ReFo: Seahawks @ Falcons, NFC Divisional Round
Despite an excellent display from Russell Wilson, Atlanta proved the doubters wrong and made it to the NFC Championship game. Sam Monson breaks it down.
ReFo: Seahawks @ Falcons, NFC Divisional Round
Where do you start with this game? Arguably the game of the divisional round of the playoffs saw the Atlanta Falcons rise up for Matt Ryan to earn his first playoff win, but they had to overcome a couple of nervous moments along the way to seal the deal.
After going up 20-0 and watching the Seattle Seahawks bungle their final drive before the half, the Falcons couldn’t hold off Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in the second half, with the lead getting pegged back with each score. Seattle ended up taking the lead with under a minute left only for Matt Ryan to earn the nickname ‘Matty Ice’ and move them into field goal range with two big time passes.
Even with victory snatched from the jaws of defeat a botched squibb kick threatened to derail the celebrations as Russell Wilson got the ball back in his hands with six second on the clock, but the final desperation hail mary was picked off by Julio Jones, playing deep safety for just that reason.
Let’s see what else came from the game other than drama.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Rookie of the Year
You can’t start anywhere without looking at the performance of sensational rookie quarterback Russell Wilson (+7.2). He threw for 385 yards and two touchdowns and added another 60 on the ground when the play broke down and he had to take off. The interception came on the last-gasp hail-mary to the end zone and about the only thing wrong with the pass was that it was put up in the air a little too early, not giving his receivers enough of a chance to get into position. That aside Wilson was almost flawless, leading his team down the field with each drive becoming more crucial than the last.
In the end Wilson executed one of the largest playoff comebacks in history, only to have it all taken from him as Matt Ryan moved the ball enough in the time left on the clock for a winning kick. There has been much debate over this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks but none has hit the heights of Wilson in this game. If he can replicate this form in his second season it won’t be long before we are talking about him among the elite.
If there’s one thing that makes Wilson’s performance in his first season even more impressive it is that he hasn’t really had one standout weapon to throw the ball to, but has had to spread it around far more to a stable of capable but less than dominant receivers. In this game his biggest threat became TE Zach Miller (+5.3), despite the big man being hampered with a foot injury that forced him from the game early on. Miller was targeted nine times and caught eight passes for 142 yards and a touchdown for an average of 17.8 per catch.
Miller was also kept at home to pass protect for 13 snaps and allowed only one hurry as the Seahawks line bought Wilson time to throw when he needed it.
There might not be a more important player to the Seahawks defense than Chris Clemons. We drew attention to that during the week and wondered where the pressure would come now that he was out of the line-up. The answer, unfortunately for Seattle, is that it didn’t come from anywhere. Bruce Irvin (-4.1) was ineffective as a full-time player, leading the Seattle D-line rotation with 47 snaps (tied with Brandon Mebane for the most), but produced only one hurry, and was visibly hesitant and slower off the ball when he had to diagnose the play first.
Combined the Seahawks could only pressure Matt Ryan on ten snaps, and only knocked him down once, with none of the defensive linemen accounting for more than three pressures in total. While Irvin might be an impressive rush-specialist, this game showed he has a long way to go if they ever want him to be an every down defensive end. If they don’t, then they need to find cover for Chris Clemons going forward.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Return of the Burner
There has been no end of attention focused on Michael Turner’s (+2.4) struggles and decline in Atlanta with seemingly nobody drawing the connection that his decline mirrored that of the blockers in front of him. This game showed that when those players have a good day, Turner can still rumble and gain yardage just like he used to. Three of his five offensive linemen graded in the green for their run blocking in this game and unusually TE Tony Gonzalez also did his fair share of the heavy lifting in that regard too. The result was that Turner rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries, forcing five missed tackles and racking up a good portion of those yards after contact, once he had a head of steam.
It is also no coincidence that his backfield mate Jacquizz Rodgers had a good day as well, rushing for 64 yards on ten carried, including a 54-yard run that saw him truck FS Earl Thomas. The bottom line is that in order to have that viable run game Atlanta needs their blocking up front to succeed. When they don’t, Turner looks done, but when they do, he looks like the workhorse back of days gone by.
For a team with so much money and reputation tied up in their corners, Atlanta got some pretty ugly play from them in this game. Dunta Robinson (-1.3) and Asante Samuel (-3.8) were both allowing catches all game long. Samuel was beaten for five of the seven balls thrown his way, giving up 71 yards on those passes despite batting one away from Sidney Rice in the end zone. Robinson allowed three of the four balls thrown into his coverage to be complete for 34 yards. The problems didn’t limit itself just to the corners with the Atlanta zones allowing free receivers all over the field. William Moore, Stephen Nicholas, Robert McClain and Akeem Dent all graded out in the red for their coverage and combined to surrender another 180 passing yards.
The catch made by Golden Tate at the two minute warning in the fourth quarter typified the problems Atlanta had, with no player really closing down an in-breaking route against the Falcons zone. This happened all too often in the game.
You Mad Bro?
The matchup between the Atlanta receivers and the Seahawks cornerbacks always promised to be a good one to watch, and while Brandon Browner and Julio Jones engaged in a relatively quiet battle, with the only highlights coming on quick bubble screens to that side, Richard Sherman and Roddy White were engaged in a far more vocal war. Sherman got the better of the encounter early, swatting away a deep pass intended for White and making sure the receiver knew about it. Sooner or later White was going to get one, and he ended up running right past Sherman for a 47-yard touchdown, sending Sherman tumbling to the floor along the way. White’s first reaction was to get right in Sherman’s face with some words of his own before being pulled away by Harry Douglas before being flagged for taunting.
In the end the encounter probably goes down as something of a wash. Sherman made his share of plays against White, but the Falcon was able to come up big and put a score on the board, which after all is the difference between the two sides.
– In all Richard Sherman was targeted 8 times, allowed just 2 receptions, and batted away three of those balls. It’s just that one of the times he was beaten it was badly for a 47-yard touchdown.
– The Falcons lost John Abraham to injury after just 15 snaps. In his stead no edge rusher was able to generate more than three hurries on the quarterback, with none notching a sack or hit.
– When blitzed Russell Wilson’s passer rating was 148.4, generating positive yardage on 7 of those nine occasions.
PFF Game Ball
It came in a losing effort, and Matt Ryan deserves huge kudos for his game-winning drive, but Russell Wilson was the best player in this game and gets the PFF Game Ball.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam