I remember being anxious for Week 4. Seattle just held off the Cardinals 13-10 in the home opener Week 3, that win after two road losses to start the year. In came the Atlanta Falcons and their 1-2 record, disappointed with the start and looking to re-establish their identity as a ball control offense and solid defense.
To Seattle's advantage was this:
Pretty good record. But the face... what's he thinking; 'ohh, what the heck...'
One of those wins came at Seattle in Week 15 of 2010. They weren't playing "Falcons' football" in 2011 and in this game the focus was getting back to that.
I went to this game with my friend Brett "Two Bills Mills" Miller - season ticket holder with me in 2006 and I enjoy going to games with him. He's a "tell it how it is" kinda guy - to the extent that if you aren't using your lights past dusk and you almost hit him, he'll run down the street and make sure you turn those lights on. It can apply to football and I like it.
I see this as relevant because we were both looking forward to this game with a similar view; this was the type of game that would show if Seattle could go 10-6ish, .500/below or 3-13ish, a great early-season litmus test. My hope was to not get blown out - as was his - because I preferred 'record purgatory' over the bottom. A win meant potentially above .500, a close loss meant teetering just below it. Consider these statements a quarter-pole assessment, if you will.
I guess retrospect gives me another wrinkle when looking at this game. I believe it's one of the early games that shows some of the holes that need to be filled during the player acquisition period coming up. We learn a bit about the roster and "scheme" limitations of the 2011 team, which helps project free agency and the draft. Plus, this was not your average game. A lot happened.
On the opening kickoff we see a different formation than usual. Instead of five across as we've seen, notice six with the two man stagger.
Touchback. On 1st down from '21,' play action to the fullback. Oh, look who it is:
Welcome back Michael Robinson! They get him involved (and physical) early off of the ankle injury, something we saw last week with Sidney Rice. Plus, I like throwing to the fullback. It's under rated sometimes. Anyway, a Lynch run leads to 3rd and 2.
Seattle in '22' versus 4-3.
Miller motions up top, snap. Jackson drives away from center hard with a 3 step drop. It sort of looks designed to be a quick throw, or a delayed sprint/rollout; hard drop, scan, slight hesitation and go. But, Lynch and Robinson are still behind the line of scrimmage...Is this some weird screen? Also, check out Golden Tate's right arm (in the third frame); his hand blends in with the yellow line a bit. Is it really almost a yard behind his body? That seems odd...
Doesn't get there; not even close. The angle to the corner collapses and it's almost like they said 'throw it away, no hits early in our territory...' If Atlanta was trying to take the crowd out of the game, well, there are already some rumbles audible on the broadcast. I mean...what play was that? They script plays, but something was amiss here.
On the punt Richard Sherman makes a nice tackle. Also, this is where Aaron Curry ends Matt McCoy's season. It's gruesome and I'm not gonna be that guy that breaks it down. Regardless, McCoy was solid in Week 1 when David Hawthorne was hurt and was viewed as one of the teams core teamer's, solid and versatile depth at linebacker. Fox had no shame replaying it a few times. I guess that's part of their job though...(Aside - hope he can get healthy, he worked hard for this team.)
We learn Matt Ryan is 21-2 at home, 13-13 on the road.
Not going to beat around the bush here; Atlanta goes 72 yards in 12 plays, over 7:40. It's too painful of a drive to simply string you along blindly for the inevitable...so now you know.
Atlanta converts their first two sets of downs with a combination of tough running and quick passes, including two 3rd and 1 conversions:
Here Thomas is in the box again, this time as a blitzer.
Notice the tight sets with different personnel by the Falcons, first shotgun '11' then undercenter '22' with a heavily unbalanced line. Seattle is in a shifted, then tighter 4-3. Also, Matt Ryan has been making calls at the line since early in the drive and they begin no huddling after this play. This diversity keeps Seattle's base personnel on the field, and off balance, for pretty much the whole drive.
They keep running and David Hawthorne stands out here as having a poor drive. Both Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are churning their legs and getting chunks of yards after contact. It's fully worth wondering if Heater is healthy here - we know he doesnt end the year that way, far from it perhaps - because he really doesn't look like heater. I wonder how/if his knee injury affects Seattle's offer in free agency...something to keep in mind.
The Falcons are 1st and 10 at the Seattle 28 where Atari Bigby makes a nice ankle tackle after he dives and misses Rodgers in the hole:
On 2nd and 9 the last play is rendered irrelevant. Seattle in an 'over 4-3, Cover/Tampa Two' look versus '21.'
