The Seattle Seahawks reunite with a familiar old friend on Sunday when Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons come to town in a premier matchup between two 1-loss teams in the NFC. The game could ultimately have major playoff implications, though we’ll try not to get too far ahead of ourselves.
Focusing just on this weekend, I spoke with Dave Choate, managing editor at The Falcohlic and definitely one of the coolest SB Nation writers I’ve gotten to know in my five-plus years with Field Gulls. I sent Dave five Qs and in kind, he sent me his five As to said Qs. You can read the Q and A that I did with The Falcoholic right here.
We already know plenty about Quinn, but here’s five other areas of the Falcons I was curious to learn more about.
Q: It's somewhat surprising, but Matt Ryan has never had a season over 100 passer rating. Never over 8.0 yards per attempt. A career-high of 32 touchdown passes. But this season he has a rating of 121.6. 10.4 Y/A. He's on pace for 38 touchdowns and over 5,500 passing yards. What's the main difference between this year and his first eight years in the league? Have you ever seen him play at this level before over a five-game stretch?
A: I can't really think of a time where he was quite this good over a five game stretch, though he came close in 2010 and 2012. The difference really comes down to improved confidence and comfort in Kyle Shanahan's scheme, which was probably inevitable after a disastrous first season for both parties. Add in the addition of Alex Mack, arguably the best center in the NFL, and huge contributions from second-year running back Tevin Coleman and rookie tight end Austin Hooper, and you have an offense that is greatly improved from 2015. With better weapons and better protection, plus that increased comfort level, he really is on pace to put together by far the best season of his career.
Q: The matchup everyone will be watching is Richard Sherman and Julio Jones. In his last game, Sherman had a tough first half against Brandon Marshall but then shut him down in the second half and had two interceptions. Jones just had a 300-yard game two weeks ago and is clearly one of the top three receivers at a time when the NFL is loaded with great receivers. What's the difference between Jones in a 300-yard game and Jones in Week 3 against the Saints and Week 5 against the Broncos when he had 16 and 29 yards, respectively?
A: Focus and ability for opposing defenses has everything to do with it. The secret to stopping Julio Jones is to smother him with multiple defenders, making him the riskiest throw on virtually every route he runs. If you can do that, you can largely hold #11 in check, though you will have to reckon with everyone else on the field for Atlanta.
When things go awry is when teams don't choose to double up Julio, or in the case of the Carolina Panthers, when you both elect not to double him up consistently and don't have the cornerbacks to make any strategy work. I'll be very interested to see how Sherman fares against Julio this time out, and how much help he's given.
Q: The Falcons are on pace to allow more passing touchdowns than the Saints did a year ago, when New Orleans allowed an NFL-record 45 touchdowns in the air. This despite the fact that Desmond Trufant is great, Robert Alford seems pretty good, and UDFA rookie Brian Poole is PFF's sixth-best rookie of the season right now. How can you have talented CBs and still be allowing a passer rating over 100? Are the safeties that bad? Is it that inconsistent? DC Richard Smith's fault?
A: There's a few things going on here that are worth remarking upon. You're right that the Falcons have terrific cornerbacks, but Robert Alford has had a few shaky moments and has been a penalty machine this year, and Atlanta is getting killed by tight ends once again. Keanu Neal's return to the lineup is helping with that, as is young, athletic linebacker Deion Jones, but safety is still not a true strength just yet.
The larger issue is that until last week against the Broncos, the Falcons' pass rush really hasn't been all that good. When Drew Brees and other quality cornerbacks have time in the pocket to make a throw, it hardly matters how good your secondary is.
Q: Speaking of Neal, how’s he doing so far? He was friend-of-the-site, and my 3000 NFL Mock Draft co-host Rob Staton’s favorite player in the draft.
A: Keanu Neal has only been back in action a couple of weeks, but he's as good as any of us would have dared hope so far. Quinn hand-picked him in the first round to be his enforcer in the secondary, and already we've seen strong coverage chops against the likes of Greg Olsen, some very big stops against Broncos runners, and a very aggressive, physical style of play that's difficult not to like.
Long-term, he's one of the key cogs of this defense along with Desmond Trufant, Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, and Grady Jarrett, so it's very exciting to see him doing so well so early.
Q: I have confidence in Seattle's ability to stop the run game but Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman seem to bring something entirely unique to the backfield. I struggle to think of a duo quite as complementary as these two. Both are on pace to gain over 1,500 yards from scrimmage, but in entirely different ways. Which player do you think is more valuable to Atlanta right now?
A: This is a great question, and I'll give an answer that most Falcons fans probably will not agree with.
I think it's Tevin Coleman. Devonta Freeman is the superior overall runner and is an integral part of the Falcons' gameplan, but Coleman is no slouch on the ground, he's an incredibly dangerous weapon through the air, and his pass protection has definitely improved. He can do so many things well that it's scary to think that he has genuine untapped potential as a runner, given that his balance is sometimes lacking. The team is fortunate to have both, though.