Enough preamble about how important this game is, because I’m certain you understand the stakes. A loss here isn’t catastrophic, but a win would put the Falcons at 5-1, give them three wins against genuine contenders (the other two being Denver and Oakland), and set them up to win the NFC South barring a massive meltdown.
Here are three matchups that may prove to be critical to the outcome of this one.
Tevin Coleman versus Kam Chancellor
The weather forecast kind of pumps the brakes on Coleman’s value as a receiver...or does it?
More than the winds and rain, the biggest factor in Coleman’s day is likely to be Kam Chancellor, the gifted safety that Dan Quinn is clearly hoping Keanu Neal will become or surpass someday down the line. Teams have been content to put linebackers on Tevin Coleman when he’s going out for passes, which has led to some hilarious mismatches as he torches players who simply aren’t fast enough to keep up with him. Seattle’s defense is very good, very smart, and features Chancellor, who will draw Coleman often enough that it’s a legitimate concern for him.
We know that Coleman and Devonta Freeman will be factors on the ground, especially as play gets sloppier and sloppier in the weather, but Coleman’s success in the passing game has been an X factor for Atlanta for weeks, and I’m wondering if even Seattle is capable of entirely shutting him down.
If Coleman can win those one-on-one matchups against Chancellor and the Seattle linebackers—which is not a given—the Falcons’ offense can thrive. We’ll see if it happens.
Vic Beasley & Dwight Freeney versus Russell Wilson
A week ago, Beasley and Freeney (Beasley in particular) teed off on rookie Paxton Lynch, a mobile quarterback with a bright future who just wasn’t ready for primetime. They were aided by a poor performance from the Denver offensive line, and they’d like to replicate that performance against Seattle.
On one hand, the Seattle tackle situation is arguably even worse than Denver’s, with one of the three or four weakest starting duos in the entire NFL. On the other hand, they’re up against Russell Wilson, who is far savvier than Lynch, has long shown a knack for escaping pressure, and has the ability to get rid of the ball very quickly. I don’t doubt that Beasley and Freeney will be causing problems off the edge the rest of the way—Beasley may have just needed the confidence boost—but Wilson’s frustrating for any pass rusher to face.
My guess is the Falcons will pull down 1-2 sacks against Wilson and may be able to apply pressure, but unless the weather is really horrific, they’re not going to make Seattle’s QB look as bad as Lynch did.
Richard Sherman versus Julio Jones
Of course. No one can deny that Jones is one of the three best wide receivers in the NFL today, and while Sherman’s stock with fans and national media waxes and wanes, he’s clearly a top five cornerback. Seattle may elect to give Sherman help at times, but there’s little doubt that the star cornerback will be one of the few players in the NFL to attempt to take on Julio one on one for much of the game.
If Sherman wins that battle and/or forces a turnover while doing so, it puts Seattle in an excellent position to win, even with Atlanta’s all-around talent on offense. If Julio wins, torches Sherman a handful of times, and impacts the game in a major way, the Falcons may walk away with this one. It’ll be a critical—and fun!—battle.