3TFO: Seahawks @ Falcons, Week 10
What was supposed to be one of the marquee games of Week 10 has lost a lot of its luster. After the fantastic divisional playoff game last year between the Seahawks and Falcons (Atlanta winning on a late field goal, 30-28) many had this game pegged as a possible NFC Championship game preview. Free agency and injuries have flipped the script.
The Seahawks have lived up to the expectations as they head to Atlanta with an 8-1 record (good for tops in the NFC). They have struggled in recent weeks, but can stick around in any ballgame thanks to the strong running of Marshawn Lynch and a young physical defense. The Seattle defense ranks second overall in our cumulative rankings and first in our team pass rush grade.
The Falcons (2-6) have been hit hard with injuries. They have already lost Kroy Biermann, and Julio Jones for the season with Sean Weatherspoon missing time on on the short term injured reserve (started practicing this week). Both Steven Jackson and Roddy White have been banged up all year though Jackson returned two weeks ago and White is expected to play here. The offensive line has struggled to protect Matt Ryan and the defense will have to look to the offseason to get healthy and add some much needed playmaking. The one constant Atlanta has leads to our first matchup below.
Tony Gonzalez vs. Seahawks Secondary
The 37-year-old Tony Gonzalez keeps cranking out solid seasons. Even though he’s a step slower he’s still effective and a vital part of the Falcons’ offense. He doesn’t always have to be open to catch passes, as was covered in our own Sam Monson’s article here. He is currently our second graded tight end overall and has 44 catches to go with 476 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps most amazingly, because of his Spiderman hands he is yet to drop a pass this year. He talks of retiring after the year, but it’s clear this crafty vet knows enough tricks to still play at a high level for another year at least.
Seattle will try to match Gonzales not with their veteran savvy but with their pure youth and physicality. Seattle has two of our Top 4 graded OLB’s in the hybrid Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith. If you go just based off of coverage grade,then Irvin, Smith, and KJ Wright are all in our Top 10. When you move to the safety position things don’t get much easier as Earl Thomas is our second highest graded safety overall and Kam Chancellor is a respectable 12th. When attacking Thomas and Chancellor QBs have thrown the ball 41 times, but these throws have only netted them 225 yards. These two have also combined for six interceptions. Gonzalez is an expert at making catches in traffic, but this week he gets a great test with the Seattle secondary coming to town.
Lamar Holmes vs. Paul McQuistan
When looking at all offensive tackles in the league, these two consistently show up toward the bottom of most rankings. Paul McQuistan is attempting to hold down the fort during the absence of Russell Okung. He has our second-worst pass blocking grade (-16.0 as an OT) and his Pass Blocking Efficiency of 90.1% puts him 57th out of 59 tackles. Lamar Holmes hasn’t fared much better. His Pass Blocking Efficiency of 90.8 ranks him 54th out 59 and his pass blocking grade of -13.0 puts him 72nd out of 76. The Falcons moved Holmes over to right tackle last week and he did improve his performance. We will see if he can continue that trend.
Paul McQuistan’s main threat is going to be Osi Umenyiora. Osi hasn’t put up the same numbers as he has in the past and has struggled to match John Abrahams missed production. However, Umenyiora does still have five sacks and 18 hurries and can break out at any time, especially when going up against a tackle of McQuistans level.
Things are definitely going to be more difficult for Lamar Holmes as Seattle has four different edge rushers he could see action against. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons are all ranked in the Top 12 out of all 4-3 ends in both our overall pass rush grades and in our pass rushing productivity measure. No other 4-3 team is close to matching the 113 total pressures generated from the Seahawks ends. Throw in the nine pressures registered by hybrid OLB Irvin and Holmes will have his hands full.
Seahawks Running Game vs. Falcons Run Defense
Marshawn Lynch is having another huge season. His 726 yards rushing is second in the league and his 48 broken tackles lead the league. These missed tackles contribute to his 67.5 Elusive rating which trails only Adrian Peterson. The Falcons will also have a second runner to worry about in Russell Wilson. His 375 yards trails only Terrelle Pryor among all quarterbacks. Wilson also has the second-highest PFF run rating for QBs behind Pryor. The Seahawks’ offense begins with Lynch’s tough runs and ends with Wilson’s wild scrambles.
For Atlanta to win this game they must at least slow down this rushing attack. Their cumulative team run defense grade of +9.2 isn’t terrible, but it still ranks 17th in the league. They could use huge games from Corey Peters and Osi Umenyiora. Peters ranks in the Top 10 among defensive tackles with a run grade of +5.7, and despite his pass rushing being down overall, Osi has a solid +3.9 run grade. The Falcons weak spot when stopping the run, and overall has been their linebackers. They really miss Sean Weatherspoon in this department. Paul Worrilow and Akeem Dent have struggled as they have a combined run grade of -4.0. Jopolo Bartu has been a nice surprise and has graded positively in the run game but, overall none of these three linebackers has an overall grade better than -3.9. If the Falcons want to have a chance this group needs to play their best game of the season on Sunday.
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