By Marlena Turner
Last season at the start of Week 6, the Atlanta Falcons were sitting at the top of their division with a 5-0 record. With each fallen opponent, fans became certain of their dominance as the team looked poised to make the playoffs, and perhaps a run at another appearance in The Big Game. But it was Week 6, in a game against their division rival the New Orleans Saints, that began a tumultuous downfall that the Atlanta Falcons would never recover from.
Fast forward to the current 2016 season at the start of Week 6, and the Atlanta Falcons are yet again in familiar territory facing another tough challenge – this time against the Seattle Seahawks. At the top of their division with a 4-1 record, Atlanta looks to change history with forward movement on a season that looks even brighter than it did at the beginning of their 2015 season. With a dominant offense this year leading the league in points per game averaging 35, yards per game at 457, and passing yards per game at 333, Atlanta is setting a strong precedent for the NFC South.
In the first half of Sunday’s game it looked as though Atlanta would be in for the long haul as Seattle jumped to a 17-3 lead at the half. By the second half, Atlanta would show glimpses of their explosive offense, however it would prove not enough as they fell to Seattle 24-26. As Atlanta continues to improve and dominate, here’s their Week 6 team grade against the Seattle Seahawks.
Matt Ryan and cast are experiencing the best offense in the Atlanta Falcon’s history, yet facing the tenacious defense of the Seattle Seahawks and their ability to force turnovers began their rough start to a hard fought battle. The Seahawks imposed a massive amount of defensive pressure at every step, making it tough for Ryan in the first half to complete passes ,with only 83 yards at the end of the first half. Ryan faced countless hits by the aggressive Seahawks defense, resulting in 3 sacks and a fumble in the first half. Costly turnovers and penalties prevented Atlanta from many visits to the red zone.
In the second half, the Atlanta offense changed their strategy and began to find their form again. Ryan had a spectacular third quarter during which he completed 13 of 17 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, one being a 46-yard touch down pass to Levine Toilolo to officially take the lead away from Seattle.
However, it was a costly interception by Matt Ryan on a catchable pass to Julio Jones in the 4th quarter that allowed the Seahawks to take the ball with good field advantage and never look back. The game ended with a controversial pass interference no-call by the officials with 1:24 left and Atlanta going for it on 4th and 10. In Atlanta’s loss, Ryan threw for 335 yards at 27 of 42 in completion, with Atlanta leading in total yards at 310 versus Seattle’s 261. Julio Jones again was Atlanta’s top receiver with 7 carries for 189 receiving yards. As for Atlanta’s rushing yards, they struggled with only 52 yards in total with Freeman and Colman both absent of any real gains the entire game.
Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham exploited the gaps in Atlanta’s defense. Russell had all the time in the world with impressive coverage in the first half, moving the ball up the field against an Atlanta defense with no answers.
At the start of the second half, Atlanta improved on down-field coverage, leaving little choices for Wilson, but resulted in short passes for small gains. Atlanta increased their defensive pressure on Wilson in the pocket, forcing incomplete passes and several 3 and outs. Vic Beasley Jr., who had a breakout game last week against the Broncos with 3.5 sacks on Paxton Lynch, proved it difficult to sack the evasive Wilson, but was still able to enforce enough pressure to bother his passing rhythm in the second half.
The biggest defensive stop for Atlanta came in the 4th quarter, however it didn’t stop Seattle from taking the lead at the 2-minute warning with a 54-yard field goal to end the game at 24-26.
Special Teams: B+
Atlanta’s special teams came up big when needed. In the fourth quarter on a pinnacle field goal that would’ve tied Seattle with the Falcons 24-24, the Falcons blocked the field goal, giving Atlanta a 1-point lead with 4 minutes to go in the game. Matt Bryant improved to 1-for-1 on field goals with his longest at 33 yards for Atlanta. Atlanta’s punt kicker Matt Bosher went 4-for-4 as well and kicked the game’s longest punt at 41 yards.
Atlanta coaches were left scrambling during the first half with no answer to the aggressive defense by the Seattle Seahawks. Matt Ryan received no help coverage from his offensive line in the first half, leaving him battered and beaten by pass rushers a total of 9 different times with 3 sacks. After halftime, Atlanta became a different team. The offense became more patient and Matt Ryan began to decipher Seattle’s 3 wide coverage defense to find open receivers down the field. This was a great strategy by Kyle Shanahan, but perhaps it was too little too late for the closely contested game down the stretch.
However, where Atlanta needs to improve is consistency in their rushing game on offense. Both Coleman and Freeman had little to no effect on the game with a total of 50 rushing yards combined. Atlanta is at its best when they impose a balance attack on opponents.
Next up: The (4-2) Atlanta Falcons play the San Diego Chargers (2-4) at home on Sunday, Oct. 23.