John Abraham is the key to a Falcons Super Bowl appearance. The man who many thought wouldn't have even come back to Atlanta this season is showing that he is a truly integral part of this team and the scheme that it runs.
Unfortunately, Atlanta has become too reliant on having Abraham in the game.
He's so crucial that, without him, the Falcons should just hand San Francisco the trophy. That may be going a bit overboard, but the defense played very vanilla without him.
The Falcons allowed four touchdowns in the final two quarters of play against Seattle and were unable to get a crucial defensive stop until the final Hail Mary play at the end of the game. When Abraham was in, they were downright dominant on defense and looked like a team that could beat anybody.
According to FOX's Jay Glazer (h/t NBC Sports Mike Florio), John Abraham was only playing at 80 percent health. It's amazing how he was able to draw double-teams and force the opposition into miscues despite playing just 15 snaps at 80 percent.
But that needs to be remedied. Atlanta either needs to get John Abraham healthy or find someone who can also play his same role. Unfortunately, the latter won't happen until this offseason.
Russell Wilson Was Stuffed in the First Half
Wilson's stat line for the game was tremendous. He was 24-of-36 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and a last-second interception. He also had seven runs for 60 yards and a touchdown.
However, what isn't said is that he was stuffed in the first half.
He was just 10-of-18 in the first half for 144 yards. He also had just two rushes—both scrambles—for a total of 26 yards. Over 60 percent of his yardage came in the second half. It came when the Falcons defense lost John Abraham, which coincides with when the Seattle offense finally woke up.
Atlanta was able to stuff Wilson in the first half, though, and if it can contain Colin Kaepernick in a similar fashion, it should be able to win and move on to the Super Bowl. The team needs John Abraham to be able to do it, though.
Atlanta's Defense Can't Get Timely Pressure Without Him
Atlanta was able to get into Russell Wilson's face all day. But only when it had more than four seconds' worth of good coverage. The Falcons had two sacks, two hits and 12 pressures on Wilson's 44 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
With Abraham, the defense was getting much better pressure on Wilson because Abraham draws double-teams on almost every play. By taking on multiple blockers, he opens guys like Kroy Biermann, Vance Walker and Jonathan Babineaux up to be the other sack artists on the team.
Throughout the season and including the playoffs, those three have gotten at least four sacks each. Biermann even had a ridiculous run-down of Michael Vick in the Philadelphia game earlier this season where Abraham had drawn a double-team and the running back's chip on the weak side of the formation.
With Abraham back in the equation, Atlanta should be much better at getting after the passer. Otherwise, it will be looking at the second half versus the Seahawks all over again.
Abraham Has Vowed to Return for the NFC Championship Game
The best news in this whole situation is that John Abraham will be back for the NFC title matchup with the 49ers. According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Abraham has vowed that he would be back for the game. Abraham even told reporters after the game:
“Oh yeah, you know me, you can’t keep me out of that game, we’re going to treat the (heck) out of it.”
There is question as to whether he could have possibly played at the end of the game versus Seattle, especially considering what John Manasso of Fox Sports tweeted after the game:
Smitty said Abe "retweaked" his ankle but also that keeping him out of game was "precautionary." Those 2 things seem mutually exclusive.— John Manasso (@jmanasso) January 13, 2013
If Abraham being held out of the game at the end was precautionary, he should be able to practice at least in a limited fashion all week. He should definitely be better than the 80 percent he was at versus Seattle.
Barring any other setbacks, it seems like it's time for the Falcons defense to be fully healthy for once. The last time it had a fully healthy group versus a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick was against Michael Vick in the Philadelphia game. We all know how that turned out.
If John Abraham can come back at as close to 100 percent as possible, the Falcons could shock the world again and win the NFC Championship Game.
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.