Thus far, the Seattle Seahawks have played good defense and awful offense. Can't put it more simply than that.
On paper, this is the best matchup the Atlanta Falcons have had all season. The Falcons are certainly not looking past the Seahawks, not with a 1-2 record and three shaky performances to kick off 2011. So they'll storm into Qwest Field, one of the loudest stadiums in all the land, and bring three weeks' worth of hard lessons with them.
This is the most winnable game the Falcons play this month, and losing this putts them in a horrible position with rough tilts against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions on the way. The Seahawks have weaknesses the Falcons can exploit, and we've got to hope they do just that.
Frankly, if the Falcons can protect Matt Ryan and put a hurting on Tarvaris Jackson--who has been sacked 14 times despite good mobility--they can walk away with a win. It may be as simple as that.
Let's zoom in on the game. After the jump, find my biggest question, three smaller ones and a prediction.
The Biggest Question
Can the Seahawks' defense take advantage of a struggling Falcons' offensive line? It's a fair question.
As bad as the Seahawks have been this season on offense (30th in passing, 29th in rushing), they've been pretty damn good on defense (10th against the pass, 13th against the rush). They've piled up five sacks, ten pass deflections, four forced fumbles and two interceptions. Aside from young cornerback Brandon Brower and his merry men in the secondary, who have gotten abused, the Seahawks have put a pretty solid D on the field.
That's not great news for the Falcons, whose struggles in pass protection are legendary at this point. The line could be shaken up this week depending on what happens in practice, but it's unlikely we'll see a dramatic improvement in just one week's time. That leaves the team susceptible to guys like Chris Clemons, who has gotten two sacks thus far this season.
If the Falcons ever wanted to get Ovie Mughelli and Reggie Kelly more involved in blocking, this would be the week to do it. If they wanted to get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the passing game to give Ryan an outlet, this would be the week to do it. If they wanted to pad Matt Ryan's uniform with bubble wrap...you get the idea.
I think it's fair to say that this is going to be a major factor in the game ahead.
Three Smaller Questions
Question 1: Will the Falcons do to Tarvaris Jackson what the Bears, Eagles and Buccaneers have done to Ryan?
Jackson is nobody's idea of a world-beater, but he's decently mobile and can methodically move an offense. He cannot work miracles, however, and he really can't do anything spectacular if John Abraham is wearing his uniform all day.
So it becomes imperative to get a pass rush going. Without Jonathan Babineaux in the picture, Peria Jerry, Abe, Kroy Biermann and Ray Edwards will have to provide most of the push, since our linebackers and safeties do minimal effective blitzing. If those guys up front can show up and turn the heat up on Jackson, it's not like the Seahawks have a dominant running game to counter it.
Question 2: Can the Falcons abuse the Seahawks' cornerbacks?
The answer to this is an emphatic yes. The Seahawks have a borderline elite young safety in Earl Thomas, but the rest of their secondary careens between young, promising and not there yet to burnt toast.
The Falcons have way too many resources with which to exploit that. They have Roddy White, they have Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Tony Gonzalez, Jacquizz Rodgers...a ton of weapons, in short. The Seahawks have put together pretty good team numbers, but with the exception of the Cardinals, teams have had very little trouble moving the football down the field against them.
Look for White and Jones, in particular, to continue to heat up. White's route-running makes him nearly impossible to sock away all game for even the best cornerbacks, and Jones is beginning to show the superhuman athleticism that caused we fans to collectively swoon over him back in April. This is linked back to our biggest question, of course, but if Ryan has any time to throw and guys get open, this one could be a bloodbath.
On the flip side, the Seahawks have a handful of talented young receivers—I'm a big fan of Doug Baldwin already—but the secondary should be able to handle them.
Question 3: Can Matt Bosher punt well?
Last week, we saw some good things from Bosher. He is among the most capable and most willing tacklers I've ever seen at the position. He finally boomed a handful of kickoffs into the end zone, which allayed one of the major concerns I've had with him up until this point.
Yet he still can't punt. The team has made its share of excuses for him, and I have no doubt that they still believe in his promise. I have no doubt that Bosher has faith in his abilities, and is working hard to figure out what's going on. But it doesn't matter when your punt average is the most anemic in the NFL, when you can't pin teams deep in their own territory and when you're one of the big reasons your team loses the field position battle every week.
The Seahawks are going to need some help, but they're not so inept that they can't punish the Falcons for giving them short fields. I like Bosher and want to see him punting for the Falcons for a long time to come. For that to happen, he's got to start improving.
No time like the present.
I'm seeing the Falcons walking away from Seattle with this one. Let's say 35-20. That's just the kind of win this team needs.