15 Takeaways After Re-Watching Falcons vs Seahawks

Ask the average Falcons (and non-Seahawks) fan about what happened the first time they played the Seahawks this year, and they will tell you their team was robbed of a win by the officials failing to call pass interference on Richard Sherman on the final play. Ask the same question to a Seahawks fan and they will likely talk about Sherman blowing up at coaches and teammates on the sideline. While those two issues dominated sports talk following the game, neither should play a role this coming Saturday in the rematch. There were, however, numerous lessons to be learned from that game once the sensationalistic aspects are peeled away.


1. The Seahawks defense dominated the Falcons offense for three quarters

The final score was quite close (26-24), but much of the game was not. Atlanta scored three points and gained just 108 yards (2.6 yards per play) in the first, second, and fourth quarter combined. Matt Ryan 14-25 (56%) for 115 yards with 0 TDs, 1 INTs, and a passer rating of 51.3 in those quarters. Don’t worry, we won’t ignore that third quarter throughout this rewind, but the domination of the Seahawks defense against the Falcons offense for 75% of the game jumped off the screen.

Seattle outscored Atlanta 26-3 and outgained them 303-108 in yardage during those quarters, and generally looked like the better team.


2. Blown coverages contributed significantly to Falcons third quarter explosion

Atlanta came out fighting after halftime, taking each of their three possessions down the field for touchdowns. That included what ended up being a 99-yard drive. They totalled a ludicrous 21 points and 252 yards in that one quarter. Ryan was 13-17 (76.5%) for 220 yards with 3 TDs, 0 INTs and a 157.5 rating. Julio Jones had 115 yards receiving in just that quarter. It was the kind of turnaround rarely seen in the NFL, especially on the road.

Kyle Shanahan, Ryan, and crew deserve respect for altering their game plan at the half. It was clear that the Falcons would have closed the gap no matter how well the Seahawks played in that quarter, but it is not clear they would have scored touchdowns on each drive. Two of the three touchdowns were the result of blown coverages by the Seahawks. Sherman was playing one coverage and Kelcie McCray (who was playing for Kam Chancellor) was in another. That left Jones and Levine Toilolo running by themselves down the sideline.

Credit Ryan for finding both players and hitting them in stride. Credit Shanahan for motioning out players that contributed to the communication issues that caused the breakdown. Be careful, however, about assuming what happened in that quarter was repeatable.


3. Seahawks pass rush overwhelmed Falcons line, especially on the edges

Frank Clark did not play in this game, and Michael Bennett left with 6 minutes to go in the third quarter with a knee injury. That did not stop the Seahawks from punishing Ryan repeatedly. Seattle hit Ryan 13 times on the day, and sacked him four times. It was especially dominant in the first half. Cliff Avril terrorized right tackle Ryan Schraeder. He was far too fast for Schraeder around the corner and finished with 2 sacks and 2 quarterback hits. Bennett had five hits before exiting. He was giving left tackle Jake Matthews fits. Even rookie Jarran Reed made life difficult for guard Andy Levitre, beating him for a sack.

Ryan was visibly frustrated by the amount of pressure he was facing and the hits he was taking. He was forced to throw most of his passes early or just throw them away. Even in his sterling third quarter, there were often guys barreling toward him.

The Falcons offensive line is one of the lightest, by average weight, in the NFL. They have performed well all season, but were thrashed by a Seahawks line that was without two of their best players for a lot of the game. Seattle has all three of their top pass rushers healthy heading into this rematch, which has to be the top concern for the Falcons.


4. Kris Richard dialed up blitz after blitz

Not all of that pressure was caused by the defensive line. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were sent on numerous blitzes by defensive coordinator Kris Richard. It may have been the most I have ever seen a Pete Carroll defense blitz in a game. Ryan was blitzed on 50% of his dropbacks, per ProFootballFocus.com. He had a 93.6 rating on those plays and a 113.9 rating when he was not blitzed. Do not assume that the Seahawks will send that many blitzes in the rematch. Those types of plays are most often effective when the opposing offense has not been preparing for them. Atlanta has had two weeks to get ready for this game, and had to assume they would play Seattle.

