Seahawks vs. Falcons: 10 Keys to the Game for Atlanta

Christopher Beheler@@CBehelerCorrespondent IIIJanuary 11, 2013

Seahawks vs. Falcons: 10 Keys to the Game for Atlanta

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    The Atlanta Falcons try to overcome history as well as the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. There will be plenty of big names and big plays in this payoff tilt. It is easy to focus on the marquee match-ups. The Falcons' trio of receivers pitted against the Seahawks secondary. Marshawn Lynch barreling down on the Falcons' questionable run defense. Headhunters and headline-makers abound on both teams.

    These will all be important, but the small things are what will decide this game.

    There will be things that are beyond the control of either team. Factors from on and off the field will play a hand in deciding the victor. The right mindset and proper technique will play a more important role than big arms and big hits.

    For every play that makes the highlight reel, there are a dozen smaller ones that pave the way.

    With that in mind, here are the 10 keys to Atlanta defeating Seattle.

10. Atlanta Needs Knowledgeable 12th Man

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    The Georgia Dome can be a hard place for visiting teams to play. Domes keep noise locked in, so the volume can reach epic proportions. A strong, knowledgeable fan base can truly affect the outcome of a game.

    This is where the Falcons have struggled.

    Fans often arrive late, especially for early games like Sunday. They often do not understand when to make noise. Multiple times this season, fans have broken out the wave during the fourth quarter. Always while the Falcons were on offense. The perfect example is when the wave started during an attempted fourth-quarter comeback against the Carolina Panthers.

    The giant screens in each end zone are used to coach fans. Prerecorded videos appear between plays. These videos tell the fans to make noise when the Falcons are on defense, and attempt to quiet them when the Falcons are on offense.



    Why It's Key:

    The Falcons might need to rely on the no-huddle often. This makes the ability to communicate critical. Trying to fight off the crowd noise from your own fans could be more than just embarrassing. Miscommunication could turn a potential first down into a punt.

    Likewise, the harder it is for the Seahawks to communicate, then the harder it will be to counteract Mike Nolan's schemes. The fans' well-timed outbursts will help immensely. It only takes one misunderstood audible to turn a go route into a pick-six.

9. Confident, Not Cocky

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    The Falcons have been here before. In 2010, the Falcons welcomed the Green Bay Packers into the Georgia Dome. The Falcons felt invincible at home that year. The Packers did not get the memo.

    During the first half, the Falcons seemed slower than normal. There was no urgency in their game plan. It was as if they just expected good things to happen. By the time they woke up, it was too late.

    Conversely, fear can be just as detrimental. It leads to holding a pass too long or playing coverage too soft.



    Why It's Key:

    The Falcons have to be confident enough to make plays. The Seahawks are more likely to pass out lollipops than free first downs. Hesitation leads to missed opportunities. The Falcons must be confident in their abilities and in their coach's plan.

    Overconfidence kills even quicker. Assuming a corner is too slow or that a runner will go down on first contact is the fast lane to disaster.

    The Falcons must play knowing that they can win, not assuming they will win.

8. Scheme for the Officials

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    No team has ever won a Super Bowl by complaining about the officials. The Falcons must account for the officials as they would any variable. Poor calls can and will happen. That is life in the NFL.

    What the Falcons can control is how they handle various flag versus no-flag situations. This is not a warm-up. This is the most important game for the franchise since 1998. There is no excuse not to have every angle covered.



    Why It's Key:

    NFL officials are similar to baseball umpires. Generally, each umpire has his own  consistent strike zone. NFL officiating crews ten to have their own ideas of what is allowable. The Falcons must decipher this as early as possible.

    If the officials are forcing defensive backs to keep their hands off receivers, then the Falcons can begin to air it out. If the officials are allowing more physical contact, then the Falcons would be wise to avoid deep routes that would require Matt Ryan to throw before the route develops.

    In a game this important, "that's not fair" will not pass for an excuse or game-plan.

7. Fight Between the Whistles

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    The Seahawks secondary can be as skilled with their words as they are with their feet. The non-stop chatter can drive the most centered opponent batty.

    The Falcons can either take it or use it for motivation. Motivation between the whistles, not after. If they want to quiet the Seahawks, then block harder and run faster. The Falcons have to remember that their hands are for catching and blocking. Anything else is a waste of energy.



    Why It's Key:

    In the playoffs, every yard matters. The Falcons can ill-afford to have drive-stalling penalties. The Falcons offense must realize that touchdowns will hurt far more than punches. They must focus any frustration into extra-hard legal blocks that help gain yards. Not childish retaliation that puts the offense in reverse.

6. No-Huddle to Dictate Tempo

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    Few quarterbacks run the no-huddle as efficiently as Matt Ryan. Ryan can often get at least one player on defense to tip their hand. Ryan will quickly change the play, even when there is little time on the play clock.

