Divisional Round 2012: Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons vs the Seattle Seahawks
The Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks battle this weekend in the Divisional Round of the 2013 NFL Playoffs. They match up well with each other and should turn in one of the best games of the season.
We'll break down the different matchups that people should be watching for in this week's game. Atlanta needs to find the edge in the majority of them in order to have the best shot to win. The Falcons don't want to go home after the first playoff game again.
Falcons Offensive Backfield vs. Seahawks Linebackers
Atlanta's running back trio consists of Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Fullback Mike Cox is a solid player but is more of a secondary role player. As a group, the three backs have just 1,224 yards rushing on 334 carries for a 3.66 yards per carry average.
However, the Falcons' three-headed monster at running back this season has been able to gain a ton of yards on screen and swing passes this season. They have a combined 103 catches for 733 yards for a 7.11 yard per catch average.
When you combine in the screen and swing passes as part of the running game, the Falcons trio has combined for 1,957 yards on 437 touches for a 4.47 yard average every time a running back touches the football.
The biggest component the Falcons have in the backfield is Matt Ryan. He's the best quarterback in this game. He's 33-6 at home, and this game is going to be one that determines his long-term legacy. Ryan is trying to exceed expectations and will have to outperform them for the Falcons to win.
At linebacker, the Seahawks have a good trio in Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill. Hill is the veteran of the group and is known for his ability to play the run. Wright and Hill are the three-down linebackers and have a combined three sacks and four interceptions between the two of them.
Falcons Receivers vs. Seahawks Defensive Backfield
This is the matchup of the game. The Falcons have the best trio of receivers in the NFL between Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. White has 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. Jones has 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. And Gonzalez has 930 yards and eight touchdowns.
No other team had three receivers with at least 900 yards and seven touchdowns a piece. The Falcons receivers are all extremely physical too as all of them are willing blockers in not just the running game but the screen game.
Another receiver for people to look out for is Harry Douglas. While he had just 396 yards this season, he is someone who can be an X-factor on third-down plays when the Falcons have Jones, White and Gonzalez all covered.
The Seahawks secondary is no group of slouches by any means. They have a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber corners to team with their pair of Pro Bowl-caliber safeties. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are guys who will run your standard Free-Strong alignment.
Chancellor doesn't let anyone punk him over the middle, but Gonzalez could change that. Thomas doesn't like to let anyone beat him deep, but he can get beat by guys like Jones and Douglas. Then you look at the matchups with the Seahawks corners.
Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman both use their size to bully smaller receivers. Browner is 6'3", 220 pounds and Sherman is 6'3", 200 pounds. However, they haven't played receivers as big or physical as the 6'3", 220-pound Jones or 6'1" 210-pound White.
Jones and White aren't just physical though; they are both fast and excellent route-runners. The only knock on either of them is the tendency to drop crucial passes. If the Falcons receivers hold on to the ball, it would not be a shock to see the pair of Jones and White put up good numbers versus the Seahawks combo.
Falcons Offensive Linemen vs. Seahawks Defensive Linemen
Atlanta is unique when it comes to its offensive line. It has one of the few groups where four of the five members have been together for the past five years. Ironically, those four all have decent grades by Pro Football Focus.
Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo are both over the plus-10 ranking. And Todd McClure has finished with a plus-6.7 ranking after a slow start to the season. The guards are a different story. Justin Blalock is a terrible run-blocker. However, as a pass-blocker and screen-blocker, Blalock has turned into a top-notch player.
Then there's the right guard situation. It's been in flux ever since Harvey Dahl left for St. Louis after the 2010 season. Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley and now Peter Konz have been average at the spot. Konz will have to show that he can pass block against the Seahawks.
The Seahawks defensive line is very good. It is led by Bruce Irvin and Cris Clemons in the pass rush. However, without them, they are very weak at getting after the quarterback. Clemons tore his ACL Wild Card wWeekend (h/t ESPN's Ed Werder), so the undersized line will have even more problems.
Atlanta's line isn't great at run-blocking. Though, against this undersized line, Atlanta could end up establishing a very good running game to the outsides with the weak run defending ends and tackles that the Seahawks have.
Seahawks Offensive Backfield vs. Falcons Linebackers
Seattle has a distinct advantage when it comes to its running backs. Marshawn Lynch has 1,590 yards this season and has been a tremendous workhorse. Leon Washington and Robert Turbin are a good chance of pace.
At quarterback, the Seahawks may be at a huge disadvantage. Russell Wilson is a great player for sure, but he is still a rookie. And as a rookie, he will be prone to mistakes sooner or later. We saw some in the game versus Washington where he took sacks early.
Atlanta should be able to take advantage of this with Sean Weatherspoon. "Spoon" is one of the best linebackers in the NFL and has shown that he can lead the Falcons in more ways than just as the motivational speaker in the locker room. He's been calling the plays all year and is a key in the "Amoeba" alignments.
Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent are also solid players, but they need to make sure they wrap up Lynch when they go to tackle him. The man known as "Beast Mode" has 64 missed tackles this season according to Pro Football Focus.
