That is pretty much my recap of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which was generally not awesome, as we all know. I’m not going to belabor it. The fact of the matter is, any team can win any game on any given Sunday. There were myriad fundamental errors, committed most frequently by the Falcons’ offense, on Sunday, and also a consistently good defensive performance and some flashes of brilliance from Matty Ice and company. Despite the prevailing sense of gloom and doom about Atlanta sports in general today, the Atlanta Dream excluded (nice work, ladies), we have every reason to be cautiously optimistic about this Sunday’s game. Join me after the jump for a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages the Falcons will be facing heading into this Sunday’s matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
Let’s just get this out of the way, okay? So far this season, the Falcons are consistently making some egregious errors on both sides of the ball, and those must be addressed immediately if they want to win any reasonable number of games, starting with this Sunday’s matchup.
Through the first three games of the season, the Falcons’ defense has allowed 112 rushing yards per game, putting them at 20th in the league--not great, but could be worse. The Seahawks’ most productive rushers to this point in the season are Marshawn Lynch, who has rushed for 117 total yards on 38 carries, and Tarvaris Jackson, which should tell you why the Seahawks are currently 29th in the league in rushing. However, Lynch has the potential to break one loose if our defense fails to wrap him up--just ask the Saints about that if you don’t believe me.
Offensively, my biggest concern going into Sunday is--shocker!--our offensive line. The Seahawks defense has five sacks on the season so far, tied with several other teams, including the Falcons, for 23rd in the league. The fact that our offensive line has been so atrocious that even a team that doesn’t have the most aggressive pass rush is a concern really highlights the gravity of our offensive line problems.
Special teams efforts are also a concern against the Seahawks for two reasons: Matt Bosher, to date, has failed to impress, and Leon Washington, the Seahawks’ primary return specialist, has a 21.5 yards per return average through the first three games of the season. Consistently giving up great field position creates a considerable disadvantage for our defense. I am relatively cynical about Bosher’s ability to punt reasonably at this point (his kickoffs seemed slightly less bad against Tampa Bay than in the first two games), but our special teams guys are going to have to wrap up tackles and stop Seattle’s return efforts.
It is never easy for east coast teams to travel to the west coast, and vice versa. The team will travel early in order to adjust to the different time zone. The modified schedule coupled with a twelfth man in Seattle that has historically been extremely loud and supportive of their team, is another challenge the Falcons will have to overcome to beat the Seahawks.
I expect our defensive line to have a really good day against a Seahawks team that has allowed 14 sacks on Tarvaris Jackson, giving up a total of 100 yards on sacks in just three games. Jackson has about a 60% completion rate on the season, and if our defensive line can bring adequate pressure, the Falcons should be able to hinder the Seahawks passing game and force Jackson to rush throws and provide some opportunities for the secondary to make some big plays.
The defense has been much more consistent than the offense in our first three games. Seattle’s offense, well--we are not talking about a Green Bay Packers-caliber offense. Our defense can handle these guys, if they bring pressure, limit mistakes and wrap up tackles.
As far as our offense, remember, if you can bear to think about it, this past Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay, a few minutes into the fourth quarter, when our offense began to show some sparks of that allegedly explosive offense we were all expecting to see this season. Ryan connected on some beautiful plays with Julio Jones and Roddy White out of the no-huddle offense. As a matter of fact, the Falcons’ offense has only looked remotely like the offense we all expected when running the no-huddle. Seattle’s starting cornerbacks, Marcus Trufant and Brandon Browner, match up well with Roddy White and Julio Jones as far as height is concerned, but when the Seahawks also have to cover Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez, it should theoretically be very possible to create mismatches and make some plays, as long as the offensive line can provide adequate pass protection, which, unfortunately, is the biggest "if" heading into Sunday.
On paper, Seattle has a pretty decent run defense, holding opponents to 299 yards in three games this season, but the Falcons have to establish a balanced offensive attack, and that means getting the running game going. Michael Turner has racked up 234 yards so far this season. So far, Seattle’s run defense has gone head-to-head with the Frank Gore of the 49ers, who has 148 yards on the season; Rashard Mendenhall of the Steelers, who has 148 yards on the season; and the Arizona Cardinals’ best rusher, Beanie Wells, was injured for last week’s game against Seattle and did not play, so I think their run defense stats are a bit misleading. Gore and Mendenhall are both quality running backs, but so is Michael Turner. Jason Snelling is recovering from a concussion, so the running game depends on Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, who, despite limited touches, consistently reminds me that he was an excellent draft choice.
Eric Weems also has the potential to create some opportunities for the Falcons on Sunday. Teddy Ginn of the 49ers had a huge game against the Seahawks’ special teams coverage in week one. In the first three games of the season, the Seahawks' opponents have averaged 35.9 yards per kick return, an average that skews a little high because of Ginn's outstanding performance in week one, but it is still significant. Weems should be able to exploit their coverage flaws and give our offense good field position to work with, which will help.
I do expect this game to result in a win. Realistically, anything can happen, but the Falcons have the talent to be successful, and they just have to correct the mistakes they have been consistently making over the course of the first three weeks and start playing up to their potential. I think that has been the deepest disappointment to this point in the season--the Falcons have an excellent front office and coaching staff, made great offseason moves and had a really impressive draft, and after adding key elements that should have taken last year’s successful season to the next level, they seem to have lost their offensive identity. This week’s matchup with Seattle provides an opportunity for the team to come out focused and establish that identity. This week’s matchup can set the tone for the rest of the season, and there is a whole lot of season left.