Looking at the schedule for 2022, Seattle loomed as one of the most favorable matchups, especially for a Falcons’ offense trying to establish some dominance early in the year. Two weeks later and with that matchup looming, it still looks that way.
Can the Falcons win their battles in the trenches against Seattle? Are their skill position players good enough to overcome Seattle’s defensive talent? The answer to both questions is yes, in my humble opinion, but let’s talk more about it.
In the trenches
Atlanta’s offensive line has sort of held up this year, helped by Marcus Mariota’s ability to escape pressure and extend plays. Jake Matthews has been his usual self in pass protection—that is to say, good—and Elijah Wilkinson and Kaleb McGary have largely been pleasant surprises. We haven’t even seen Chris Lindstrom’s best this year, and Drew Dalman...can only get better! He had a bit of a tough week against the Rams.
What we have seen is that quality fronts can stymie this rushing attack to some extent and can make it difficult for Mariota to sit back and find an open man, which is what you’d expect when the Falcons’ offensive line probably tops out at solid this year. What’s up for debate is whether the Seahawks can take advantage of that.
If they’re on, the answer is yes. Uchenna Nwosu has been legitimately dangerous thus far, with 10 credited pressures from Pro Football Focus, or double the number of anyone on the Falcons. The fact that the Seahawks only have three sacks as a team disguises the fact that Nwosu has been terrific, Quinton Jefferson and Darrell Taylor have been solid, and Boye Mafe and Poona Ford are capable of creating tough days. Shelby Harris is, at the very least, usually a handful against the run. It’s an uneven group, but a fairly talented one, and I’m bracing for them to figure things out a bit.
One area that’s encouraging: Even though the run blocking has been a mixed bag for Atlanta thus far, the Seattle run defense has gotten gashed to the tune of almost 300 yards in just two weeks. This is a bit of a get-right matchup for Atlanta, which didn’t have a ton of success against that Rams front a week ago.
Given their current level of production and Atlanta’s solid enough start to the year, though, I’d view this as a matchup that could easily go either way. If the Falcons are at least solid they ought to be able to work effectively against Seattle, and thus we’ll call this one fairly even.
This isn’t the prime Seattle secondary and linebacker group. Jamal Adams is now out for the year, leaving Seattle leaning on former Falcons Teez Tabor and Ryan Neal, and the rest of their secondary is quite solid but far short of elite. They’ve kept opposing attacks from going wild against them to this point and the Falcons likely won’t buck that trend, but the Falcons can win their matchups here. That’s true in the linebacker groups, as well, where quarterbacks targeting Cody Barton and Jordyn Brooks are 20/21 for almost 200 yards over the first two week. Getting Atlanta’s tight ends and running backs into favorable matchups with that duo should be a priority.
The Falcons, meanwhile, are reasonably loaded. Drake London has proven to be matchup-proof thus far, Kyle Pitts is lurking as a nightmare breakout candidate, and Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge, and Bryan Edwards are a useful group of receivers, even if Edwards has yet to do much of anything. Even Parker Hesse and Anthony Firkser can contribute, even if Mariota’s effectiveness as a passer waxes and wanes, but he’s good enough to punish Seattle on short-to-intermediate routes with this group, and his ability to pick up yards with his legs makes him a problem for Seattle to account for. Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier allow the Falcons to be physical on the ground and keep drives moving along, and with event reasonable blocking success, Patterson is obviously quite capable of huge gains. There are frustrating stretches and this offense is far from a finished product, but the talent here is enough to give Seattle fits.
The Falcons just seem like the better team here, however slight the overall advantage might be. If the line is even reasonably up to the task and Arthur Smith and company can use motion and sow confusion to get favorable matchups, they ought to get back on track after a relatively quiet week against Los Angeles. They should be able to run effectively, and that includes Mariota, who scrambled to such great effect against New Orleans in Week 1.
Seatlte has the talent to be better on this side of the ball than they’ve been, but this is one of the most favorable matchups they’re going to see in the early going. They should be able to—and should—take advantage.