@Falcons - Seahawks Keys to Victory
What to expect from Atlanta
Matt Ryan will take shots deep early, especially targeting Steven Terrell and KJ Wright, and even taking shots deep at Sherman.
The Seahawks have struggled this season defending crossing routes, so, the Falcons offense will look to deploy those type of route concepts.
The Falcons will also spread their TEs and RBs out wide or in the slot to force one on one matchups with Kam Chancellor and KJ Wright, both of whom have struggled at times in coverage this season. The Falcons defense will attempt to confuse the Seahawks offensive line, especially George Fant and Germain Ifedi with stunts and pre-snap shifts. They will also attempt to suppress Doug Baldwin's productivity by rolling double coverage his way.
Keys to victory
Varied Offensive Personnel Packages During the last 3 weeks, George Fant struggled heavily with his game play, earning the lowest Pro Football Focus grade among starting Left Tackles. To exploit this weakness, the Falcons will likely place their Pro-Bowl pass rusher, Vic Beasley on Fant. To help Fant, the Seahawks should look to deploy more 12 and 22 personnel (1 RB and 2 TEs or 2 RBs and 2 TEs). The additional personnel should help neutralize the Falcons pass rush. In addition to the extra tight ends and running backs, I expect to see Tanner McEvoy more involved in the lineup as well. Especially, if the Seahawks come out in 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2TEs) with McEvoy as the lone receiver while in the red zone. When the Seahawks deploy 2 TE personnel, their completion percentage is 72% with 8.8 Yards per pass attempt. With Desmond Trufant on IR, the Falcons starting CB is Robert Alford, a 2013 2nd round pick. Alford has great speed and leaping ability with 32-inch arms, however, is only 5'10" 188 lbs. McEvoy is 6'6" 230lbs. Wouldn't you look to exploit that physical matchup? As of Friday, CJ Prosise is still questionable for Saturday's game. If CJ is ready to go, that presents such a huge challenge for the Falcons defense. Imagine having 21 personnel with Prosise and Rawls in the backfield all while having Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, and/or Richardson or Kearse, that's a huge challenge for the Falcons defense. IIf the Falcons rolls double coverage toward Seahawks come out in 21 personnel - Rawls, Prosise, Graham, Baldwin, and Richardson. If the defense rolls double coverage to Baldwin and Graham, then who's left to cover Richardson and Prosise (if motioned out wide)? That presents huge one-on-one opportunities that can be exploited heavily to the Seahawks advantage.
Offensive line We finally saw what the offensive line is capable of during their match last week against the Lions and must continue their execution during this game if they want to be successful against the Falcons. One of the guys on the line that looks to redeem himself the most will be Germain Ifedi who struggled quite a bit against the Falcons in Week 6 as the clip shows.
I anticipate the Falcons defensive line to perform the exact same type of movement, where the linemen line up in one gap but loop to the far inside gap on the snap. Hopefully, Ifedi has learned from his previous mistakes and will have a better game this time around.
Play-calling and route concepts Personally, I think this is a make or break game for Darrell Bevell. The Seahawks have some very favorable matchups against this Falcons defense and as an NFL professional play caller, it's Bevell's job to exploit these matchups. As previously stated, I expect the Falcons to roll double coverage to Doug Baldwin. In their week 6 matchup, Baldwin was held to just 4 catches for 31 yards and 0 TDs. Graham had 6 catches, 89 yards, and 0 TDs. One thing Bevell must do is place his two best receivers in Baldwin and Graham, in positions that will force the defense and/or safeties to choose between the two receivers. Take the play below for example:
Bevell needs to display similar concepts in this upcoming matchup that forces the defenders to second guess their assignment. Like the play showed, Baldwin's route was just enough to freeze Neal that allowed Graham to get behind him. By having, Baldwin and Graham opposite from each other forces the defense to make a decision on who they should key on and prevent them from cheating toward a specific direction.
Defensive pass rush
Matt Ryan was sacked 4 times in their first matchup against the Seahawks. Cliff Avril racked up two of those sacks, one that was a strip sack that placed the Seahawks in scoring position. The defensive line needs to put pressure on Matt Ryan early and often on Saturday. One of the key pieces missing on the line was Frank Clark who was injured during their Week 6 matchup. Personally, having Frank Clark back in this matchup makes a world of difference. Like Michael Bennett, Frank Clark terrorizes offenses from both the 5 and 3 technique. The 3 technique will be key against the Falcons, specifically against their right guard, Chris Chester. According to Pro Football Focus, Chris Chester has a 40.6 overall grade in pass protection by the end of the regular season. Cliff Avril sacked Matt Ryan from the right side of the offensive line on both of his sacks. Chris Chester needs to be a target for the Seahawks pass rush by mixing up the looks upfront with Bennett, Avril, and Clark. If the Seahawks defensive line can establish pressure with just four guys, this allows them the remaining seven guys to play in coverage which should make things difficult for Matt Ryan.
Communication A key element that was a major problem in their previous matchup, especially on defense and on the line, was communication. The silent communication will be essential to the team's success tomorrow. The Seahawks gave up two big touchdowns due to bad communication in week 6. If you were to minus those two touchdowns the game would not have been as close as it was. Also, having Kam Chancellor back in the secondary will definitely help the secondary. As far as the offensive line, their assessments and communication post-huddle will be extremely important to the offense's success. As the visiting team, the Seahawks offense will likely go with the silent count in what will be a loud environment. Personally, I hate the way we've done silent counts as defenses can disguise their coverage and jump the snap based on the silent count actions of our linemen. Take a look below for example:
If I'm the Falcons defense coordinator or defensive player, the silent count cues give me and an advantage on defending the Hawks offense. For example, if I'm one of the Falcons safeties, I could disguise my coverage all by watching the silent count action. I could line up in the box, with my the other safety playing single high to depict man to man coverage, then once Glowinski taps Britt, I can shuffle back into my zone or vice versa. I could line up in two high safety, then rush the box once I see Britt nod his head. All these actions could hurt Russell's pre-snap read. The same goes for the defensive lineman being able to jump the snap. I'm not sure if there are any other silent count mechanisms available to replace this one but without another in place, look for the Falcons to exploit this flaw.
The Falcons presents a great challenge and exciting opportunity for the Seahawks Super Bowl run. I expect a lot of fireworks but in the end, the Seahawks will be in the NFC Championship as long as we own the trenches on both sides of the ball. My gameday prediction, Seahawks 33 - Falcons 24. #GoHawks