NFL Playoffs Divisional Round: Seahawks vs. Falcons - Know your enemy

Scott Cunningham

Dave Choate, the editor and Baron of the Atlanta Falcons' SBN blog The Falcoholic, was nice enough to provide Field Gulls with a scouting report of sorts on the Seahawks' Divisional Round opponent this week. My questions, in italics, and his answers can be found below. Dave also hosted the Ask The Falcoholic Q/A this week at Field Gulls, and honestly went way above the call of duty there, so I encourage you to check that out too.

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DK: It seems like in the last couple of years, the Falcons had been more run-heavy and balanced, but this year tend to rely more on the pass. Is this accurate, and if so, can you explain why the shift has been made (I'm assuming it has a more causation other than the fact that you have two elite WRs, though I could be wrong). Has the line been bad, have the running backs been bad? Is it just a shift in focus?

Dave Choate: It's very accurate. The Falcons have been a run-first team for years, and for the first three years of Mike Smith's tenure in Atlanta, it was the right move. They had a road-grading offensive line, Michael Turner was in the prime of his career and it won them a lot of football games. Last year, the wheels started to come off that ground game a bit and the blocking broke down. The Falcons made the shift a year late.

The Falcons were ready to take a step toward becoming an elite passing offense. With Ryan, those two elite receivers, Tony Gonzalez and some nice options out of the backfield, there was no reason to lean on a 30-year-old Turner who clearly is losing the leg drive that made him so terrifying in 2008 and 2009.

DK: Along those lines, how would you characterize the Falcons' offensive scheme? Is it a lot of deep shots, more short-WCO style passing, play-action heavy, deep drops? I admit I don't have a firm grasp on the 'style' of offense Atlanta runs or wants to run, ideally.

DC: In an ideal world, the Falcons are using the run to set up screens, play action and short routes that allow their playmakers to create in space. After they get the short passing game established, they start taking shots downfield, trying to make use of the gamebreaking speed that Julio Jones has. In essence, it's extremely pass-heavy, and if everything's clicking well they're throwing darts all over the field.

DK: Describe the Falcons' defensive scheme and what are some of the things they do best? What are some of the weak points, that you can see?

DC: The Falcons under Mike Nolan like to run their D out of the nickel package as much as possible. They have truly talented defensive backs and enough team speed up front that they're fairly effective against the pass. That leaves them vulnerable to the run, of course, and that's what the Seahawks will want to exploit. The Falcons have some straight-up athletes on defense and they're great in pursuit, though they don't tackle particularly well. They'll be able to do a decent job of corralling Russell Wilson, but they're going to need to weigh the advantage of doing so against the need to slow down Lynch. You're probably going to force them to roll with a 4-3 more often than not.

DK: Who are some under the radar players that Seattle fans should know about and that might have a big impact on this game, and why?

DC: Jacquizz Rodgers springs readily to mind. He's a terrific receiver out of the backfield, with dangerous agility and the ability to make defenders miss. He doesn't have elite speed and rarely breaks long runs, but he's a versatile player. He keeps defenses guessing when he's lined up, because the Falcons aren't shy about using him as a runner and a receiver.

The other one would be Robert McClain. The team's nominal third cornerback has been one of the league's stingiest defenders in his limited snaps this year, and he'll get some serious run, likely on Doug Baldwin. He's also a sure tackler on a team that has relatively few of them.

DK: How was Matt Ryan played this year on a whole? What would you list as his top skills and where is he deficient?

DC: He's had an excellent year. More than half of his interceptions came in two games, and he is prone to the occasional meltdown when the pressure gets in his face and the coverage is tight enough. By and large, however, he avoids pressure well, makes excellent use of his weapons and flashes consistently excellent accuracy. On a good day, he can pick even a terrific defense apart. It was his finest year.

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Big thanks to Dave for answering my questions, especially after he so thoroughly dominated the "Ask the Falcoholic" thread with his insights and anaylsis! Make sure you head over to The Falcoholic for more scouting of the Seahawks' enemy this week.

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