Every week we spend a great deal of time both analyzing and anticipating the key factors for a game, only to go out and watch something utterly different than what was expected.
Seattle’s playoff loss in Atlanta was no exception as revisiting the scouting report shows:
Keys to a Seahawks victory
1. Control the ball.
Scouting report: The Falcons like to push the pace on offense, a virtual fastbreak approach in which they sometimes scrap the huddle entirely. The best defense against that offense? Keep quarterback Matt Ryan on the sidelines by running the ball with impunity against an Atlanta defense that ranked No. 21 against the run during the regular season, second-worst among all playoff teams.
Result: No statistic from Sunday’s game was more surprising than the fact that Atlanta outrushed Seattle, 167 yards to 123. The Falcons actually held the edge in time of possession, too, 31:13 to 28:47. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch carried 16 times for 46 yards, matching his second-smallest single-game total this season as well as his second-least yards per carry average.
2. Make Matt Ryan hurry.
Scouting report: This might be a pipe dream. The Falcons allowed 28 sacks in the regular season, tied for seventh-fewest in the NFL. Not only that, but Seattle’s defense had only three sacks over the previous three games, and that was with defensive lineman Chris Clemons, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second half of last week’s game.
Result: The Seahawks tried to bring pressure. They really did. They blitzed more often this game than they did in any other, often using the Bandit package – which features six defensive backs – and sending rookie safety Winston Guy after the quarterback and at times Marcus Trufant after the quarterback. Trufant did get home in the first quarter, forcing Ryan to hurry a throw that wound up picked off by linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Seattle didn’t have a sack, and in fact, Trufant’s first-quarter pressure was the only time Seattle was credited with having hit Ryan.
3. Don’t get impatient.
Scouting report: Atlanta’s defense yields yardage more willingly than points, which can be mistakenly characterized as a “Bend but don’t break.” “Earn everything” would be more accurate as Atlanta seeks to keep opposing receivers in front of them, eschewing blitzes to make the opponent progress gradually in hopes it eventually makes a mistake.
Result: No problem for Seattle here. Rookie Russell Wilson attempted 36 passes – his second-most in any game this season – and he wasn’t intercepted until his final heave into the end zone on the game’s last play. Even in the first half – when the Seahawks went scoreless – they were able to move the ball effectively as Seattle’s offense actually outperformed Atlanta’s in the is game.
Keys to Atlanta victory
1. Option defense is not optional, but a necessity.
Scouting report: In two games against Carolina, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw for 502 yards and four touchdowns, ran 18 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns – including a 72-yard scoring run. However, Washington’s Robert Griffin III threw for 91 yards, rushed for 7 and didn’t score at all. The Falcons’ ability to defend Seattle’s option offense will be significant factor in this game.
Result: The Falcons defended the read option better than any Seahawks’ opponent all season. Wilson carried seven times for 60 yards, but those were mostly off scrambles from passing plays. There was never a point at which he kept the ball on the option.
2. Come through on third down.
Scouting report: The Falcons converted 45.1 percent of their third-down chances during the regular season. Only New England was better. Third down was when Seattle was at its worst, the Seahawks allowing opponents to convert 38.4 percent of those opportunities to first downs, ranking No. 17 in the league.
Result: The fact the Falcons did not punt the football until midway through the fourth quarter speaks very clearly to Seattle’s difficulty on third down. Atlanta converted six of its 11 third-down opportunities, that success tied closely to Seattle’s difficulty in applying any pressure on the passer.
3. Don’t be fazed by Seattle’s physical approach.
Scouting report: The Falcons can’t get frustrated by the grabby play of Seattle’s cornerbacks nor the edgy play of the Seahawks’ offensive line. The Falcons were penalized a league-low 55 times this season, and it’s to Seattle’s advantage if it uglies up this game.
Result: Atlanta was penalized only three times for 11 yards in the entire game.