Exploitable Mismatches for the Seattle Seahawks against the Atlanta Falcons

Pessimism isn't really my bag though I am often accused of it. All week I have been racking my brain looking for a way to put a positive spin on this weekend's matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. Seattle is a bad team and the Falcons are presumably a good team. On a personnel level, that means Atlanta should have more than a few exploitable mismatches. And really it isn't hard to list a few notables: Michael Jenkins against Kelly Jennings, Michael Turner against Seattle's linebackers, Harvey Dahl and Todd McClure against Colin Cole, Kroy Biermann against Sean Locklear, Jonathan Babineaux against Chester Pitts or Mike Gibson.

That last one seems particularly worrisome, because Matt Hasselbeck is at his worst when facing consistent interior pressure. When you're a little gun shy and your arm strength is marginal at best, big dudes attacking straight on is a recipe for all-arm floaters and capitulated sacks. Babs the Larger has great burst off the snap.

But enough of that. We know that the Seahawks likely will lose and that there are more than a handful of scenarios in which the game is well over before the end of the first half. Seahawks fans do not need to detail why to know this is a mismatch.

What about mismatches in favor of the Seahawks? There is sure to be some. This is what I can think of:

Leon Washington versus Michael Koenen

If that matchup does ever spring to life, we'll already know something has gone very, very good. What I am talking, what Washington and Koenen refer to pars pro toto, is the Seahawks kick return team against the Falcons kick off team. How can this be a mismatch, you might ask? Well it's not, exactly. It is more like a potential favorable matchup.

Koenen is tied for seventh in the league with 16 touchbacks, but because the Falcons score a ton of points, that number belies a less than stellar rate of touchbacks per kick. By percentage, Koenen ranks 12th. 77.8 of Koenen's kick offs are returned, and outside of domed stadiums, that improves to 81.8%. That's a small enough increase that it may or may not be significant. Two of his four touchbacks were in week one, when it was 65° Fahrenheit. Which, again, may or may not significant.

Washington should have a shot to return kicks. Will it matter? The Falcons have proven to be pretty good at covering kicks too. Koenen ranks tenth among kickers, with 50 or more kick offs, as ranked by average returns yards allowed. When teams do return kicks against the Falcons, they average only 21.7 yards.

So this isn't really a traditional matchup, and Seattle does not have a mismatch, to be fair, but Washington will have kicks to return and from there you never know. He's good. Flash can take it to house on any play.

Chris Clemons versus Sam Baker

Baker was an accomplished left tackle at USC, recognized three times as an All-American, but his tools are only so-so. He is the personification of a good enough left tackle. Someone that isn't an asset but also is not so much a liability that the Falcons can not field a top ten offense.

His problem, distilled into a clause, is that Baker is not too quick and nearly big enough to compensate. STATS Inc lists him with 9.5 sacks allowed on the season. That is recognizable by face value alone as bad, but to put it into perspective, Levi Brown has allowed five, Rodger Saffold has allowed two, Russell Okung has allowed three in seven games, D'Brickashaw Ferguson has allowed two and Michael Oher has allowed six. Sacks allowed isn't a perfect measure by any any any stretch, but  we have some perspective, some stats and now here is some limited scouting.

As you would expect from a highly competent but not terribly talented tackle, Baker's problem is matching against stronger or faster players. He struggled against James Harrison, Terrell Suggs and Trent Cole. From what I have seen, speed around the edge is Baker's biggest weakness. He picks up stunts well. He works in combination with his line very well, and he isn't overpowered decisively, but against a very pure edge rush, Baker can be found chasing all game. He becomes a rainbow in search of an end.

Seattle found itself an edge rusher and edge rush more or less defines Clemons' game. He isn't likely to negotiate multiple blockers unless Seattle schemes some decoys to isolate him on Baker, and he isn't going to overmatch Baker against the run, but if Seattle can force passing downs or -- wonders never cease -- build a lead, Clemons versus Baker could prove to be a definitive matchup. It could give the pass defense some kind of teeth in their cause of protecting the lead. Think: Clemons versus Brandyn Dombrowski.

Ben Obomanu and Mike Williams versus Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes

Atlanta starts a pair of 5'11", 180 pound corners. That works in Seattle's favor, especially given how big a window Matt Hasselbeck needs to succeed. A small corner isn't innately bad, but a small corner is likely to trade the ability to blanket a receiver for the ability to potentially intercept a pass. So it itsn't too surprising to find out that Atlanta rates poorly in passing yards allowed (24th) and passing yards allowed per attempt (22nd) but rates very highly in interceptions (6th).

Complicating things is that Hasselbeck has become one of the most interception prone quarterbacks in the NFL, and if Seattle falls behind, Atlanta's sprightly secondary can begin playing under coverage and pick the bones, so to speak. 2010 marks Hasselbeck's third straight season and fourth in the last five in which he rates well below average in interception percentage.

But in the name of optimism, let it be known that intercepting passes is among the least consistent abilities in the NFL, and if Seattle can stay out of extreme win probability situations, Hasselbeck may wrack up a ton of passing yards throwing to Obomanu and Williams. Matt could even spearhead a comeback. Whatever the case, remember receivers are not debited for interceptions in fantasy football. The Seahawks passing offense might suck, but it's no longer for want of oversized wide receivers that can dominate space and tear open sliding glass doors for Matt to throw through. And the Seahawks passing offense might suck, but it maybe, possibly could suck less against Falcons. It worked against Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer.

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