With a Week 6 matchup to learn from, the Seahawks might make some defensive adjustments — including Richard Sherman’s role — against the Falcons.
In Week 6, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense had the ball at their own 25 with 1:57 left, needing a field goal to take the lead over the Seattle Seahawks.
Ryan threw four straight incompletions as Seattle escaped with a 26-24 victory. On all four plays, the Seahawks blitzed (five pass-rushers or more), and Richard Sherman shadowed Julio Jones.
On the final pass, a deep attempt 40 yards downfield, Sherman easily could have been called for pass interference, but the officials didn’t throw a flag. Of course, as Sherman argued later, Jones could have been called for illegal hands to the face earlier on the play.
Overall, the Week 6 game was an eventful one for Sherman. When he was on Jones, he covered him well. By my count, Sherman lined up on Jones’ side for 30 of 46 coverage snaps. On those downs, Ryan was 3-of-5 for 40 yards when targeting Jones.
But Jones still had a monster game, catching seven balls for 139 yards. On a 36-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, Sherman was playing man coverage while the rest of the defenders were in Cover 3. Sherman indicated the play call wasn’t communicated properly. Strong safety Kelcie McCray, who was playing in place of Kam Chancellor, pointed out that some calls should be understood based on the look of the offense.
Sherman went after defensive coordinator Kris Richard during the game, then got into it with teammates who tried to calm him down.
Later, the Seahawks busted another coverage that led to a 46-yard Falcons touchdown.
The history of what happened in Week 6 makes Saturday’s matchup especially fascinating. Will Pete Carroll and Richard determine matching Sherman up on Jones even more in this game presents their best chance to slow the Falcons down?
In the first meeting, the Seahawks were without Chancellor. In this game, they are without Earl Thomas. A miscommunication or two could prove disastrous this time around.
Sherman’s role was one thing that stood out after reviewing the Week 6 game. Here are some others as they pertain to the Seahawks’ defense.
Thomas’ absence might be too much to overcome.
Thomas was fantastic in the first meeting, constantly delivering big hits and separating receivers from the ball. Thomas played a variety of roles in that game. He set up in the deep middle often but also served as a lurk defender, meaning Thomas played in the intermediate part of the field, helping with double-teams and reading Ryan before breaking on the ball.
The Seahawks were the No. 5 pass defense in the NFL with Thomas in the regular season, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency rankings. Without him, they dropped to No. 30. Steven Terrell held his own against the Detroit Lions, but the Falcons are sure to go after him in this game.
The Seahawks could blitz often once again.
In the first meeting, Seattle sent pressure (five rushers or more) 37 percent of the time. That was the Seahawks’ third-highest blitz percentage in the regular season, and it worked well.
The Seahawks did a good job pressuring Ryan throughout, finishing with four sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Frank Clark didn’t play in the game, and Michael Bennett exited in the fourth quarter, but he had five quarterback hits before suffering an injury. Cliff Avril had two sacks and two quarterback hits.
In the regular season, Bobby Wagner had 4.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hits. Look for him to get opportunities to blitz Ryan once again. The Seahawks’ best chance for slowing the Falcons down is pressure more so than coverage.
The linebackers will have to hold up in coverage.
In the red zone during the first meeting, the Falcons tried to take advantage of the Seahawks’ linebackers in one-on-one matchups. They were unsuccessful, but part of that was Thomas providing excellent help.
One of the Falcons’ biggest strengths has been creating mismatches. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 85 catches and 883 receiving yards. Coleman averaged 13.6 yards per reception, a huge number for a running back, and he had eight receptions of 20-plus yards, tied for second-most on the team.
Wagner, K.J. Wright and Chancellor will be tested in coverage.
The Seahawks must be disciplined vs. play-action.
Ryan averaged 11.89 yards per attempt on play-action passes during the regular season. Only Tom Brady was better.
The Falcons love to use run looks and heavy personnel to move defenders out of their zones and hit on big plays. The Seahawks did an excellent job against the run in the first game, but they have to make sure they don’t get caught out of position on run fakes and allow open receivers downfield.