Coming off a gutting defeat at home to the Ravens, the Seahawks will scurry into the weather controlled confines of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium looking to right the ship against a Falcons team suffering through an entirely pointless 2019 season. Now 1-6, Atlanta began stripping down one of the most expensive teams in football this week, shipping Mohamed Sanu off to the New England Patriots. Should Seattle drop the Falcons to 1-7, the next exit is likely to be much more significant.
The Seahawks find themselves in a perfect get-right game, and they should do just that. For Seattle to advance to 6-2, these matchups will be crucial.
The Seahawks’ offense vs Themselves
Regardless of one’s stance in the never-ending debate surrounding the running game and Pete Carroll’s philosophy, Week 8 has the potential to be utterly maddening. Seattle, to the surprise of no one, is going to run the ball on Sunday. Often. They’re currently fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts, and since Chris Carson’s catastrophic display against the Saints in Week 3, he has carried the ball 94 times—good for an average of 23.5 rushes a game—and has played terrifically. But from an efficiency standpoint, it has been poor.
Despite Carson’s fine form, putting a priority on running the ball is exactly the way the Seahawks can allow Atlanta to stick around. One of the few areas where the Falcons haven’t completely capitulated (yet) in 2019 is defending the run. While their dreadful passing defense sits 31st in DVOA, their run defense is fourth. This closely mirrors the Seahawks’ DVOA on offense: second passing the ball, but 19th rushing. Russell Wilson will be in a dome, against the second-worst pass defense in the NFL—a defense that has allowed 37, 34 and 53 points in their last three games. If Seattle’s offensive philosophy stays out of the way of Wilson and the offense on Sunday, Wilson will rack up gaudy stats.
The good news for the Seahawks, who have the fifth-highest run rate on second down in the NFL, is that if they do put themselves in a disadvantageous position, Wilson will likely bail them out. Through seven weeks, Wilson is the second-highest rated passer on third down; Atlanta is the worst third down defense in the NFL. Almost regardless of what the opposition does, the Falcons finds ways to hemorrhage yards, first downs and touchdowns.
Tre Flowers vs Julio Jones
Flowers is coming off his best game of the season in Week 7, against a Ravens offense lacking any semblance of a threat on the perimeter without Marquise Brown. Now, Flowers will come up against his biggest challenge of the 2019 season: The one-man wrecking crew that is Julio Jones. Flowers may receive some reprieve, with Jones potentially lining up in the slot some after Sanu’s departure, but for the large part, Jones will be on the left, across from Flowers.
The likely outcome of this matchup is one that would bode well for Seattle and Flowers. Just over 75 percent of Jones’ 560 receiving yards on the year have come before the catch, largely a result of teams playing Jones tight, and bracketing him. Flowers, meanwhile, is allowing just 3.92 yards after the catch per completion allowed, per Pro Football Reference. Similar to Shaquill Griffin’s numbers on the season, this reflects quite well on the Seahawks’ young corners: The nature of Carroll’s defense leads to completions underneath, such is the emphasis on staying over the top of receivers; the small amount of yards after the catch means Flowers, and Griffin, remain in good position and limit yardage after the receiver makes the catch.
Jones may hit double-digit receptions in a game for the first time this season, but if Flowers plays as he has all year, Jones will continue to be halted after the catch, and Atlanta’s offense should continue to falter.
(It’s worth noting that all of this may be for naught: Though Matt Ryan seems more likely than not to play with a sprained ankle, if he can’t go, it’ll be Matt Schaub under center. In that case, expect Schaub to pepper the underneath part of the field, with his arm long gone at this stage.)
DK Metcalf vs Isaiah Oliver
An awful defense is nothing if not for its players and boy, do the Falcons have some dreadful (and, in fairness, missing) pieces in the secondary. In 2019, nobody has been worse in Atlanta’s secondary than Oliver, who is making a strong case to be the worst starter in the NFL this season. In seven games, Oliver has allowed 34 receptions for 528 yards—with 283 coming before the catch, and 245 afterwards—and four touchdowns, with opposing quarterbacks completing 73.9 percent of their passes when targeting him. If Desmond Trufant returns this week, he is likely to follow Tyler Lockett inside and out (otherwise, rookie Kendall Sheffield will step in again), leaving Oliver to try and defend Metcalf.
Simply put, Oliver has proven to be largely incapable of covering, or tackling, receivers in 2019. Metcalf continues to be boom-or-bust—though good for one explosive play a game—but Week 8 is as close to a lock as it gets for a big Metcalf game, and it should come in a number of ways. Metcalf has proved to be a savvy vertical threat capable of creating separation downfield:
And, more importantly as it relates to his development, he’s aware of the way in which his downfield ability can help him in the short and intermediate areas:
This is the 2nd game in a row, and maybe 3rd or 4th time this season, DK Metcalf has created separation on an in-breaking route by selling vertical with a jab step before coming inside. It keeps working because he's a terrifying deep threat, and he should keep doing it pic.twitter.com/FbTZeRDTZY— Alistair Corp (@byAlistairCorp) October 23, 2019
Not only should Metcalf contribute another explosive play or two on Sunday, but Seattle would be wise to allow him to get the ball on quick-hitting routes, and force Oliver to try and do something he’s incapable of: Tackle. One of the most physically imposing—while yes, raw—wide receivers in the NFL can expect to draw one of the worst starters across positions in the league on Sunday; it’s safe to expect a breakout game from the Seahawks’ dynamic rookie.
Provided the onus is put on Wilson on Sunday, and he’s able to torch a perpetually scorched defense, Seattle should win comfortably against the Falcons, and extend their winning streak in 10 AM PST kickoffs to six games.