They have watched those blitzes a thousand times by now and should be better equipped to identify them and avoid leaving players unblocked. That does not mean Richard will abandon it completely, and should he see some early wins, he is more likely to unleash the hounds again. What we will not know until Saturday is how much of the Seahawks success on blitzes was due to missed assignments (correctable) versus physical mismatches (far less correctable).


5. Crowd noise was an x-factor

Pre-snap penalties like false starts or delay of game are often cited as evidence for the kind of role the Seahawks crowd plays in their home games. Those have lessened as teams have gotten better at silent counts. What is a constant, regardless of opponent preparation, is the interference the noise causes at the line of scrimmage when a quarterback wants to change the play or adjust protection. There is no way to be certain how much that contributed to the Falcons offensive struggles for most of the game, but we can be certain that Ryan will in a far better situation to make adjustments at the line this weekend.


6. Vic Beasley Jr. and the Falcons managed zero pass pressure

Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. led the NFL with 15.5 sacks this year. Every lazy analyst in the world is going to be writing that he is going to have a field day against the Seahawks offensive line this weekend. Would 3 tackles 0 sacks and 0 quarterback hits qualify as a field day? That is what Beasley managed in the first game against this Seahawks line. He was coming off a 3.5 sack performance against the Broncos, and went on to record 2.0 sacks against the Chargers the next week and 1.0 sack against Green Bay the week after that. The only team to hold him without a sack or even a QB hit was Seattle during that four-week stretch.

When Beasley is unable to generate pass pressure, there is nobody on the Falcons to pick up the slack. Atlanta finished with one sack, and that came on a cornerback blitz from Desmond Trufant. Russell Wilson had plenty of time to throw throughout the game. He was under pressure on just 11 of his 42 dropbacks, per PFF.

Beasley squared off against right tackle Garry Gilliam most of the game. It would not be surprising to see him flip to the other side to test George Fant this time around.


7. Jimmy Graham terrorized the Falcons defense

Tight end Jimmy Graham finished with 6 catches on 9 targets for 89 yards against the Falcons in the first game. Those are not the most gaudy numbers, but the ease with which Graham piled up those numbers stood out. Atlanta struggled to find a player to put on Graham, and he often found holes in their zone on seam routes. The Falcons tried linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell with little success. How the Falcons try to deal with him this weekend could lead to a big game for other Seahawks receivers.


8. Doug Baldwin was not a big factor

The Seahawks leading receiver saw just five targets and finished with four catches for 31 yards. A number of the receptions came on quick screens. Baldwin could be the primary beneficiary of how the Falcons choose to defend Graham.


9. Jermaine Kearse had a nice game

He only had three catches for 35 yards, but Jermaine Kearse made important catches and looked comfortable against this secondary. He looked more physical than the Falcons corners. Tyler Lockett was in the midst of battling a knee sprain and played a very small role in the offense. Paul Richardson was not targeted, but should play a larger role this time around. One thing to watch will be the replacement of Desmond Trufant with Jalen Collins. Trufant is out with injury, and Collins did not play in the first game. Collins is 6’2″ and represents a different type of athlete on the outside than what Seattle saw in the last game.


10. C.J. Spiller gave the Falcons fits, C.J. Prosise next?

Spiller finished the game with the second-most targets (6) behind Graham. He dropped one, but caught three others for 38 yards, including a 24-yarder. Falcons linebackers really struggled in coverage, leaving underneath throws open for decent gains. The Falcons have never faced Prosise, who is a much more dynamic weapon than Spiller at this point in his career.


11. Wilson’s injuries seemed to influence play calls

Wilson was in the midst of dealing with his high ankle sprain and his MCL sprain during this game. He looked pretty comfortable overall, but Darrell Bevell appeared to be dialing up a lot of quick throws to reduce the chances of Wilson taking a hit. He finished 25/37 for 270 yards, but just four of those completions were greater than 15 yards.

