Over the next three weeks it doesn't matter much whether the Hawks win or lose. It matters how they win or lose. Will tottering veterans finally fall? Will valuable role players finally breakout? Today I'll look at five players who will be tested on Sunday starting with the Hawks' nominal #1 receiver: Deion Branch.
Deion Branch is on the cusp. That cusp rises between stardom and disappointment. In two games he's lit up opponents, but in three others he's had 50 or fewer yards. He's also missed a third of the season with a foot injury. The skills are all there, though. He gets open. He runs great routes. He features quality if not exceptional hands. And, as previously mentioned, he has preternatural timing and ability to change speeds. What then must Branch do to be successful on Sunday? To get over that hump and give Seattle the #1 receiving threat that would elevate their passing attack from above average to elite?
Well, simply, he'd have to have his biggest game of the season. The Carolina Panthers are among the league's worst at defending against #1 receivers (28th). That's a combination of Chris Gamble's inconsistencies, a ragtag bunch of safeties, and NO pass rush. Those factors combined should allow Branch to: Get open (6+ receptions) and Get deep (15+ YPC). With DJ Hackett once again out, Bobby Engram facing the toughest opposition (Carolina is ranked 3rd defending "other receivers") and Nate Burleson catching only 51% of the passes intended him, this passing offense will be run through Branch. If Branch can finally bust out, do the #1 receiver thing of putting an entire offense on his back, the Hawks should have little trouble Sunday: scoring points or winning the game.