Found January 08, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
Best Matchup Yet? On Sunday afternoon and into the evening the Seattle Seahawks showed the nation why they deserved recognition in the 2013 NFL Playoffs. After having a slow start to their contest against the Washington Redskins (when the Seahawks fell behind 14 points), both their offense and defense kicked something up a notch as they cruised to 24 straight points en route to a decisive 24-10 victory at one of the more hostile environments in the league. Undoubtedly the team that nobody wants to face right now, Seattle will head to Atlanta this weekend for a huge game against the No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome, a historically tough place to play for traveling opponents. The trip continues Seattle’s historic 2013 season, a season that has seen Russell Wilson outlast both Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck to become the only rookie quarterback left at this point in the season. And yet, despite all of the accolades that Wilson has received this season, he will be doing battle against one of the top quarterbacks in the league, Matt Ryan. Ryan, who completed 422 of 615 (68.6%) of his passes this season for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, had one of the best seasons of his career with the help of Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez.  Atlanta, who went 13-3 this year against the easiest schedule in the league (usually a good omen for Super Bowl chances), prides themselves on an impressive passing attack that is supplemented by their quick and blistering running game that can prove just as effective. But, with such an elite quarterback on your roster, why not use him to his full extent? Atlanta, meet Richard Sherman, your worst nightmare. Well, if you’re playing against Seattle’s talented passing defense like Atlanta will on Sunday, the Falcons air attack may be as tested as they ever have been this season. Led by the talkative and controversial Richard Sherman and big man Brandon Browner at the corners, Seattle’s passing defense is one of the best in the league, surrendering just over 200 yards per game through the air while hauling in 18 interceptions. In a game that will pit one of the top passing attacks against one of the toughest secondary units in the NFL, something will clearly have to give. Let’s look at this in further detail to see just who may come out on top in this playoff matchup. Atlanta’s Passing Attack As was mentioned previously, the Falcons’ passing offense is fueled by the combination of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. These three outstanding receivers open up the field and gash offenses with their great hands and breakaway speed (except in Gonzalez’s case — but don’t count this guy out, he can still move). Not only do these players open up the ground game for Atlanta, the two backs (Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers) who can catch the ball out of the back field provide for a much wider field for a quarterback that hardly misses an open man. So far this season the combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones have provided to be virtually unstoppable. Both standout receivers, delegating an extra man to either of them has allowed the other to dominate any other coverage he may have faced. Add in a screen game that Rodgers and Turner can execute perfectly, and there has been A LOT of space for the Falcons to operate with this year. Seattle’s Secondary The Seahawks’ secondary, which made headlines last season with their impressive play as a relatively young unit, has forwarded the momentum from their past season to this one. The Hawks have played their way to be one of the top defenses in the country, surrendering just 203 yards per game through the air during the regular season. Though they were aided by an ailing Griffin III and inept Kirk Cousins, Seattle improved on their regular season numbers in the playoffs by giving up just 99 yards through the air against the Redskins. Earl Thomas has been phenomenal since joining the Seahawks. While Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are primarily responsible for the impressive statistics the Seahawks put up in the secondary, Earl Thomas has been an absolute machine at safety for Seattle. Essentially playing the position of center field in football, Thomas has been integral in eliminating any true deep threat that other teams may have. Like the mascot that defines his football team he flies all across the field, using his speed and intelligence to eliminate angles and breakup deep passes while securing momentum for his own team. The true strength of Seattle’s secondary, while made up of many parts, comes from their physicality and ability to stay with just about any receiver in the league. Their ability to jam them at the line and create a disruption before anything proceeds down the field. Even if receivers do get down the field they have a tough time hauling in any passes, as the Seahawks’ corners also do a great job of sticking with receivers throughout their routes, part of the reason being that Sherman was once a receiver turned wide receiver at Stanford. How they match up Talking about the two sides obviously reveals that they are two very good units that will be very interesting to watch when they take the field on Sunday. When talking about advantages, however, it can be said that the Falcons may have at least some advantage because Browner is still looking to get back to 100% game shape after his four game suspension. Though he is said to be practicing at full speed, there were times against the Redskins that he showed a few signs of fatigue. If he is still not at game speed, the Seahawks may have difficulty covering both standout receivers AND Tony Gonzalez. The Seahawks have a distinct advantage when it comes to how well they should eliminate the deep threat and be able to match the receivers of Atlanta. In fact, both corners for the Hawks are either as tall or almost as tall as the receivers for the Falcons. While this may not mean too much on paper, the way these corners play is excatly what Seattle needs to keep the game against Atlanta close and put the game in their offenses’ hands. The threat of Earl Thomas also provides for a great blanket over the receivers and Tony Gonzalez, especially. His speed and brute force will be a huge factor in cutting out any angles and preventing Gonzalez from racking up huge yards. In the end, as good as the matchup looks, all we can do is wait and see what happens when Seattle heads to Atlanta to see who will advance to the 2013 NFC Championship, something both teams will be working harder than ever before to accomplish. 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