There was also no read-option in this game. Wilson ran the ball 6 times for 7 yards, but most (all?) of those were scrambles. The return of Thomas Rawls (who was injured) and at least the threat of a running Wilson could greatly change the complexion of the matchup compared to the first game.

That could be good for Seattle if the running game is able to get more untracked, but it could also be good for the Falcons if Seattle tries to take deeper throws that take more time and allow a guy like Beasley a chance to create more pressure.


12. Devonta Freeman was frustrated and Tevin Coleman was a ghost

Ryan and Jones get most of the attention in the Falcons explosive offense, and for good reason, but Atlanta is heavily reliant on their running game to put up their big numbers. Seattle absolutely suffocated the dynamic backfield duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The pair had just come off a game against the Broncos where they totalled 288 yards of offense. They finished with just 67 total yards against the Seahawks.

Freeman spent much of the game visibly frustrated by the lack of running room. He had 40 yards on 12 carries, but 18 of those yards came on one play. He averaged 2.5 yards per run on his other 11 attempts. Coleman was worse at 10 yards on 5 carries.


13. Earl Thomas was a major factor, but so was the lack of Kam Chancellor

The Seahawks dynamo of a safety was a force in this game. He separated at least three receivers from the football with jarring hits. There is no doubt the Falcons will be relieved to not see #29 in the secondary this time around. The question, though, is whether the absence of Thomas will be more damaging in the rematch than the absence of Chancellor was in the first game. Communication issues with his replacement, Kelcie McCray, contributed directly to 14 of the Falcons 24 points.


14. Mohamed Sanu was arguably as problematic as Julio Jones

Jones definitely had the big numbers, but it was Sanu who bailed out Ryan a number of times with clutch catches in tight windows. His twisting, falling, stretching snag on the first drive of the second half came when Ryan was about to get planted yet again by an oncoming Seahawks rusher. Had he not made that play, the drive could have faltered. Instead, it seemed to galvanize the team and give Ryan the confidence he needed to keep delivering in the face of the onslaught.


15. Personnel differences stood out

Chancellor, Clark, Rawls, Prosise, Mike Morgan, and George Fant did not play against the Falcons the first time. Bennett missed a lot of time with the injury. All should play this weekend. Thomas did play, but will not this time around.

Atlanta did not play linebacker Paul Worrilow and Collins at corner. Speedy receiver Taylor Gabriel did play, but was knocked out by Thomas. All should start this weekend. Trufant started, but will not play. Defensive tackle Derrick Shelby played a decent amount and played well in the first game, but is out for this weekend.

Those changes will represent tectonic shifts for the Seahawks. They are less significant for the Falcons, but Collins, Worrilow and Gabriel add up to meaningful additions.

Founder, Editor & Lead Writer
  1. Great stuff Brian! Really looking forward to this game. Given the history of the two teams, it should be a close one, with the Seahawks a very motivated crew. Is the Hawks D strong enough to take down the MVP-in-waiting on his home turf? If the Hawks get there ABC’s right, we will (Avril, Bennett, Clark).

  2. Brian, this enclosed article from falcoholic website gave me yuge confidence for a Hawks victory. YUUUUUGE !

    It’s not difficult to decipher Atlanta’s flaws. The defense is very young, which leads to coverage breakdowns, as a defensive line filled with aging veterans and limited players doesn’t help them. Everyone is aware of these defensive shortcomings that can’t be fixed before Saturday afternoon. Here are three concerns that aren’t receiving much attention
    1-Jake Matthews
    The third-year left tackle suffered a knee injury against Kansas City. Despite not returning in that game, he managed to play the following week versus Los Angeles. His performances have declined over the past few weeks. It wasn’t surprising to see him look stiff against the Rams, given that Matthews played with a heavy brace, which affected his movement.

