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NFL Draft

Why Seahawks’ D Matches Up Surprisingly Well Against Falcons

  • The Draft Network
  • September 10, 2020
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Seattle vs. Atlanta may not be the most interesting Week 1 matchup from a narrative perspective, but it may actually turn out to be one of the most fun to evaluate after the fact—especially through a Falcons offense vs. Seahawks defense lense. Why?

It’s weakness against weakness.

Allowing 3.1 sacks per game last season (good for 27th out of 32 teams), Atlanta comes into this game with a weak offensive line that coincidentally clashes with their overall passing philosophy. Although the team has invested heavy resources into the offensive line in the past few years, including spending multiple first-rounders on right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary last season, the additions have yet to show in-game, as the Falcons allowed pressure on roughly 40% of Matt Ryan’s dropbacks in 2019—a mark that was fifth highest in the league.

This weak offensive line—particularly on the right side—is made even worse by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s vertical passing game, as his offense is predominantly built on longer-developing deep routes. Unlike former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who uses tons of motion and quick-strike passing, Koetter hasn’t adapted to his team’s offensive line issues and Atlanta has paid the price as a result. He’s essentially been trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and although the team started to see the line play better as last season progressed, it will likely continue to be a major issue for the organization at the start of the 2020 season.

Thankfully for the Falcons, Seattle sports a similarly disastrous line unit on the other side of the football. After losing Jadeveon Clowney to the Tennessee Titans and failing to make any serious moves to account for his 2019 production, the Seahawks have gone from what was a weak pass-rush (only 2.1 sacks per game) to what is now a virtually non-existent one. The hope is that last year’s first-round pick L.J. Collier can step up at 5-tech and Jamal Adams can add a different dimension as a blitzer. However, for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the ability to get to the quarterback is by far this team’s biggest problem heading into the season.

Where Atlanta needs to try and expose Seattle, outside of the aforementioned weak pass-rush, is with a lot of motion, slot targets, and a successful run game. This template comes directly from the Rams and 49ers—two offenses who have had extreme success against the Seahawks using these different tactics. After all, with Seattle running a ton of base defense—the most in the league in 2019—these teams have been able to directly attack Seattle’s linebackers and exploit them with YAC-producing wideouts. Additionally, with Seattle’s absurdly weak interior defensive line depth, any production from an inside running perspective would go a long way. 

Unfortunately for Falcons fans, this plan is the exact opposite of what Atlanta did in 2019. Ranked 31st in yards after catch (interestingly enough, the Rams were ranked first), and barely using any pre-snap motion, Atlanta did virtually nothing in the McVay/Shanahan mold and also offered little to nothing in the ground game all year long. Of course, this isn’t to say that Koetter can’t adapt to this and put forth a great gameplan—or that running back Todd Gurley can’t magically revive his knees en route to 100 yards—but the odds aren’t exactly in their favor.

With this in mind, Seattle can’t just rest easy knowing they matchup well from a defensive perspective either. They will need to make the necessary adjustments—including blitzing more and using Marquise Blair frequently as the nickel corner—to actually come out with a win. After all, that pass-rush is still brutal, and as good as the secondary has become, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley aren’t exactly easy to contain on the outside. 

These adjustments for Seattle do seem much easier to make than Atlanta’s though, which is why I actually feel quite good about the Seahawks’ defense in Week 1 (and no, I didn’t forget about Matt Schaub hanging 460 yards on them last year). It may come back to haunt me—especially with Pete Carroll’s stubborn tendencies—but I have faith that in a battle between weakness and weakness, Seattle comes out on top.

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