By Matthew Asher
Wildcard Weekend has come and gone in the NFL. With just four teams left in their respective conferences, the Falcons finally know they will be facing the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 13 with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m. EST. Now that Atlanta has what should be the optimal opponent, this is a quick look at the Falcons keys to success based on Seattle’s win over Washington.
Score early and score often
Obviously, in order to win you need to score more points than your opponent does. The Washington Redskins jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter but was shut out the rest of the game as Seattle scored the final 24 points of the contest.
In Washington’s first two drives, the Redskins piled up 134 yards in 20 plays, holding the ball for more than 11 minutes in the first quarter. For the remaining three quarters, the Redskins offense was anemic at best. Washington finished the game with 54 plays gaining 203 total yards. That means in the final 45 minutes of the game, Washington was able to produce just 69 yards on 34 plays while they had possession of the ball for just 14 more minutes.
Atlanta averages almost 31 minutes of ball possession this season and their 26.2 points scored per game is the seventh most in the league. Seattle averages almost 32 minutes of offense each game with the ‘Hawks nearly matching the Falcons in points scored per game. Seattle ranks ninth, averaging 25.8 points each contest.
Protect the football
Robert Griffin III was responsible for both Redskins turnovers. He threw an interception in the second quarter which was converted into a field goal to end the half. RG3 also fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter which was also converted into a field goal.
The good news for Atlanta is the Falcons are very good at winning the turnover battle. The Falcons finished the regular season +13 in the turnover part of the game. Atlanta is +6 with interceptions and +7 with forcing and recovering fumbles. The bad news is that Seattle is equally good at forcing turnovers. The Seahawks finished the regular season +13 in the turnover battle, +8 with interceptions and +5 in fumble recoveries.
Contain the run
Simply put, the Falcons need to make sure Marshawn Lynch doesn’t get his hands on any bags of Skittles. Lynch went into full Beast Mode against Washington, picking up 132 rushing yards on 20 carries to go along with 23 receiving yards on two catches. He scored two touchdowns, one on the ground and one through the air. Lynch also picked up a Russell Wilson fumble due to a botched handoff and took the fumble recovery for a gain of 19 yards.
Limit Russell Wilson’s scrambling ability
While Wilson certainly is no RG3 or Cam Newton, he definitely can run when needed. Wilson ran for 489 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, giving him the 35th most rushing yards in the league and the third-most rushing yards by a quarterback this season. Newton and RG3 were the two quarterbacks to outgain Wilson.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.