Dave Choate: We complain a lot about Atlanta's offensive line, but I've read that the Seahawks' has been even worse. How has Seattle kept Russell Wilson alive and successful with that limitation, and how can the Falcons exploit that weakness?
Danny Kelly: The Seahawks have missed their Pro Bowl left tackle in Russell Okung since Week 2, their starting right tackle in Breno Giacomini since Week 3, and All Pro center Max Unger has missed two games and it's looking like he'll be out again this week with a concussion, so obviously, injuries have taken their toll. By several measures that I've seen, Russell Wilson is the most-pressured quarterback in the NFL this season so really he's managed to survive by being mobile and escapable once pressure comes in his face. In general, Seattle is still successful despite this limitation because they can run the ball well and because Wilson is able to move outside the pocket and make throws on the run. Wilson is also very good about sliding and getting down early so he doesn't take too many devastating hits.
Because Wilson is so good on the run, I think the Falcons would do well to try and rush while keeping Wilson contained in the pocket. Make him make tough throws in muddied pockets and you may see him turn the ball over. If you're not able to get pressure or allow him to move outside the pocket with ease, he is pretty good at carving up a defense.
DC: Marshawn Lynch is a dangerous runner, but the Falcons have one of the league's better run defenses. How will the Seahawks attack an athletic Falcons front seven?
DK: The Hawks managed to run well against a very good Buccaneers run defense last week and they face 8-man boxes pretty much every game, so I'm guessing they'll just keep doing what they've been doing over the past year and a half. They'll stick with their bread and butter plays - the wide zone, the read-option, and the fullback lead - and they'll keep running it even if they're not too successful with it. When the Hawks manage to mix those three concepts well, it's pretty tough to stop them because each scheme attacks at different angles and gaps from different formations and personnel groupings. Honestly, Seattle's most dangerous in the run game because they're fully committed to running.
DC: Bonus follow-up question: How much longer will Lynch be in a Seattle uniform? I've had my eye on Robert Turbin for a while.
DK: You know, before this year, I might've told you that this would likely be Lynch's final year with the team, but with the way he's looked this season, I can legitimately see him in a Seahawks uniform until his contract is up after 2015. Lynch has shown no signs of slowing up - in fact, I do believe he's running better now than he has any time in the past. Turbin is a nice complimentary back, but Lynch is one of the most dynamic, physical, versatile and well-rounded running backs in the NFL.
DC: The Seahawks have an intimidating secondary and Matt Ryan's struggled in recent weeks. What makes Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas & The Gang so tough to beat, and how do you expect them to try to cover Tony Gonzalez Sunday?
DK: Thomas, Sherman, Browner and Chancellor are perfectly suited to Seattle's style. Browner and Sherman play press on the outside with physicality, length, technique and power. Earl patrols the middle of the field with instincts and speed, and Kam Chancellor is mostly a de facto linebacker that plays up in the box a good amount of the time. The reason Seattle's pass defense works so well with this group of atypical defensive backs is that Pete Carroll doesn't ask them to do anything they can't do.
It's going to be interesting to see how Ryan does this week though, and the Richard Sherman-Roddy White matchup always has the potential to be interesting. Tony Gonzalez was Seattle's kryptonite last year in the Playoffs and that's going to be very tough matchup for the Hawks - in however they plan to defend it.
DC: There's a lot of big names on this team. Give me one guy on either side of the ball we may not have heard of but has been integral to the success of the offense or defense.
DK: On offense, Doug Baldwin has become an underrated go-to guy for Russell Wilson, and he stepped up beautifully last week in Sidney Rice's absence. Baldwin caught six passes on ten targets for 75 yards in the win and on the season he's second to Golden Tate with 29 receptions for 447 yards and two touchdowns.
On defense, the guy to watch is Bruce Irvin. Irvin made the move from defensive end to linebacker this year, and he's coming into his own at the new spot. He's very athletic and instinctive, but still raw and inexperienced in dropping into coverage.
DC: It seems like the Seahawks have pushed their chips in to the middle of the table a bit this season, acquiring Percy Harvin and adding Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to a stacked front seven. How do you expect the rest of this season to go, and does anything less than a Super Bowl keep you guys relatively happy?
DK: For me, it's not an ‘all-or-nothing' proposition for this season. Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Golden Tate, Percy Harvin, Russell Okung, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, and even Marshawn Lynch are all young, core members of the team and assuming guys like Thomas, Sherman, and Tate all get re-signed (I'm assuming they will), this team will be good for years to come. It's just nice to finally have a team with the potential to win it all - in the NFL, that's really all you can ask for, because so much weird stuff can happen once the playoffs start. Bennett and Avril were somewhat ‘win now' moves, but this franchise does seem to have an eye toward a long run of success and not just a flash in the pan year.
People forget that Harvin is the same age as Russell Wilson, so the idea was to pair the two for the next four or five years, not just win this year.