In What to Watch this week I covered what is most key for the Defense. With the knowledge that Julio Jones is likely to get some yards and that the Runningbacks are a big deal, we’ll take a look at 3 other areas that are going to be impactful and important in order for the Seahawks to walk away with a victory:
1. Russell’s Back….. Back Again.
How much of a difference has the Bye made for Russell Wilson? That is the million dollar question, and one that will impact the entire rest of the season. We ought to find out this week though, and we’ll see it in the form of the return of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) and most importantly the Zone Read play. These two plays are key to how the Offense operates, and Russell Wilson is one of the best there is when it comes to running them. Russ currently has 28 yards rushing and 1.9 yards per carry in 2016. He has never in his career finished with fewer than 450 yards and 5 yards per carry in a season. In limited action in Week 4 Cam Newton had gashed this Atlanta Defense for 30 yards on 6 carries, but Cam is a very different sort of runner than Russ. The type of run plays and the way that Seattle runs them will be something that Dan Quinn has knowledge of, but that his players have not really experienced much. Vic Beasley at Defensive End is the best pass rusher that Atlanta has, but he is also a very young and inexperienced player who has some aggressive tendencies. If Russ is able to run the Zone Read and Run Pass Option, it could just about remove Beasley from the game by forcing him to rely on his decision making instead of raw athleticism. Beasley was at his best last week when he just got to be faster and more athletic than the Offensive Line he faced, but this week he would have to prove able to out smart Russell Wilson if he wants to have the same kind of impact.
2. Give it to Graham
The Atlanta Falcons are one of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to defending the Tight End. The Seattle Seahawks have one of the premier pass catching Tight Ends in the NFL. That is a significant matchup advantage, and one that could play big in the game. According to Football Outsiders the Atlanta Falcons’ Defense is 22nd against Tight Ends, giving up an average of 73 yards on 9.4 attempts per game. Over his last 2 games Jimmy Graham has recorded 113 yards against the Jets and 100 yards against the 49ers, while the Falcons have given up 76 yards to Greg Olson and 109 to Colby Fleener this year. With the way Seattle has been using him, Graham has been functionally a 1st Down per catch. He’s averaging 16.6 yards per grab, and even with a few long catches inflating that number slightly you can plainly see on film that they have him running mid level routes all day long. If the team can get Russell Wilson to Jimmy Graham going that gives them the luxury of having a middling result on a 1st Down run play or a deep shot to test the Atlanta Corners (especially Alford) while still having a great option to move the sticks on 2nd or 3rd Down with a throw to Jimmy.
3. Time and Pressure
Julio Jones is a great talent, and the Runningbacks are a very big threat. If the Seahawks are going to neutralize that threat an excellent way of making that happen is with pressure on Matt Ryan. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are exceptional pass rushers, but beyond that the team has shown, in the Preseason as well as to some extent early on this year, some very intriguing blitz packages featuring Linebackers and even Defensive Backs. Seattle has 12 Sacks in 4 games, and the Atlanta Offensive Line is ranked 19th in Pass Protection. The increased pressure on passing downs would force Atlanta to respond in one of two ways. Either the team would have to respond by getting the ball out quicker and running shorter routes, which reduces Julio Jones ability to make a big play and burn the Defense, or the team would have to keep Runningbacks and/or Tight Ends in to help block. A lot of the talk has been about how KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner will cover Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, but pressuring in order to keep them in to block is another way to neutralize their threat as pass catchers. Both of those options would be a win for Seattle.