Seahawks vs. Falcons: How the Falcons Can Contain Marshawn Lynch
On Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons defense may be tasked with their biggest challenge yet this year: containing running back Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch has played a crucial role in the Seahawks' playoff run, carrying the team to an 11-5 record as he ran the ball 315 times for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.
The sixth-year veteran has made a name for himself with an uncanny bruising-yet-downhill running style. Lynch has the elusiveness to side-step would-be tacklers one moment and the power to send them flying the next, as he so memorably showcased in this touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints two years ago.
Not helping the Falcons is the fact that their defense has been suspect against the run all year long, allowing 123.2 yards per game and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season, 21st-most and eighth-most in the league, respectively.
It's easy to see those numbers, take one look at that Lynch run and predict the Falcons will be helpless against the run this weekend.
A closer look, however, reveals all it really takes to contain Lynch is one thing: playing smart.
The Washington Redskins didn't, and that's why Lynch ran all over them to the tune of 20 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown last week.
The evidence is in the film.
Play No. 1: Bad Angle, Big Gain
Facing a 1st-and-10 from their own 30-yard line just six seconds into the third quarter, the Seahawks call for a rather basic inside run to the left side of the offensive line.
But it's immediately bottled up, leaving Lynch nowhere to go.
Well, in principle.
In reality, Lynch does find room thanks to linebacker No. 91 Ryan Kerrigan's failure to keep contain on the backside.
Had Kerrigan stayed disciplined and taken even just a slightly wider angle on the play, Lynch gets brought down for a four-yard loss.
Instead, Lynch is able to cut it back to the right en route to a 26-yard gain.
Play No. 2: Whiff and a Miss
On 3rd-and-5 from the Washington 26-and-a-half-yard line, Russell Wilson hands the ball off to Lynch on a designed option run.
Lynch finds room in the middle and jukes his way past the line of scrimmage where cornerback DeAngelo Hall is in prime position to bring him down at the 22-yard line.
Instead, Hall did what he's often done in his career: miss the tackle.
Hall makes a poor effort in trying to bring Lynch down, opening his hips in reaction to the movement of Lynch's legs rather than reacting to the movement of Lynch's own hips.
It leaves Hall juked out of his shoes as he ends up diving at Lynch's feet, grabbing nothing but air and eating dirt, all while Lynch is able to take the ball down the sideline and into the end zone.
Play No. 3: A Matter of Priorities
On 1st-and-10 from the Redskins 17-yard line, Wilson hands the ball off to Lynch from the shotgun.
Lynch takes it up the middle for a 15-yard gain, but what makes this run successful is defensive back No. 37 Reed Doughty getting frozen on the play.
As Lynch takes the ball up the middle, Doughty keeps his eyes on Wilson, believing him to have the ball and having not yet realized that it's actually Lynch who has it.
But by the time he realizes it, Lynch is already breezing right past him with end zone in mind.
Perhaps it was Doughty's assignment to keep an eye on Wilson (unlikely, seeing as outside linebacker No. 50 Rob Jackson has him swallowed up on the play), but even if that's the case, it would be a foolish decision.
Russell Wilson ran the ball 94 times for 489 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season. That averages to about six carries for 30 yards a game. Lynch averaged 20 carries for just under 100 yards a game.
Of the two, it's clear who's more likely to run the ball. More importantly, it's clear who's a bigger threat when holding it.
Ultimately, Lynch's nickname may be "Beast Mode" but he's not unstoppable. The New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins showed this year he can be contained, each holding him to under 50 rushing yards and zero touchdowns in those games.
The Falcons themselves already showed they can contain Lynch, holding him to just eight carries for 24 yards and a lone touchdown in their 30-28 win over the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field last season.
There's no reason to believe they can't do so again this Sunday.
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