The 2016 NFL Season has been a perfect reminder of why the collective football fan base should have absolutely no confidence in their preseason picks and predictions. We know nothing. Embrace it.
The Atlanta Falcons have surprised the world so far, holding a two- game lead in the NFC South over the second place Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After unforeseen victories over the Panthers and Broncos, the Dirty Birds come rolling into Seatown with the intent to knock off the Seattle Seahawks. Coming off of a much-needed bye, the Hawks control their own destinies following a loss by the Los Angeles Rams at the hands of TyLawd Taylor.
The contest between the Falcons and Seahawks looks to be the first matchup of both teams at full strength since their Divisional rumble in the 2012 playoffs. The 2013 meeting between the two was a lopsided affair in favor of Seattle. While there certainly is potential for that outcome to be revisited, Atlanta is as dangerous a team as there is in the league at the moment. For the Seahawks to pull out a win at home against such a hot opponent, a few things need to happen.
Dominate the Trenches
When you close your eyes and envision the Falcons, a high-octane aerial attack dominates your brainscape. Defense isn’t the first thought that pops into your head.
Pass rushing has been hard to come by in Georgia over the past few years, but last weekend was a different experience. Adrian Clayborn and Dwight Freeney consistently disrupted a Broncos offense that had trouble getting a run game going. After a breakout performance in Denver, Vic Beasley looks to keep his hot hand burning against the questionable pair of Bradley Sowell and Garry Gilliam.
Atlanta has also looked quite adept running the football in 2016. Kyle Shanahan’s offense has thrived since acquiring Alex Mack at center. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman poses a unique threat to defenses, completely opening up the passing game.
While last week could have just been a fluke performance, Seattle needs to contain Atlanta’s suddenly dominant defensive line while getting after Matt Ryan and slowing their dynamic tailback duo. Succeeding in the trenches will open up the Seahawks’ playbook while pushing the Falcons’ offense into one-dimensionality. Building on that…
Even if the Falcons are forced to pass all day long, they have the capability to do so. Even when their number one threat (don’t worry, we’ll get to him – his name is in the damn headline) doesn’t thrive, Mohamed Sanu can pick up the slack. When the wide receivers aren’t getting it done, Jacob Tamme or the running backs can go for over 100 yards in a pinch.
Denver’s defense is certainly elite, but their style is less about limiting explosives and more about taking chances for turnovers which is quite risky on days where they can’t figure it out against a potent offense. This seemed to be the case Sunday afternoon.
Seattle’s defense looks to be more aimed at limiting explosives than focusing mainly on takeaways, which seems to be more conducive against an offense like Atlanta’s. I don’t expect the Falcons’ secondary weapons to do that much damage against a defense as disciplined as Seattle’s. They have the ability to shut down the run, get after the quarterback, and cover just about anyone.
Of course, none of this matters if Julio Jones goes off. Richard Sherman vs. Jones happens to be the matchup of the weekend without question. The best against the best. The elite of the elite. Every fan of football should be keying in on this showdown. The balance of the game hinges on this battle of behemoths.
Julio is going to get his. Kyle Shanahan is creative enough to get his star receiver touches. Facing Brandon Marshall in Week 4 was a great warmup for Richard Sherman– this is nothing against Marshall, as Julio just poses such a unique physical challenge that is above and beyond just about anybody else in the league.
While being one of the most brash and outspoken competitors in the league, there might not be a more calculated or adaptive defender than Richard Sherman. Every move is precise and calculated. Ryan Fitzpatrick gave Sherman more action than he’s seen in a long time. Matt Ryan is going to do the same. I sure as hell am excited to see how Sherm handles it.
Keep it Going
For those of you who know me, my outlook on sports is simple:
Keep it going. Don’t let up. It’s never over.
Seattle’s win against the Jets was a domineering victory against an underperforming team with a lot of talent. The Seahawks dominated in all three phases. Russell Wilson had one of the most impressive showings of his career while hindered by two different significant injuries. The fact that this team is getting healthier and healthier should scare the rest of the league. The defense, after surrendering a solid amount of yardage to begin, adjusted to lock it down in the second half, taking the ball away three times in the process. Jon Ryan was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
They need to keep that ball rolling on Sunday. They need to continue to dominate.
Most teams in the sporting universe believe that games are reliant solely upon their own performance. If they lose, it’s not because they were beaten, it’s because they didn’t execute to the best of their ability. If they win, the other team didn’t lose – they were beaten. This outlook is dangerous for many teams.
Seattle is not one of those teams.
Other franchises aren’t as talented or battle-tested as this group. We’ve seen some of the most absurd second-half comebacks in recent memory. If the Seahawks execute their game plan to the extent they’re capable of, they will beat the Falcons.
This is by far and away the toughest test of the season thus far (the Rams don’t count because they transcend mere difficulty into an arcane dimension of bullshit and Aaron Donald) and, per usual, Seattle has a very real chance of winning. We’ll have to wait and see how well they can execute.