out how different the FedEx field looks early in the season.
Alfred Morris Pitch Left for 11 yards
Alfred Morris Pitch Left for 16 yards
This last clip shows Newton in the first game breaking the pocket and scrambling up the middle for 17 yards. They blocked up the Falcons blitz and the receivers had run off the secondary deep into the end zone. This may not be read option, but it sure looks like a play we have seen from Wilson a dozen times this season.
Cam Newton Scramble for 17 yards
There will continue to be a lot of talk about the Falcons offense versus the Seahawks defense, but it will be plays like these that determine whether Seattle wins. Not shown here are the number of read option passes that Carolina ran successfully against the Falcons. Atlanta linebackers were consistently fooled into stepping toward the line to attack the run, allowing Newton to complete simple 10-15 yard slants behind them.
There is very little evidence that the Atlanta defense is equipped to battle an offense like Seattle’s. The Seahawks defense will likely surrender points to the Falcons, but nobody has dominated them all year when it comes to putting points on the board. The last time Wilson and the Seahawks offense played in a dome on turf, they put up 270 rushing yards, Wilson ran for 3 TDs and the team scored 50 points. That was against a run defense statistically superior to the Falcons. Putting up those kinds of numbers this weekend is not likely, but matching the Panthers output of 28-30 points and 190+ rushing yards seems very likely.