We’re getting closer to Monday Night Football, where the 5-4 Falcons will take on the 6-3 Seahawks in a match-up that could very well have big playoff implications down the road. An Atlanta win would put them in the lead for the 6th seed and give them tiebreakers over four other Wild Card contenders, but a loss would essentially give the Falcons no room for error whatsoever.
This should be a great game between two teams that always seem to play each other close. Here are some Falcons to watch closely during the game.
RB Tevin Coleman
Coleman will be the primary starter for the Falcons in Freeman’s absence, a role which he hasn’t assumed since the 2015 preseason. That’s not to say that Coleman isn’t worthy—he is arguably the best #2 RB in the NFL—just that he’s been relatively untested as a player that will be asked to carry the load in an NFL offense. If last week was any indication, Coleman is ready for the challenge.
The offense will function a little differently with Coleman as the primary runner. There will likely be a greater emphasis on the outside zone runs, which was needed anyway. The consistent 5-8 yard gains that Freeman would routinely provide will probably be replaced by more 2-3 yard runs and more 10+ yard runs. Overall, the run game should continue to be effective. I also hope that Sark leans more on Coleman as a receiver, as that’s been a part of the offense that has all but disappeared since Week 4.
SS Keanu Neal
Neal has been phenomenal for the Falcons in 2017, and they’ll need him to continue playing at that level on Monday night to beat the Seahawks. Neal will likely draw primary coverage responsibilities on Seattle TE Jimmy Graham, which is going to be a difficult match-up. Graham is the Seahawks’ primary red-zone weapon, and it’ll be up to Neal to keep him in check.
Seattle has also indicated that they’re likely to try and run the ball as much as possible. Neal’s open-field tackling ability and punishing hits will be needed to help shut down the Seahawks’ anemic rushing attack. Neal has arguably been the Falcons’ best defender this season, and the team will depend on him to limit the damage the Seahawks can do on offense.
TE Austin Hooper
With Seattle SS Kam Chancellor more than likely out for this game, Hooper should have a better match-up against back-up Bradley McDougald. McDougald isn’t awful, but he’s not the elite player that Chancellor is. The Falcons will likely have to rely on a mix of short passing and play-action shots against the ferocious pass rush of the Seahawks, and we’ve seen over the past several games that Ryan trusts Hooper as a safety valve.
Hooper’s blocking—which has been very up-and-down this season—will also need to be on point during Monday’s game. Establishing the running game will be important to keeping Seattle’s defense off balance, and Hooper will need to have a strong game to help accomplish that goal. Look for the young TE to rise to the challenge against a difficult opponent.
The Falcons’ pass rush
We saw the pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons completely take over the game last week against Dallas. Adrian Clayborn had six sacks at the hands of back-up LT Chaz Green and replacement Byron Bell. But it wasn’t just Clayborn that caused disruption: the whole defense contributed to that dominant performance, including two more sacks by Brooks Reed and Dontari Poe. They’ll need another excellent performance in Seattle to slow down the Seahawks’ offensive attack.
Seattle’s offensive line is arguably the weakest position on their roster. LT Duane Brown, recently added in a trade from the Texans, is likely going to be out for Monday’s game. LG Luke Joeckel looks to be on track to return, but he’s been sketchy at best even when healthy. RT Germain Ifedi has been awful. The only solid player on the line appears to be C Justin Britt, but he can’t do it alone. Look for the Falcons to go after Russell Wilson early and often, particularly with 4-man rushes like we saw against Dallas.
The Falcons’ offensive line
With Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor out, Seattle’s biggest strength on defense is likely their dominant pass rush. The Falcons’ offensive line has been good in 2017, but this is a tough test to see just how good they really are. RG Wes Schweitzer has been the blemish on what has otherwise been a solid season for the rest of the group, but even he has had some good moments mixed in.
The offensive line will need to play a great game to keep Ryan upright and help kickstart a running game that will more than likely be without Devonta Freeman. Expect to see a heavy dose of outside zone runs and toss plays in an attempt to tire out the Seattle defense and open up opportunities for play-action shots. If Ryan has time to survey the field, he’ll be able to take advantage of an undermanned Seahawks’ secondary.
What are your thoughts on the match-up between the Falcons and Seahawks? Who are some players that you’ll be watching closely during the game?