    The Falcons' version of the no-huddle is not the same as a hurry-up offense. Ryan will often drain the clock before calling for the snap. He can quicken or slow the pace of a game as needed.



    Why It's Key:

    The Falcons have struggled when trying to slow the tempo of the offense—like in the second game against the Carolina Panthers, when the Falcons try to give the defense a breather it backfires.

    The no-huddle helps maintain the up-tempo rhythm that the Falcons offense thrives under. The opposing defense tires more quickly due to fewer opportunities for substitution. The Falcons can often force opponents into less exotic looks when the no-huddle is firing on all cylinders.

    This can only help the Falcons in what should be a very physical game.

5. Rush the Middle...Sometimes

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    Analysts and fans alike have a particular disdain for the Falcons repeated rushes up the middle.The first meeting between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints put the Falcons' inability to get a first down on third-and-one under the microscope.

    If the Falcons focus solely on the middle, they will face too many third-and-longs to overcome.

    But they cannot completely abandon it either.



    Why It's Key:

    Given the speed and violence of football, it is easy to forget that it is the most cerebral of professional sports. Coaches play chess for 60 minutes using life-size pieces. Not every play is designed to be a touchdown. Some, though, open the door for those touchdowns.

    The Seahawks are very talented at safety. If the Falcons hope to attack the sidelines, they must make the Seahawks respect the middle. If a third of the rushes are between the tackles, the Seahawks will be forced to move a safety into the box.

    More importantly, the Falcons must show a willingness to attack the middle in short yardage and goal-to-go situations. The Seahawks will not bite on play action any other way.

4. Do Not Sacrifice Aggression for Discipline

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    When facing a team with a mobile quarterback and bruising running back, the first thing that comes to mind is keeping the defense disciplined.

    Over-pursuit can lead to huge holes in a defense. Covering too tightly can lead to holes in the flat or running lanes for the quarterback. Discipline should be king.

    Unless you are the defense Mike Nolan built. Then discipline and aggression find themselves on equal footing,



    Why It's Key:

    The Falcons spent four years in Brian VanGorder's disciplined defense. Dunta Robinson was a bust. Thomas DeCoud looked average. Kroy Biermann looked like career backup. At least they were disciplined.

    Nolan has loosened the shackles of discipline a bit. He allows his players to use their instincts within his schemes. The results have been borderline miraculous. What was once the Falcon's biggest weakness has actually won games this season. Look no further than the defense pulling Matt Ryan out of the dumpster fire that was the Arizona Cardinals game.

    The playoffs are the worst time for players to become stiff. The Falcons still have to maintain some discipline, but only without sacrificing what got them here.

3. Stand Back, Stand Tall

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    Matt Ryan has flourished in 2012. He has improved in almost every aspect of his game.

    Except one.

    Matt Ryan has developed a troubling habit. It has been present all year, but more detrimental in certain games. It was on display during one of the worst games of the season. The Arizona Cardinals exploited it. The Seahawks will try as well.

    The habit? Ryan has begun to try and step up in the pocket at inopportune times.



    Why It's Key:

    Ryan will take a three- or five-step drop, and the offensive line seems to follow him. As the pocket collapses, Ryan will attempt to move forward. This makes a pass-rusher's job easier when it is the center of the line that is collapsing.

    Not only does he put himself in harm's way, but it jeopardizes ball security. Ryan seems to have had more tipped balls at the line of scrimmage when standing too close to his offensive line.

    The Seahawks have too much talent to let a tipped ball float on by. Ryan will need to stay back for a better view and give his receivers time to get open.

2. Wrap Up

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    This one fundamental might be the difference in the game.

    The Falcons defense has been able to get to runners far more often than they bring them down. Many of the long runs they have given up this season have started with contact behind the line of scrimmage.



    Why It's Key:

    Marshawn Lynch is not going down from a shoulder tackle. Russell Wilson will not crumple after being shoved.

    It is paramount that the Falcons focus on wrapping up ball carriers. Even if Lynch is too heavy a load for one man, he can at least slow Lynch down until help arrives.

    Again, this does not mean they need to lose their aggression. If they choose to hurl themselves through the air trying to hit someone, then make sure to wrap them up on the way down.

1. Remember the Little People

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    There has been a lot of discussion about height this week—especially how tall the Seahawks cornerbacks are compared to how tall the Falcons receivers are.

    But for the Falcons, there is one of more diminutive stature that will be the key to victory.

    Jacquizz Rodgers.



    Why It's Key:

    Rodgers runs with the power of a larger back, but his shorter stature gives him an advantage. Rodgers can be hidden behind the curtain of offensive lineman. Any pass to him in the backfield is technically a screen pass.

    Rodgers has good hands and makes a good target when Ryan is in trouble. This versatility allows Rodgers to excel in the no-huddle. Having to account for Rodgers during both the pass and run puts additional pressure on defenses trying to stop the no-huddle.

    This the game where Rodgers should officially take the next step for the Falcons.