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Seahawks opponent preview: Week 1, Atlanta Falcons

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

As unbelievable as it seems, the Seattle Seahawks play football in two weeks. Week 1 kicks off on September 13th for Seattle in a moment that felt like it might never come to pass.

It’s time to talk about our opponents, pray for our enemies so to speak, and plan for their demise.

Week 1, Atlanta Falcons

2019 record: 7-9

Best stretch: four wins to finish the season, including at San Francisco.

Worst stretch: six losses in a row from Week 3 - Week 8.

MVP: Julio Jones. Matt Ryan has had plenty of moments, but has firmly cemented his place as not one of the five or six best quarterbacks in the league. Jones, is at any given moment, one of the three best receivers. He was second this year in Effective Yards, and is the more important part of the QB/WR combo on the 3rd highest yardage passing attack in the NFL.

Where they struggle: their overall offense and defense finished middle of the pack in terms of points. The biggest weakness is their rush attack. Atlanta ran behind a bottom-7 offensive line in most advanced metrics compiled by Football Outsiders.

Even more damning, however, is the 3.73 yards per carry from the Falcons running backs. That average was actually increased by all of the replacement pieces, because lead back Devonta Freeman only managed 3.6 ypc himself. Only Frank Gore, Kerryon Johnson, DeAndre Washington, Peyton Barber and a fresh-legged Le’Veon Bell were worse last year over 100 attempts.

Of the starting offensive line, only right guard Jamon Brown is gone this year. Far more importantly, however, is the departure of Devonta Freeman as Atlanta hands the keys to Todd Gurley.

Gurley will be an especially interesting Week 1 opponent for the Seattle Seahawks who have played against him nine times as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. It’s hard to say he’s far from the player he once was, but it’s a very real possibility this year. We simply have no idea how bad those knees are, and the Falcons have already declared they’re taking it easy with him.

A diminished Gurley behind a bad line is still likely an upgrade over last year’s Freeman, but this is good news for the Seahawks in general. If the weakness of Seattle’s defense is going to be the front line again - and all signs indicate it will be - Atlanta is not going to be the team to take advantage of it. They’re primarily a deeper route two-prong attack with Jones and Calvin Ridley. As talented as those two are, they don’t have the additional receivers or tight end option to punish the open spaces in Seattle’s zone any more than they did in 2019. Last year, they put up 20 points, and it would be impressive to do much more than that this year.

Meanwhile, three of the best players we haven’t mentioned yet are all gone. TE Austin Hooper, DE Vic Beasley, and CB Desmond Trufant are Falcons no more. Atlanta has replaced Beasley with Dante Fowler, who’s comparable.

How the Seahawks would lose: I’m generally concerned about Week 1 Seahawks offense. Empirically I know I have no reason to be concerned, as they frequently take down juggernauts like the Cincinnati Bengals by... at least one point. If they don’t score much because they’re still running the ball eight times to open the game, it only takes Julio Jones two freak plays to score enough to be annoying. Crazier stuff has happened when playing Atlanta.

How the Seahawks win: Even a moderately balanced attack will eventually move the sticks against a defense that should be at best what it was last year. Meanwhile, Seattle is one Quandre Diggs, Quinton Dunbar, and Jamal Adams stronger than when these teams last met. An improved secondary forces the Falcons to run, at which they are bad.

Let’s do this! Seahawks 1-0