The defense of the Atlanta Falcons has improved each of the last two weeks and finally seems to be hitting their stride. This week, they face a Seattle offense that is 21st in the league, averaging 19.8 points per game, and a very weak Seahawks offensive line. This will come down to a couple of key matchups on the outside and the performance of the Falcons defensive line. Here’s how we see those matchups shaking out.
In the trenches…
Coming into this season, the Seahawks were expected to have one of the weaker offensive lines in the league and they have lived up(?) to that designation through the first five weeks. For example, Pro Football Focus rated the Seattle offensive line as the worst unit in the league. While Justin Britt has been pretty solid this season, every other member of the Seahawks offensive line has struggled quite a bit—their offensive line has allowed 12 sacks over five games, including two sacks last week against the Jets.
The Atlanta defensive line is coming off of a very strong performance in Denver where they compiled six sacks and pressured Paxton Lynch all game long. The Atlanta defensive line is not anything that would really scare most teams, but they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time and look as good as they have since Dan Quinn arrived in Atlanta—especially Vic Beasley, who had 3.5 sacks last week. This week, Atlanta’s job will be much tougher when it comes to actually getting the quarterback on the ground, as Russell Wilson is much more mobile and slippery than Lynch is. More than anything, though, the group is playing together as a unit for the first time in a while and that is a large part of the defense’s improved performance of late, and that gives Atlanta an edge here.
This is where it will get a little dicey for the Falcons defense. The Seahawks have two great weapons in Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, plus a couple of very solid options outside in Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse. Kearse and Lockett have been less than stellar this season, but still have the potential to create big plays—especially with Wilson’s ability to extend plays and stretch the defense. The biggest matchups to watch though will be Baldwin and Graham against two young Falcons defenders in Brian Poole and Keanu Neal, respectively. Neal and Poole have been very good this year against some very solid competition, but this will be the toughest test they will have faced so far.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford should be able to contain Lockett and Kearse this week but the key for both of these guys is to limit penalties and avoid big plays—Alford more so than Trufant, obviously. Luckily, neither of these receivers pose a similar threat to Kelvin Benjamin or Devin Funchess as neither one is taller than 6 feet 1 inch.
Atlanta is hopeful that they will get Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell back this week, making their linebacker group much more athletic and a better match for Seattle’s offense. If those two come back it will give Atlanta the speed it needs to close on the ball and make the open field tackles necessary to contain this offense.
Christine Michael has performed pretty well for Seattle this season but this offense still misses the ability to run the ball at will with Marshawn Lynch. Still, Michael is averaging just under five yards a carry and has been targeted 17 times in the passing game this season—Michael is a versatile back to match this versatile Seattle offense.
This entire matchup will really come down to two things: can the Falcons linebackers make open-field tackles and can they contain Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin? I think the Falcons have an advantage everywhere except those matchups at tight-end and the slot, so this one falls pretty evenly, for me.
I think the defense as a unit will continue to improve this week. While the Seahawks have some great weapons in Baldwin and Graham, their offensive line is still pretty atrocious. If the Falcons can get to Russell Wilson and get him to force some throws, they should perform well enough to win the game. Graham and company will make plays, inevitably, but it is impossible to overlook the massive hole at offensive line. That gives the Falcons a slight advantage despite some poor matchups elsewhere on the field.