    Matthews was a disaster in pass protection against the Panthers. Mario Addison gave him fits on inside moves. Wes Horton and Kony Ealy had their moments as well. Matt Ryan’s outstanding pocket presence saved him from allowing more than two sacks. When Matthews struggles, it will come against power rushers. Joey Bosa’s bull rush overwhelmed him on several occasions. It was his worst performance of the season, before Carolina’s array of edge rushers found great success on the right side.
    To see Addison beat him without bull rushing repeatedly was most concerning. He kept anticipating Addison bending or using an outside move, which left him vulnerable inside. It’s rare to see the usually reliable tackle take poor angles. Good left tackles shouldn’t be left on the ground against decent pass rushers. Paul Kruger managed to beat Matthews a few times in the season finale.
    Chris Chester is known for being the offensive line’s weakest link, yet he wasn’t the only problem over the past two weeks. For all of Seattle’s issues, they still possess one of the best defensive lines in the league. Ryan Schraeder will likely battle Cliff Avril for the majority of the game. That will leave Matthews against a combination of Michael Bennett and Frank Clark. This is going to be a huge test, especially after Bennett vented about Matthews’ cut block in their previous matchup. It caused the Pro Bowl defensive lineman to miss five games.

    Matthews will need to play much better for this offense to continue scoring over 30 points a game against better opposition, which is a requirement for them to reach the Super Bowl. They’ve scored under 30 points in five games this season and only defeated the Broncos.
    Pass rush
    The defense produced 34 sacks this season. Vic Beasley’s emergence played a crucial role in their progression. By implementing more twists and moving personnel around, Quinn deserves credit as well. The pass rush is still wildly inconsistent. Tyson Jackson, Brooks Reed, Jonathan Babineaux, and Courtney Upshaw aren’t the only reasons. They haven’t been getting production from their usually reliable pass rushers. Adrian Clayborn and Beasley haven’t generated much pressure in recent weeks.
    Immediately criticizing a player coming off surgery is harsh. It’s not surprising to see Clayborn look rusty. He suffered a torn MCL and partially tore his meniscus in Week 12. To see him return in Week 16 was remarkable. Clayborn hasn’t looked like his usual explosive self. Nobody expected Mike Remmers to contain him without any support. When sliding back inside, his quick first step and vicious hand usage isn’t there. He still looks to be getting back to game speed. Clayborn’s injury was always going to be worrying. They desperately need him to support Beasley, who may command more double teams.
    the NFL sack leader has been quiet in recent weeks. Recording two sacks in three games doesn’t paint the whole picture. Unless it comes from running twists, Beasley has been ineffective over the past three games. Due to the defensive line’s limitations, he is in a precarious situation. Beasley needs to be productive for this defense to survive against above average quarterbacks. Wilson is elite.
    Reed has been their most productive pass rusher over the past three games. The pass rush could emerge against a normally abysmal Seahawks’ offensive line. If they prevail on Saturday, how does the defensive line fare against Dallas or Green Bay? Both units are up there with Oakland as the best pass protecting offensive line in the league. To make up for a young linebacker duo and secondary, the pass rush needs to step up. A healthy Russell Wilson isn’t going to be as inaccurate as Cam Newton.
    Run defense
    The front seven hasn’t been greatly tested over the past four games. Early game offensive explosions forced opposing teams into abandoning the run. As the Falcons play in more competitive games, they are going to face more dangerous offenses. Thomas Rawls is coming off his best game of the season. Seattle showed their commitment towards running the ball. It’s highly unlikely that the Falcons will have a 20-point lead. That makes containing the opposing ground game so essential.
    Grady Jarrett is a disruptive player, who possesses great hands and relentless motor. He knows how to obtain leverage and drive opposing centers back. Handling double teams proved to be an issue this season. A rotation of Babineaux, Upshaw, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Ben Garland won’t pose many problems. The lack of talent puts added pressure on Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. Opposing guards are getting to the second level and taking out both linebackers far too easily.
    It’s a collective effort, when stopping the run. How they fare against an unpredictable offense like Seattle and potentially a physical juggernaut. Philadelphia revealed the most realistic blueprint on how to beat the Falcons. Don’t be surprised if either team tries to replicate it.

