The Seattle Seahawks snuck out a 26-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, managing to navigate around a tremendous second half adjustment by Atlanta’s coaching staff and a rough outing by the defense. The win puts the Seahawks at 4-1, two games up in the NFC West, while the Falcons drop to 4-2. A 17-3 first half in favor of Seattle put the game in danger of being another one of those matchups that looked tight on paper but the Seahawks run away with; instead, a 21-0 third quarter launched Atlanta into the lead and the driver’s seat. A missed field goal and a blocked extra point kept the victory in doubt even when Seattle re-gained the lead, but luckily they got away unscathed thanks to a missed pass interference penalty on Matt Ryan’s fourth-down heave. There will certainly be a lot of conversation about that final play and the disastrous third quarter this week, but for now let’s deal with some odds and ends:
Tyler Lockett was the team’s kick returner for the first time since injuring his knee in week two, a good sign that he’s nearing full health. Lockett still didn’t look like he had the same sort of insane open field speed that we’re accustomed to, but he looked pretty darn good stopping and starting.
Speaking of key contributor’s health: For all the positivity surrounding Russell Wilson’s knee the past two weeks, he’s still not all that close to 100-percent. He technically had six carries in this game, but even his longest run of six yards looked to be half the speed Wilson is usually at – albeit he did look a lot more comfortable running than in past weeks. He did, however, pass up an easy first down run on 3rd-and-six in the second half, instead taking a shot to Jermaine Kearse deep that fell incomplete.
For the second straight game, the offensive line seems to be hovering closer to competence and further away from dumpster fire. That is directly connected to the return of Germain Ifedi, who was again very solid today. His finest moment came on Christine Michael’s first touchdown run, where Ifedi had a wonderful combo block, taking out three(!) defenders in the process.
The matchup I was most worried about coming into Sunday’s game involved a wide receiver and cornerback: DeShawn Shead versus Mohamed Sanu. Shead is as tough of a battler as they come, but absolutely can be beat at the catch point. Sanu, on the other hand, will win on nearly all his receptions at the catch point. That battle ended up being the least of my - and the secondary’s – worries, as Sanu finished with just 47 yards on five catches and a touchdown catch away from Shead’s side.
Earl Thomas was tremendous against the Falcons. He set the tone with Kam Chancellor missing, delivering several big hits in the first half. He had the massive, game-turning interception and a couple of his patented stops where he had no business being in the area but was somehow in the most prime position possible. Alien DNA.
Just prior to Steven Hauschka’s short field goal going wide left, Wilson threw a 3rd-and-ten ball down the seam just past Kearse’s out-stretched hand. Inside the red zone, naturally a Kearse target brings up all of the Jimmy Graham questions. And while it’s not the lack of targets for Graham inside the red zone that bothers me - if he’s covered, or being bracketed, there’s no point trying to force something so deep inside enemy territory – it’s the lack of trying to isolate him that does. How often do you see the Patriots or Chiefs come out in a three-by-one look with three receivers on one side and Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce in-line on the other, before flexing them out and having a measly cornerback try to stop them one-on-one? There isn’t enough of that for me, with Seattle’s offense and Graham.
The lack of Kam Chancellor could have been – and was – huge against Atlanta on Sunday. It was huge because a lack of communication essentially cost the Seahawks 14 points, and Chancellor is the alpha of all alphas. It could have been worse, but Kevin Pierre-Louis actually played a smart, disciplined game setting the edge in the run game. Chancellor’s run defense has been on another planet this year, and Devonta Freeman has the best jump-cut in the entire league, so seeing Kam out had me thinking disaster. Instead, Pierre-Louis and the rest of the defense kept the NFL’s best running back duo contained and between the tackles all game long.
Kris Richard trotted out a master class in game planning. He brought pressure early and often in the first half, leading to three first quarter sacks, anywhere from 6-9 first half hits on Matt Ryan, and had the league’s best offense on its heels. The second half was an entirely different story. All the credit to Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and company for making a huge adjustment. The Falcons offense went into a quick passing, rhythm offense that Richard’s defense had no answer to for the majority of the second half, highlighted by a 98-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. I’d still take Seattle’s defense over any in the league, but in-game adjustments continue to be Richard’s biggest (only?) issue as defensive coordinator.
Call it getting away with one, call it 2012 NFC Divisional round retribution, call it whatever your heart desires; the Seattle Seahawks handled everything the Falcons could offer and are 4-1 heading into a prime-time game in Arizona, a matchup that is almost always a fun one.