Ryan audibles. Seahawks bring Bigby up, drop Thomas.
The linebackers bit hard on the play action fake. The Seahawks have White bracketed with Trufant and Earl Thomas. You see the angle Thomas is taking as he starts towards White. White runs into the top left corner of the box, just on the edge of Thomas' current range.
Thomas has to change direction as White cuts across...
Trufant misses and Thomas tackles him at the 1, 1st and goal.
(Big credit to bigTrain21)
Now it's K.J Wright's time to shine, with a little help from C-Mac and Alan Branch (arrowed on the LOS). Seattle is in goal line, Atlanta in '23. And check out Jeron Johnson's towel. I feel like he always has a towel. OK, check out this play:
Handoff to Turner. McDonald has made his way behind the line and maybe disrupted the pulling guard (75) a little. Turner has nowhere to go but follow the leader. Back to K.J.
Wright actually gets his left arm wrapped around Turner and helps make the team-tackle. Wright ends up flat on his back, not even in the picture when the play ends. Way to pay homage to the fallen soldier, and a major flash of goalline-gotta stop 'em grit by Wright. Some hops, too.
Next play, same personnel. Tony Gonzalez motions...
Atari Bigby blitzes and gets popped. Seattle was successful with this blitz against the Steelers in Week 2, same down and distance. Good scouting by Atlanta. Ryan fires to Gonzalez with Wright on him...
Hall of Famer right there...Nice throw, too. I like K.J. Wright even though he didn't make this play. I think the coaching staff liked this kind of effort, especially knowing K.J. does homework and will be even more ready for this one next time.
Seattle gets it goin with some play action to Rice.
Rice fights for a few more after the catch but then gets body- slammed onto this left shoulder. 1st and 10 on the 43, high to BMW incomplete. Then a penalty on this shift:
FOUR GUYS MOVING AT THE SNAP. This is the same one they messed up in Week 1, just replace Sidney Rice with Ben Obomanu. On 2nd and 15 Rice lines up in inside of BMW and then runs a combination route that opens a window for a throw from a clean pocket:
Draws BMW off of his feet. Catch.
Five receivers out in route; Okung almost gets beat on the edge and Carpenter may not hold up much longer. SCRAMBLE!
Eyes downfield, ball up...notice Paul McQuistan on the left hash in front of Jackson; he has kept the pocket protected in his matchup...Is T-Jax thinking throw???
He thinks throw, then leaves his feet and "pump-fakes" as he glides through the trash, then gets caught and dragged down. If you've been reading this series semi-regularly you probably are aware of my qualms with Jackson's lack of protecting the football, in particular when leaving the pocket (though fumbled snaps have been an issue, too). I mean, I don't know what to say about this example. Disaster waiting to happen.
For me, it's like the scene in The Rock when Nick Cage has to go around Alcatraz and disarm all the missiles containing the ultra lethal green balls of gas without letting any of the balls explode, and one of them gets away... Check 6:10-6:40 in the video for the actual clip in my mind; realize that's one of my favorite 13 minutes of movie.
Back to football. Seattle takes a delay of game to give Jon Ryan a little more room, the punt gets fair caught at the 13.
Aaron Curry has replaced KJ Wright in the base 4-3, which is interesting. He makes a tackle on a run the first play, then Atlanta runs- Leroy Hill makes a smart play - into good team defense to make it 3rd and 3.
Seattle in nickel (Hill and Hawthorne are the 'backers) and they get pressure. Anthony Hargrove is jumping, Raheem Brock started on the outside and keeps his motor running after running into a wall of line, now looping inside.
Check out what just happened where Ryan is looking:
Ryan saw Trufant driving away from Jones.
Julio Jones gets open, but Marcus Trufant also looks to lose track of him. Jones pretty much just stood there, making sure he stayed in front of the first down marker. This is one of those plays where the D's inability to get the quarterback on the ground stands out.
Chris Clemons gets in there and tugs the ankle...but it's about Curry...
A big tackle...you know what's coming...(Earl Thomas to Curry; 'dude, don't...the ref is right there...')
'I MADE THE PLAY!! I'M SO JACKED UP!!! YEAAHHHHH!!!!'
The quarter winds down to zero. Here are some stats:
We'll pick up with the second quarter tomorrow.