  3. how to beat falcons, copy eagleshttp://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sports/eagles/5-reasons-why-the-Eagles-beat-the-Falcons.html

  4. Apparently Coach Quinn has made some pronouncements that effectively says he’s so familiar with the Hawks that it makes game planning easier…………if that’s an accurate report. Pleeeeease let it be overconfidence………………….pleeeeease.

    I suspect that one of their offensive thoughts on countering the probable superior front rush and run stoppers will be the quick passes, so rather than Terrell being the potential hole in the bucket as most will too quickly assume, I’d bet Lane will be in for a more difficult day. After him it will either be Chancellor or one of the line backers depending on defensive alignment. I agree to not expect near as much blitzing, but Richard would be wise to do some extra in the early series to “fake them out” about that.

    But perhaps our best defense is the offense winning the TOP battles as well as scoring. A run game similar to last week (if Rawls isn’t too banged up), plus the twist of Prosise (if able) could be just what we need. In addition to Grahams potential, the stuff Richardson showed last week could keep the safeties and at least one corner out of the most effective coverage in the mid zones, helping to keep a clock eating pace of advancement alive. None of that is to say we don’t put points on the board quickly if the opportunity is wide open to us. I don’t fully agree with PC on the “you don’t win the game in the first, second, or third quarter…..” thing. Bury ’em early and demoralize them, and be ready for that half time adjustment more quickly…………they’re still a good offensive team.

    The lazy national media will mostly line up behind the Falcons………..they are one of this years darlings. Hopefully the Falcons players buy into all that cheer leading. Let the line against the Hawks grow to 6 or 7…………….please. Yeah, our guys don’t often do well on the road, but fortunately we won’t have the starting time bugaboo against us on this one…………..maybe, just maybe, all our cylinders will fire in the proper order to pull off the unexpected.

    1. I don’t think, at this point of the season, any team would go out of their tendencies just for one game. They might tweak a little here and there, but I am pretty sure they will stick to their overall game plan. Maybe NE is an exception, but I just don’t see any team can or will change its style of play abruptly. I’d agree w/ you about our best defense is our offense, especially our OL. If we can control the game and give them fewer opportunities, then I believe we can “steal” one. During the reg. season, ATL has the least number of drives in the league,175, and they led the league in scoring, 540 points, which means they can score “at will.” Here is a scary number, their offensive TDs almost equal to the numbers of their turnover and punts combined (58 to 59). They are also the second lowest 3 and out team in the league, behind NO.
      DQ knows our defense inside out, and we play a vanilla scheme anyway. So it always will come down to execution by the players, who will make more plays and fewer mistakes. If we are making the same mistakes like the 3rd quarter of the previous game, then I just don’t see we can win the game. The reason that I am not very confident because our OL has not actually played well on the road. I believe the OL will be the determining factor of the game. In his career, Russ has played well against ATL, so I don’t foresee that he will have a bad game (hopefully not). If the OL can give him some time, he will make plays.

      If there is a “tweak” in our defense, then I’d think how KR will play against Julio Jones. Does he have RS follow him or just stick to our cover 3 coverage? I agree about Lane, whoever he will be covered, I just don’t trust that guy at all. Too many big plays, missed tackles. He hasn’t played up to his contract. All their weapons are back. Matt Ryan is 1-4 in the playoff w/ one win against us in 2012. Hopefully, history does not repeat itself. He plays pretty well against us w/ 92.7 ratings (8 TDs-2 ints) w/ a 2-2 record during the reg. season. Those 2 wins are prior RW arrival. We shall see.

      1. Well thought out response, I don’t think there’s much substantive difference between our views. I have a bit of very cautious optimism based on the notion that Atlanta is playing pretty much as well as their individual and combined talents will support. The Hawks on the other hand have room to grow/improve, both in coaching and individual play in support of a team performance. Terrell is growing each week as experience accumulates, the O-line similarly. I’d like to think the Lion game showed as much in O-line maturity as well as the benefit of those minor coaching tweaks noted. Reeces evolving performance would be another example. So while the tiger isn’t changing it’s spots (to mix metaphors), he’s grooming them better…………or has a chance to.

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