Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
Note: With a dominating performance vs. the Lions in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs, which featured the return of the Seahawks running game, Seattle now advances to the Divisional round with a road game against the Atlanta Falcons…this game could be a barn burner…please read on…MA
As I write this post it is Saturday morning, just a few hours before our Seattle Seahawks take on the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional round of this year’s NFL Playoffs. Though time is short, I have done some study of the win over Detroit in last week’s Wild Card game, as well as some research on the Falcons, and there are some points I’d like to share—so here we go…
First, in last week’s post I made the point that for Seattle to make a deep playoff run Russell Wilson needs to ditch the knee brace and return to the elusive, daring and scrambling form we are so familiar with. I said that because it was obvious to me that with the Seahawks offensive line woes and lack of running game all of the pressure would be on him to perform.
So what happens?
The Hawks offensive line goes out and totally dominates the Detroit front 7, Thomas Rawls rushes for a team playoff record 161 yards, Seattle controls time of possession by an astounding 14 minutes (37 to 23), converts more than half of their 3rd downs, and scores TDs in 3 of their 4 red zone possessions. Throw in a suffocating defensive performance that completely stymies the Detroit run game and pretty much shuts down Lions QB Matt Stafford and you have the makings of a blowout, which by game’s end is more or less what happened. Overall it was a surprising performance when you factor in how this season has gone; and one that should give Twelves everywhere a dose of hope. If the Seahawks continue to play like this it is not unreasonable to expect another NFC title and subsequent Super Bowl appearance.
But will they?
Well…that is the million dollar question. I’ve gone back and looked at that Detroit game and studied it a little bit. It seems to me that the key to the offensive line play was, at least partially, Seattle’s use of double teams on the Detroit defensive linemen. This resulted in huge holes opening at the point of attack which sprung Rawls and left him to deal with the Lions secondary defenders as he saw fit; whether to run away from them or run over them. (He did a bit of both) The result of all this successful running was that to try and stop it the Lions had to bring a safety down into the box (close to the line of scrimmage) and out of prime pass coverage, which opened things up for the play action pass; and the result of that was that Wilson (23-30, 224 yards, 2 TDs, 0 picks), Doug Baldwin (11 catches, 104 yards 1 TD), Paul Richardson (3 catches, 48 yards, 1 TD) and Jimmy Graham (4 catches, 37 yards) took over the game in the 2nd half. And as for Wilson, though he was sacked a few times, I don’t recall seeing one rushing attempt by him in that game.
Like I said, considering how this season has gone, it was a pretty amazing game by Seattle. If not a classic Wilson scrambling and running performance, it was much more like a classic Seahawks performance—with a dominating, clock controlling run game mixed with efficient passing and a stifling defense. That is Seattle’s formula—and it works.
But can the Hawks replicate the above on the road against the Atlanta Falcons?
Obviously the Falcons are not the Lions. They are much more potent offensively with one of the NFL’s best passing attacks featuring quarterback and MVP candidate Matt Ryan (69.9% completion rate, 4944 yards, 38 TDs), All World wide receiver Julio Jones (83 catches, 1409 yds, 6 TDs) and a bevy of other fleet running backs and receivers (running back Devonta Freeman is a 1,000 yard rusher who averages 4.8 yards per carry). Despite all that talent, when Seattle and Atlanta played earlier this season the Seahawks completely dominated in the first 2 quarters and took a 17-3 lead into the halftime break. They harassed Ryan mercilessly and sacked him multiple times. Then that nightmare 3rd quarter happened with all of the mis-communication in the LOB and the Richard Sherman sideline meltdown. Ryan threw 3 scoring passes in that quarter to put the Falcons back in the lead, which set up Seattle’s 4th quarter comeback for a 26-24 victory.
On the face of it, based on that game and Atlanta’s stats, we could be in for a barn burner today against the Falcons; but if you are looking for advantages for Seattle there are several things to keep in mind. First, though now we are missing Earl Thomas on defense, in that first Atlanta game the Hawks were missing Kam Chancellor AND Frank Clark (10 sacks this season). We also lost Michael Bennett to a knee injury in the 3rd quarter and he had been wreaking havoc on the Falcons all game. All three of these players are healthy now, and the Seattle defense is actually more complete at this point than it was then. Second, for all of their offensive prowess, the Falcons have the 8th worst defense in terms of yards allowed in the league. Seattle WILL be able to move the ball on them and score, so much will hinge on Seattle’s ability to control Ryan and the Falcons defensively. The Hawks offense can help this process with the formula used last week against the Lions: long, ball control drives and a good rushing attack with lots of 3rd down conversions. That keeps the Atlanta offense off the field, which will be huge in this game. Third, the game against the Falcons earlier this year was made unnecessarily dramatic by Hawks place kicker Steven Hauschka having two blocked kicks (1 FG and 1 PAT) during the contest. For Seattle to win that cannot happen in this game, so hopefully the kicking team issues have been addressed.
Well Hawks fans, that pretty much sums up what I have to say about this game. It is about an hour and a half to kick off, and I am really excited to see if the Seahawks can play the kind of game they played last week against the Lions. If they can come close to it I think they will win and advance to the NFC Championship game for the 3rd time in 4 years.
That would be a blast, don’t you think?
Copyright © 2017
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved