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Falcons vs. Seahawks: Fascinating Four for Week 11

Can the Falcons surpass another team in the wild card race?

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Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For the first time in weeks, a compelling game will take place on Monday night. There aren’t many classic rivalries left. It has gotten to the point jwhere two very good teams with some internal connection can spark up something special. The Falcons and Seahawks played twice last season. Both games were highly contested with Seattle losing control in each contest.

Richard Sherman went ballistic on the sideline after a coverage bust led to Julio Jones running free downfield. Michael Bennett managed to top him in the playoffs by essentially losing his mind and fighting everyone after numerous snaps. The Falcons somehow managed to remain composed. Matt Ryan gathered the entire offense to make sure they didn’t get involved in Seattle’s antics. This is becoming one of the best rivalries in football. Both teams are currently in the thick of the playoff race. While key players are missing on both sides, this game should be another emotional rollercoaster.

Tevin Coleman takes the load

Coleman’s debut took place on Monday night against Philadelphia. It was a workman-like effort from the dynamic running back. He didn’t find many glaring openings against the Eagles’ talented defense. Despite not creating any explosive plays, Coleman showed his ability to carry the load and run between the tackles. This performance showed he wasn’t solely a straight-line speed demon. There were instances of shiftiness and violence in some runs that surprised critics.

In midst of the uproar about Sarkisian’s play calling, Coleman was first on the list of players being misused. It has been a frustrating season for him.

His reaction following a season-long run against the Jets showed it. There isn’t any consistency with his weekly usage in the running game. When he manages to get eight or ten carries, most of them are designed to go up the middle. Sarkisian’s preference of running inside zone isn’t an ideal fit for him. Thankfully for his sake, the embattled offensive coordinator is starting to become more open minded. He used more outside zone concepts against Dallas. That resulted in multiple runs going 17 yards or more.

Questionable play calling hasn’t damaged Coleman’s overall ability. The big-play machine is still playing at a relatively high level. Rotoworld’s Patrick Daugherty highlighted Coleman’s breakaway ability in his weekly rankings feature. He is quietly producing runs of 15 yards or more on a consistent basis. Due to the offense’s lack of rhythm and short-yardage woes, it hasn’t been recognized as much. The same applies to his improved vision and balance. Don’t allow the slight decline in production make you believe he isn’t evolving as a pure runner.

While Coleman could start for several teams, it won’t be easy to replace a top five running back. Devonta Freeman is one of the most consistent ball carriers in the league. There isn’t a major flaw in his game. His dependability provides a sense of calmness for an offense still searching for an identity. To not have him in a hostile environment will hurt them to some extent. Expect Terron Ward to receive a few opportunities, but it will be on Coleman to step up in a heavily featured role. The third-year running back isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary to prepare himself. A no-nonsense confident approach bodes well for Atlanta, especially if Sarkisian continues to use more outside zone and gets him involved in the passing game.

Julio watch

It’s very unfortunate that one of the best wide receiver-cornerback battles isn’t happening. There aren’t many better matchups than Julio Jones versus Richard Sherman, and they do their best work at the line of scrimmage. If cornerbacks dare to press Jones, he will overpower them or mix it up with a wicked stutter step. It proved to be difficult for Sherman, who loves using his long arms to disrupt the opposing wide receiver’s route.

Sherman’s devastating season ending injury puts Jones in an intriguing spot. He won’t have to cope with the All-Pro cornerback. For all his success against Sherman, his production mostly came on slants and comebacks. There weren’t any explosive plays when both players matched up. Sherman was quick to praise his work ethic. Never taking plays off makes the NFL’s most unique receiver an even bigger nightmare. The coaching staff should recognize what Jones could do against an undermanned secondary.

As Earl Thomas returns, Kam Chancellor is done for the season. Without their enforcer, Seattle’s secondary will be susceptible to short and intermediate passes in the middle of the field. That could end up benefitting Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper more than Jones. Regardless of how many targets Jones receives, he is the focal point of everything. His presence will create openings for the other receiving options. Thomas could possibly shadow Jones more than usual, given the difficult circumstances surrounding their secondary. Not having him in the playoffs proved costly against the Falcons’ juggernaut offense.

Jones has an impressive resume on Monday night. Who can ever forget him carrying a mediocre Falcons team on a winter night in Lambeau Field? His 141-yard game on opening night in 2015 gave Bryon Maxwell a rude awakening to life in Philadelphia. Maxwell’s return to Seattle couldn’t come at a better time. As long as Ryan receives ample protection, there is no reason why Jones can’t have another big game. The losses to New England and Carolina did show their willingness to rely on him. While maintaining a steady balance is essential against a top-tier (albeit wounded) defense like Seattle, this has all the makings of being a memorable night for Jones.

Chasing down Russell Wilson

There will be high expectations on the Falcons’ front four following last week’s eight-sack explosion. How can Adrian Clayborn build off his historic performance? After admitting he basically used one move, wouldn’t this benefit the opposing left tackle in preparation? Seattle’s offensive line coach Tom Cable can’t possibly have his players as unprepared as Dallas was last week.

Not having Duane Brown is worrying, but it shouldn’t be considered a massive loss. Russell Wilson has played behind a revolving door of below average left tackles for years. His experience and scrambling ability should give Matt Tobin some relief. Whether Seattle uses a running back to chip or Tobin works on stopping the cross chop all week, Clayborn must be prepared to handle the extra attention.

Sacks are important, but they are hard to come by against the most elusive quarterback in the league. Wilson is exceptional at recognizing pressure and escaping a crowded pocket to make those special out of structure plays. Generating an interior rush would help rattle him. It’s also important for Vic Beasley to make his presence felt. He was anonymous in both games last season. Star players need to make an impact in big games. Beasley hasn’t done it enough yet.

Handling Seattle’s swarming front seven

In his last visit to Seattle, Ryan took an absolute beating. A combination of Seattle’s front four dominating and creative blitzes led to a brutalizing first half. It’s the biggest reason why Atlanta faced a 17-3 deficit going into the second half. Cliff Avril beat Ryan Schraeder off the edge to strip Ryan, while Michael Bennett manhandled Jake Matthews. Kyle Shanahan’s tendency to use empty set formations played right into Seattle’s hands. When they blitzed, Ryan was left hopeless in the pocket. The Seahawks’ defense produced four sacks and 13 hits. Most of their success came in the first half, as Shanahan made excellent adjustments and Bennett got (add link) injured from a cut block.

Seattle isn’t quite as good up front this season. Losing Cliff Avril has been a tough adjustment for them. Although Dwight Freeney is performing admirably, the legendary pass rusher can only play so many snaps. Their enormous defensive line rotation has helped them cope with Avril’s absence and Sheldon Richardson’s underwhelming play. Colossal first round bust Dion Jordan is making the most out of a golden opportunity. According to Pro Football Focus, the former third overall pick produced one sack, two hits, and two hurries against Arizona.

He could pose problems off the edge, alongside Michael Bennett and Frank Clark. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright will be utilized on various blitzes to force Ryan into making rash decisions. Despite ranking third in yardage per play from using empty sets, Sarkisian may want to dial back those formations against one of the most destructive groups in the league.