Seahawks vs. Falcons: Breaking Down Atlanta's Game Plan

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Seahawks vs. Falcons: Breaking Down Atlanta's Game Plan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It's a playoff rematch in Atlanta this weekend as the 8-1 Seattle Seahawks return to the Georgia Dome to take on the 2-6 Atlanta Falcons.

As their records indicate, both of these teams have gone in opposite directions since Atlanta's 30-28 NFC Divisional Playoff win last January.

Though they are 8-1, the Seahawks have lived dangerously these last two weeks in winning tight games at home against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and on the road against the Kellen Clemens-led St. Louis Rams.

In all, four of Seattle's eight wins have come by five points or less.  The Seahawks are certainly legitimate contenders, but they've proven that they're particularly vulnerable on the road.

Let's break down how the Falcons should attack the Seahawks on both sides of the ball in this game in an effort to pull an upset this weekend.

 

Offensive Keys for Atlanta

Play Loose and Be Unexpected

The Falcons offense has become far too predictable over the last few weeks.  At times it's been as though the opposing defense got the play call from Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter before Matt Ryan did.

At 2-6, the Falcons can afford to take a few more risks than the Seahawks because Seattle has more ground to lose at this point in the season since they're trying to maintain their lead over the 49ers and Saints.

Throwing in some new formations, going no-huddle or even running a trick play early on in the game could put this attacking Seahawks defense on its heels and open up some additional opportunities for Atlanta later on in the game.

 

Get Creative in the Run Game

This Seattle defense has been gashed on the ground by Rams running back Zac Stacy (134 yards) and Buccaneers running back Mike James (158 yards) in successive weeks. 

While Atlanta's running attack is nowhere near where it needs to be, the Falcons took a small step in the right direction against Carolina in Week 9.  A little innovation may take Atlanta's rush offense to the next level.

The Falcons rush offense may need to take a page from the New England Patriots' playbook and call for run plays that employ the "wham" block that the Pats used against the Falcons on LeGarrette Blount's 47-yard touchdown run during New England's Week 4 win in Atlanta.

 

Protect the Football and Be Patient in the Passing Game

You have to pick your spots against this talented Seattle secondary.

Matt Ryan may be forced to throw to his checkdown receivers because of coverage down the field.  The Falcons can't get frustrated when that happens. 

The Falcons will not win this game if they lose the turnover battle.  Seattle is just too talented.  Matt Ryan has thrown seven interceptions over the last two weeks, and he can't try to force the ball into coverage this week.

This isn't to say that the Falcons shouldn't throw the ball downfield; they just shouldn't press the issue if the play isn't there.  Julio Jones isn't walking through that door.

 

Stay Aggressive

This almost goes without saying.

The Falcons know all too well about the Seahawks' propensity to come charging back after they fall behind in games.  Earlier this season, Seattle overcame a 20-3 second-half deficit to beat the Texans in Houston.

If you're going to beat this Seahawks squad, you have to keep the pressure on them for 60 minutes. 

 

Defensive Keys for Atlanta

Make Russell Wilson Beat You from the Pocket

Wilson does his heavy damage when he gets outside of the pocket because he keeps his eyes downfield, and his receivers are very good at breaking off their routes and coming back to the football.

The Falcons can make their lives a lot easier by keeping contain on the edges and making sure that Wilson doesn't get too many opportunities to improvise.

Wilson won't have Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin on Sunday, so if he's in the pocket, the Falcons will be able to focus their attention on Zach Miller, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.

 

Get After Seattle's Offensive Tackles

Early reports suggest that Seattle will still be without both of its starting offensive tackles this week against the Falcons:

 

 

 

 

After the injuries the Falcons have sustained this year, they shouldn't show any mercy on the Seahawks' reserve offensive tackles Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie.  Rams defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn combined for six sacks against McQuistan and Bowie.

Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Massaquoi and the rest of Atlanta's defensive ends need to exploit their matchups and make sure Russell Wilson is under duress in the pocket.

 

Play Physical

Marshawn Lynch and his backup Robert Turbin are both physical backs who don't go down easily.  The Falcons have to play run defense with an attitude and gang tackle to make sure that they don't end up on the wrong side of a highlight reel.

It wouldn't be shocking to see this game turn into a low-scoring affair that goes to the team that hits the hardest because both teams are missing key playmakers at wide receiver.  The Falcons defense needs to be ready to dish out some punishment on Sunday.

 

Finish the Game

We touched on this in the offensive keys, but it's important to mention on this side of the ball too.  Russell Wilson nearly brought Seattle back from a 20-point deficit against the Falcons in the playoffs because Atlanta's defense softened up.

The Falcons need to learn from the past and keep the heat on Wilson even if they've got the lead.

  

Four Matchups to Watch

Matt Ryan vs. Earl Thomas

Falcons head coach Mike Smith recognized the challenge that Thomas presents when discussing this Sunday's game against the Seahawks earlier this week via AtlantaFalcons.com:

Statistically right now they are the best (answering whether Thomas and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman are the best cornerback/safety tandem in the league)...Thomas is a very rangy, athletic safety that has a very good nose for the football.

Thomas' interception of Matt Ryan in the playoff game sparked Seattle's furious comeback that almost ended the Falcons' season.  There's sure to be a little gamesmanship between Ryan and Thomas on Sunday as they each try to victimize each other on Sunday.

 

Desmond Trufant vs. Doug Baldwin

Baldwin was targeted 10 times on Sunday against the Bucs in Seattle's first game without Sidney Rice.  If the Falcons believe that trend will continue on Sunday, Desmond Trufant will probably draw the assignment in coverage.

If that happens, this will be an intriguing battle between two former Pac-12 stars.

 

Roddy White vs. Richard Sherman

You have to figure that there's a part of Roddy White that really wants to come back this week so he can renew his rivalry with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.  These two got after one another in the playoffs last year, and if White plays they should pick up right where they left off.

We may have to wait until Sunday to find out if this matchup will happen, but White was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday:

 

 

Joplo Bartu vs. Zach Miller

Zach Miller killed Atlanta in the playoffs last season.  Falcons rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu has been up and down in pass coverage, and Seattle will probably look to see if he's up to the task of covering Miller early and often.

 

 ALL GAME IMAGES ARE VIA NFL.COM'S GAME REWIND, ALL STATS ARE VIA ESPN.COM

 

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