Seahawks Playoff Coverage | Game Day against Atlanta

It’s the Seahawks against the Falcons. Herald sportswriter Nick Patterson breaks it down.


Saturday’s divisional playoff game is the 17th meeting between Seattle and Atlanta, including the playoffs. Seattle holds a 10-6 lead, most significantly prevailing 26-24 when the teams met on Oct. 16 at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks had that game well within their hands, leading 17-3 at halftime before allowing 21 straight points in the third quarter. Seattle recovered in the fourth quarter, winning on Steven Hauschka’s 44-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining.

The teams also played in the divisional round in the Georgia Dome in the 2012 season, with the Seahawks staging a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback, only for the Falcons to engineer a 23-second drive for Matt Bryant’s game-winning 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining.


Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan versus Seahawks free safety Steven Terrell.

Last week the Seahawks faced a quarterback who could have been an MVP candidate in the Detroit Lions’ Matt Stafford. This week Seattle faces a quarterback who is an MVP candidate in Ryan.

By many measures Ryan was the best quarterback in the NFL this season. He led the league in yards per attempt (9.3) and passer rating (117.1). He was second in the league in passing yardage (4,944) and passing touchdowns (38). He was third in completion percentage (69.9).

Ryan has been a quality NFL quarterback for nearly a decade, but this was by far his best season — his previous career high in passer rating was 99.1 and touchdown passes was 32, both in 2012 — and he was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.

Seattle had its chance to see Ryan firsthand in Week 6, and for the most part the Seahawks did a good job containing him. Ryan finished that game with good numbers — 27-for-42 for 335 yards with three touchdowns and one interception — but almost all of his positive contributions came during the third quarter when Seattle had a defensive meltdown. The Seahawks allowed three touchdown passes in the quarter, two of which came on blown coverages, and it resulted in cornerback Richard Sherman’s high-profile sideline blow-up. Seattle recovered in the fourth quarter, when Ryan was just 3-for-8 for 32 yards with an interception.

But in that game the Seahawks had Earl Thomas playing free safety. Thomas had one of his best games of the season against the Falcons, intercepting Ryan and making multiple big hits that separated receivers from the ball. Thomas is no longer available, having suffered a season-ending broken leg in Week 13 against the Carolina Panthers.

Thomas’ replacement, Steven Terrell, has done a solid job in Thomas’ absence. The Seahawks haven’t been victimized by the deep pass with Terrell in the lineup with the exception of the Week 16 34-31 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and everyone in the Seattle organization insists Terrell learned from that experience. Yet the Seahawks’ overall pass defense has suffered with Thomas out of the lineup, allowing an opposing passer rating of 106.0 in games in which Thomas didn’t start during the regular season, compared to a 74.7 passer rating when Thomas did start.

The Seahawks did a good job keeping a wounded Stafford in check last week in their 26-6 victory over Detroit in the wild-card round. Whether they can do the same with a full-strength Ryan remains to be seen.


11: The total number of giveaways the Falcons had during the regular season, which tied for the fewest in the NFL. The paucity of turnovers helped Atlanta finish the season with a plus-11 turnover margin, which tied for fourth in the league.

The Seahawks were not a strong takeaway team during the regular season, ranking 22nd with 19, and Seattle had no takeaways in last Saturday’s 26-6 victory over the Detroit Lions in the wild-card round.


Seahawks — Seattle has just one player on the injury report as running back C.J. Prosise (shoulder), who’s been out since Nov. 20, will be a game-time decision. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (concussion), who missed last week’s 26-6 victory over the Detroit Lions in the wild-card round, has been cleared to play.

Falcons — Atlanta did Seattle one better as the Falcons, coming off their playoff bye, have no players on the injury report. Receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Austin Hooper (knee), who sat out Atlanta’s season-ending 38-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints, will both play.


The Seahawks will win if they …

Continue to run the ball effectively. Seattle finally got back to its identity as a power running team last week against Detroit. Running back Thomas Rawls set a new playoff franchise record by rushing for 161 yards, while fullback Marcel Reece added a new blocking dimension to the running game. Just as importantly, establishing the run will help eat up clock and keep Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan off the field.

Pressure Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. When the teams met earlier this season the Seahawks subjected Ryan to four sacks and 13 quarterback hits. That was with Michael Bennett leaving in the third quarter because of injury after hitting Ryan five times, as well as Frank Clark sitting out the game. With Bennett, Clark and Cliff Avril all healthy, Seattle has the personnel available to get pressure on Ryan and give the secondary some help.

Block Vic Beasley. Beasley, a pass-rushing linebacker, had a breakout campaign in his second NFL season as he led the league with 15.5 sacks. Beasley wasn’t a factor when the teams played earlier this season as he had no sacks and no quarterback hits. But he’s still Atlanta’s most dangerous pass rusher, and he’ll provide much more of a challenge than anyone the Seahawks faced last week against the Lions.

The Falcons will win if they …

Get Julio Jones away from Richard Sherman. According to ESPN, when the teams met earlier in the season Sherman, Seattle’s star cornerback, shadowed Jones, Atlanta’s star receiver, on 30 of 46 coverage snaps, catching three passes for 40 yards. But when free of Sherman Jones caught four passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons need to come up with formations and routes that allow Jones to find space away from Sherman.

Get their running backs involved in the pass game. Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 85 catches for 883 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season. However, Seahawks linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner kept them relatively quiet in the previous meeting, holding them to four catches for 17 yards. Freeman and Coleman must make themselves a factor to open up opportunities in the vertical game.

Make full use of home-field advantage. Atlanta was not a particularly good home team this season, compiling both a better record (6-2 versus 5-3) and better point differential (plus-76 versus plus-58) on the road than at home. However, Seattle struggled mightily on the road this season, going 3-4-1, and the offense was completely different at home (28.4 points per game) than on the road (15.9). The Falcons need to make the most of the Seahawks’ road woes.


Falcons 23, Seahawks 20

The Seahawks have the pieces to match and defeat the Falcons. However, much of the deck is stacked in Atlanta’s favor. The Falcons have the benefit of the bye, which in its own right could be decisive as 74 percent of teams with a bye have won their divisional playoff games since the playoffs expanded in 1990. Then there’s the fact the game is in Atlanta, and the Seahawks haven’t played well in a road game since beating the New England Patriots more than two months ago. Add in a red-hot Matt Ryan and it seems too much for Seattle to overcome.

For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.