Here are our weekly Five Things to Watch for Sunday’s Seahawks game:
1, Holding the line: Seattle has allowed 405 yards rushing the last two weeks, and 200 or more in each game, against the Rams and Bucs. In the process, Seattle has fallen from sixth in the NFL against the run to 19th. That it’s just two games makes it hard to call it a trend yet. But if Seattle can’t stop the Falcons on the ground then it becomes time to really worry. Atlanta is averaging just 64.4 yards per game on the ground, last in the NFL, and has rushed for more than 88 only once. Seattle should be able to return to its form of the first seven games and hold down the Falcons.
2, Starting fast: What can no longer be dismissed as just a blip is Seattle’s habit of breakout of the gates slowly. The Seahawks have scored only 29 points in the first quarter this year — they have 63 or more in each of the other three — and have scored just seven points in the first quarter of the last four games. That helped turn games against teams that were heavy underdogs such as Tennessee, St. Louis and Tampa Bay into surprisingly taut affairs. Seattle did what it needed to win each of those games. But at some point the slow starts could catch up to the Seahawks, and especially on the road.
3, Putting Matty on Ice: Atlanta has a subpar defense and a non-existent running game. What makes the Falcons a team that still inspires some fear, though, is quarterback Matt Ryan and a passing game that when it is whole is among the best in the league. The absence of Julio Jones means the Falcons won’t be at full strength, and especially so if Roddy White doesn’t make it back as well (though it’s expected that he will). Trying to carry the load himself as led to Ryan throwing seven interceptions the last two weeks. Still, if White returns, he would team with tight end Tony Gonzalez and receiver Harry Douglas to form a corps that could cause Seattle problems if the Seahawks can’t get a good pass rush and have any issues in coverage. Watch for Richard Sherman’s matchups on White — the two have had a well-documented rivalry — and safety Kam Chancellor on Gonzalez.
4, Winning third down: This was a much talked-about issue a few weeks ago until the Seahawks appeared to get it fixed by going 7-12 against Arizona. Since then, Seattle has been incredibly erratic, going 2-11 against the Rams but then 8-12 against the Bucs, time and again converting in the face of Tampa Bay blitzes. Seattle now ranks 20th in the NFL in third-down percentage at 37.2 percent. Interestingly, Seattle’s defense doesn’t rank much better In holding opponents on third down, standing at 17th in the NFL, with foes making 38.5 percent of third downs. Tampa Bay hit on 8-15, a big reason the Bucs stayed in the game.
5, Winning the turnover battle: This is just about a weekly category here because it’s hard to ignore its impact on the games. And for the Seahawks, who place so much importance on it, the trend has not been great of late — Seattle has won the turnover battle just once in its last five games, that coming against St. Louis when its 2-0 edge in takeaways was the main reason it won the game. Seattle was at minus-three last week and even in the three games prior to the contest against the Rams. For the season, Seattle remains a healthy plus-six. But that’s a margin that hasn’t changed much since the first four games, when the Seahawks were at plus-seven. The key has been fumbles — Seattle hasn’t gotten one in the last four games while losing five. That’s the kind of thing, though, that can change quickly.