The Seattle Seahawks head back out on the road to take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. This will be a rematch of a 2012 playoff game between these two teams. Given how badly that game began for the Seahawks, it is likely that they'll roll out a completely different game plan for this game.
Sunday's game will be Seattle's fifth road game in a seven-week stretch. The Seahawks are currently 4-1 on the road this season and have won seven of their last nine road games stretching back to last season and the playoffs. Clearly, the tales of the struggles on the road are overstated.
The Competitive Edge
|NFL Rankings for Seahawks and Falcons|
|Seattle Seahawks||Category||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|5th||Yards Per Attempt||14th|
|7th||Yards Per Carry||28th|
|2nd||Yards Per Attempt||24th|
|18th||Yards Per Carry||26th|
There are some interesting aspects to this matchup. The Seahawks have struggled greatly to stop the run in recent weeks, but the Falcons enter this game as the league's worst rushing team. This will either be a chance for the Seattle rush defense to "get right," or it will be a signal that problems are much deeper than people realize.
On the other side of the ball, Seattle's rushing attack remains one of the best in the NFL. Atlanta's rush defense gives up 4.5 yards per carry, which puts them near the bottom. This suggests that Seattle should find success running the football, but that might not be the case on Sunday.
The situation was very similar for the playoff game last year. Atlanta stacked the line and stopped running back Marshawn Lynch and dared Seattle QB Russell Wilson to beat them. He almost did, but it was a rough first half before the Seahawks adjusted their offensive strategy. Perhaps, we'll see that again this Sunday.
Seattle's Offense vs. Atlanta's Defense
A Serious Dose of Play Action
When these teams met in the playoffs last year, Atlanta's defensive game plan was to load up the box and commit everything to stopping RB Lynch and Seattle's running attack. As important as Lynch is to Seattle's offense, it is likely the Falcons will use the same approach for this game.
The Seahawks can take advantage of this by using play action regularly. This should create gaps behind the linebackers for Seattle's receivers.
Here's an example from the playoff game last season. Seattle lines up with three tight ends in what looks like an obvious run formation. Seattle fakes the handoff to Lynch to the weak side of the formation, Wilson eventually hits TE Zach Miller for a 24-yard gain.
This play fake causes both of the linebackers near Miller to step toward the line of scrimmage. With their momentum headed in the wrong direction, Miller is able to blow right past them and get open in the space between the linebackers and the safety.
This is the type of thing the Seahawks can do to keep the Atlanta defense off-balance. If the Falcons do stack the line to stop Lynch, like they are expected to, the Seahawks can punish them for it by using play action.
Don't Forget About Lynch
Seattle's offense is at its best when Lynch is touching the ball early and often. Even if the Falcons commit everyone to trying to stop the run, the Seahawks have to find ways to get the ball into Lynch's hands.
Typical handoffs will do, but if the Falcons are loading up the box with eight- or nine-man fronts, the Seahawks will have to get more creative.
Screens and swing passes are possibilities in the passing game. Quick-pitch plays to the outside in the running game should also put Lynch in a situation where Atlanta's extra run defenders won't help them.
No matter what the method, the Seahawks have to make sure Lynch gets his touches in this game. They cannot let the Falcons take away their best offensive player.
Seattle's Defense vs. Atlanta's Offense
Pressure Matt Ryan
The Atlanta Falcons run the ball less than any team in the league. They have just 149 rushing attempts this season. For comparison, the Seahawks have nearly twice as many with 288 rushing attempts. The Falcons often go entire drives without ever running the football. The Seahawks need to use this to their advantage.
Without the threat of the run, the Seahawks are free to blitz, stunt and twist, as needed, to get pressure on Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. Ryan has been unable to punish teams for blitzing. There's very little reason to avoid the blitz if that is what's required to get pressure on the QB.
|Matt Ryan vs. The Blitz|
|Pro Football Focus|
Beware the Screen
Without a viable running game, the Falcons have turned to screen passes as their tool to slow down the pass rush.
According to ESPN, 69 of Ryan's 332 passes have been thrown to targets who are behind the line of scrimmage. That's one out of every five pass attempts, which is a very high rate for the NFL.
The Seahawks have been very good at diagnosing the screen for most of this season, but that part of their defense will certainly be put to the test this week.
|Matt Ryan's Passing Stats by Distance|
Seattle leads the all-time series over Atlanta, 8-6.
The Falcons have won the last four meetings between these two teams, including last season in the playoffs.
The last time the Seahawks won in Atlanta was back in December 2002.
Five of the last six times these franchises have played each other have been decided by a field goal or less.
The Seahawks have outgained the Falcons on the ground this season, 1,323 to 515. That is slightly more than 2.5 times as many running yards for Seattle.
The passing yards tilt in the other direction but are not to the same extreme. The Falcons have outgained the Seahawks through the air, 2,314 to 1,807.