Seahawks Receivers vs. Falcons Defensive Backfield
Seattle passed for 3,234 yards, but it doesn't have the targets to keep up with the likes of the Falcons, Patriots or even the Packers. Golden Tate had 688 yards, and Sidney Rice had 748 yards. Then after that, no receiver had more than 400.
Rice is a bigger possession type receiver while Tate is a speedster. But neither receiver is a true No. 1, and its tight end is a mediocre receiver as well. It's tough to see how the Seahawks will be able to match up well in the passing game with their lack of talent.
Atlanta has the decided advantage here. The Falcons have three Pro Bowl snubs in William Moore, Thomas DeCoud and Asante Samuel. Those three have combined for 15 interceptions. They have been the driving force behind a pass defense that has the most interceptions of any of the remaining playoff teams.
Dunta Robinson and Samuel match up well despite not being the big, physical corners that Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are. DeCoud and Moore had banner years for the Falcons as well as were arguably the best safety duo in the NFL.
Seahawks Offensive Linemen vs. Falcons Defensive Linemen
The offensive line of the Seahawks has helped them have one of the best offenses in the NFL this season. However, they aren't individually talented outside of Max Unger and Russell Okung, the starting center and left tackle.
According to Pro Football Focus, Okung grades out with a plus-24.1, and Unger has a plus-25.4. The best linemen after that has a minus-6.3. The three guys who combined to play at the guard spot opposite Paul McQuistan in John Moffitt, James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy have combined for a minus-24.6 grade.
The Falcons use a rotation at both end and tackle. Their end rotation consists of John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Babineaux, Cliff Matthews and either Jonathan Massaquoi or Lawrence Sidbury.
Their tackle rotation is Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Vance Walker and Corey Peters. Occasionally Travian Robertson sees the field too. The bigger question is how effective will the Falcons be at getting pass rush and stuffing the run. Those are two things they haven't been great at all year.
They have allowed 4.8 yards per carry and have only gotten 28 sacks on the season. Overall, the defensive line needs to step up for the Falcons in the playoff games if they want to win. But going against a line with just two good blockers will help them a ton.
Falcons Kicking Units vs. Seahawks Return/Blocking Units
Matt Bryant is "Matty-Freeze" or "Auto-Matt" when it comes to kicking field goals in crucial game winning situations. His franchise record 34 field goals made this season include a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond 50 yards.
Matt Bosher is the Falcons field position specialist. Opposing teams have started at their own 20-yard line this year and he has 50.5 percent of his kickoffs returned so the Falcons coverage unit has something to do with it.
Bosher also averages 47.0 yards per punt and 41.7 net yards per punt and 25 of his punts have been inside of the opposing 20-yard line. On returns, Leon Washington has been extremely efficient this year averaging 28.6 yards per kick return and 8.7 yards per punt return.
Seahawks Kicking Units vs. Falcons Return/Blocking Units
The Seahawks will have a new kicker more than likely for their field goals and extra points if Hauschka is unable to go. They would also have to use punter Jon Ryan for kickoffs. That would be bad news as opposing teams start from their own 24.8 with Ryan as opposed to their own 20.3 with Hauschka.
In net punting, Ryan is above average with a 39.8 yard average. He also averages 44.6 yards per punt and has dropped 33 of them within the opponents' 20-yard line.
However, Atlanta's return unit hasn't been amazing. Jacquizz Rodgers averages 26.0 yards per kick return while Dominique Franks and Harry Douglas have combined for just a 7.9 yard-per-return average on punts.
Falcons Health vs. Seahawks Health
The Seahawks look to be banged up coming into Atlanta. Leading pass-rusher Cris Clemons looks like he will be out in the divisional round with a knee injury. The Seahawks have been hurting on their offensive line already with James Carpenter out and losing Jason Jones on their defensive line hasn't been good either.
On the other side, the Falcons have been missing Brent Grimes all season, but outside of that, they will be at close to full strength come game time. William Moore, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson all look like they will be ready to play for the defense, and the offense has been extremely healthy all year.
Falcons Travel Schedule vs. Seahawks Travel Schedule
Seattle went from Seattle to Washington, DC, then back to Seattle, then will travel to Atlanta. In just over a week, the Seahawks will travel almost a total of 8,000 miles and play two football games. Not exactly the best schedule for anyone's body who needs to be at peak condition.
The Falcons get to sit at home in their own cushy houses and apartments. They don't have to worry about travel, jet lag or any of the standard issue problems that come with flying five hours on a cross-country flight. Home-field advantage is magnified when you play teams from across the country.
Falcons Coaching vs. Seahawks Coaching
Mike Smith and Pete Carroll have faced off twice—once in 2010 and once in 2011. Both battles were held in Seattle. Despite Seattle posting a solid 9-7 record at home those two years, the Falcons have two of the victories against them.
Smith is 56-24 as a head coach for the Falcons, but is 0-3 in the playoffs. Carroll is 25-23 as a head coach for the Seahawks but is 2-1 in the playoffs.
Smith will always use a simple approach when it comes to attacking Carroll's undersized defensive lines and fast, aggressive offenses.
If Atlanta can make plays like it has in the last two games, this one could be a big victory for the Falcons. Nonetheless, as far as coaching is concerned, Atlanta has the advantage.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.
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