Everyone who criticized the Falcons for their past playoff endeavors will get to see if the coaching changes made during the off-season will yield a different result in The Dome this Sunday at 1 p.m. (Eastern).
The Seattle Seahawks, a hot team fresh off a win against the Redskins, will travel to Atlanta to face Matt Ryan and a Falcons team hungry for playoff redemption. This will be the first time the two have met in the post-season, and it has all the makings of a tough, effortful game between two teams looking to advance to the NFC Championship. After last week’s win in D.C., Seattle extended their late season streak to six games. Each of the six wins have been pretty convincing in the eyes of analysts. Convincing enough to think the Falcons should be worried about this match up.
A lot of pressure is on Matt Ryan to lead his team to victory, but in his path is a very formidable 6th ranked pass defense headlined by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Brandon Browner. On paper, this is probably the most talented secondary I’ve seen since the early 2000′ Eagles with Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Lito Sheppard, and HOF-bound Brian Dawkins. I think Julio, Roddy, Gonzalez, and even light-weight Harry Douglas will be up to the challenge Sunday. In the words of Red Beaulieu (played by late Jerry Reed) from ‘The Waterboy’, “It’s gonna get awfully physical” in the Georgia Dome.
Mike Smith has taken full advantage of the extra week; he’s made sure he kept his team football fresh, focusing on self-analyzing (Film Study) and tackling fundamentals. I don’t think we’ll see a team with bye-week lag on the field this weekend. William Moore, the disruptive free-roming safety who missed the last four weeks of the season with a sore hamstring returned to practice this week. Dunta Robinson and John Abraham also practiced this week, which is surprising in John’s case. That ankle sprain Abraham suffered against Tampa Bay looked pretty severe, but Smitty said the injury was minor. Whatever the case, he will be on the field Sunday with the rest of D-Block.
Speaking of D-Block, they will have their hands full with both Marshawn Lynch and Rookie of the Year-canidate Russell ‘Last Name’ Wilson. Lynch has slowly emerged as a top-5 RB since he was traded from Buffalo. He’s a physical, punishing back who rarely goes down on first, second, or even third contact. If you don’t accredit my observation, ask the Saints. He’s gotten off to a hot start, putting up 133 yards with one touchdown against the Redskins. Hopefully the work on tackling during the bye week will pay dividends this Sunday. Wilson has evolved into a consistent starting QB, the only criticism hanging over his head was him not being able to perform on the road. I think he proved those doubters wrong last Sunday. He accounted for 254 yards and one touchdown, hurting the Redskins defense throwing and running the ball. Both defense’s will have their hands full. One thing’s for sure, NFL enthusiasts along with the media nation will be watching.
Sergio’s Matchups To Watch
Atlanta’s Wide Receivers vs. Seattle’s Cornerbacks- I’m personally having a hard time waiting till Sunday because of this matchup alone. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are two of the most physical corners in the league. Julio Jones and Roddy White, on the other hand, are two of the most physical receivers in the league. This is the closest you can get to a Pay-Per-View fight without paying $80 or stealing cable. It will definately get interesting if/when Richard Sherman lines up on Roddy…Both talk a lot of trash, so the probability of a scuffle breaking out will be high. Keep an eye on this one folks, it’s going to be a ‘Slobber Knocker’.
Atlanta’s Offensive Line vs. Seattle’s Defensive Line- Sam Baker’s workload will be a little lighter than he expected. Standout DE Chris Clemons suffured an ACL injury at Fed-Ex field and is done for the season. Seattle signed another end off waivers, but it’s strictly for depth reasons. Rookie Bruce Irvin will now move to a starting role in Clemons place(RE). He was used in strictly in passing situations due to being a liability against the run. Seattle is very heavy on the left side of their D-line, and understandably so. Teams tend to run the ball between the RT/G. It will be wise for Atlanta to take advantage of Bruce being on the right side, because Red Bryant and Alan Branch are basically two concrete pillars.
Matt Ryan vs. Gus Bradley- Gus is the defensive coordinator of Seattle. I think he’s established himself as one of the great defensive coordinators of the NFL. He doesn’t do a lot in terms of looks, so it will be intersting to see how Ryan would take advantage of Seattle’s simplicity. They don’t blitz a lot either, so hopefully the Atlanta’s O-Line will be able to keep Matt off the turf. I’m curious to see it Gus will plan to do anything different. Matt Ryan will be the best QB he’s faced since their week one win against the Patriots.