When the Atlanta Falcons host the Seattle Seahawks Saturday in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, there’s plenty of history to pick and choose from when trying to pre-determine, or project, a winner.
Back in 2012 – at the same divisional stage of the playoffs – the Seahawks erased a 20-point deficit to grab the lead with 31 seconds to play… only to hold that advantage a mere 23 seconds. Matt Bryant nailed a 49-yarder to win the game for the home-team Falcons.
Want more recent data? These two tangled on Oct. 16 this season and the game, once again, went down to the wire.
Back in Week 6, Seattle jumped out quickly and Atlanta fought back to take a late lead. The Seahawks stole the lead back and then a controversial no-call, pass-interference play featuring Richard Sherman and Julio Jones left Falcons fans wondering ‘What if?’ and sent Atlanta home with a loss.
What can we take from the Atlanta-Seattle clash from three months ago to help us decide who has the advantage Saturday? Here are three factors that make the Falcons look good for their upcoming game.
3 Favorable Factors
Expect a Boost in Atlanta’s Run Game
Back in Week 6, the Falcons couldn’t get the run game going. Devonta Freeman averaged 3.3 yards per carry and Tevin Coleman just 2. Combined the duo managed a mere 50 yards on the ground.
Part of the reason why success running the ball was limited was because Atlanta was forced to play from behind. The Falcons’ 14-point halftime deficit was the largest of the season; Atlanta had to go pass-heavy to get back into the game. But still… ground gains were few and far between.
“We only got 17 carries last time, so I don’t think we got much of an opportunity to get it going,” said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “We had a couple good looks in the game. You don’t get many of those going against this [Seattle team]. It’s an eight-man front 98 percent of the time with their Cover 3, or their man coverage. It’s always a challenge to run the ball versus that. But when you do get your opportunities, you’ve got to hit.”
Balance will be key for the Falcons; the closer they get to a 50-50 run-pass split, the more potent this offense can be.
In addition to striving for balance, Atlanta’s running back duo just needs to trust in the line in front of it. The Falcons’ line has been a much-improved unit since Week 6. That’s a benefit the team will have to utilize to pull off a win Saturday.
Playing from Behind Doesn’t Typically Happen
As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons Atlanta’s play-calling was so one-sided was that 17-3 halftime score. That deficit was extremely abnormal for the Falcons.
Atlanta was only behind at halftime five times during the 2016 season, so coming out of the locker room for the second half needing to score points to catch up isn’t a normal way of life. Even more alarming, of those five halftime deficits, the Falcons trip to Seattle produced the only double-digit, first-half shellacking.
- Week 1: -4 vs. Tampa Bay
- Week 6: -14 vs. Seattle
- Week 8: -5 vs. Green Bay
- Week 10: -1 vs. Philadelphia
- Week 13: -4 vs. Kansas City
The Seattle game was likely the only game in which Atlanta had to alter its play-calling to chase down an opponent. This offense has been clicking for the entire season, but even more so for the final month of 2016. Add to that the fact that the Falcons enjoyed a bye week to prepare and get healthy and being down at halftime on Saturday doesn’t seem likely.
Who Needs Julio Jones? (the Falcons do, but let me explain)
While Julio Jones is arguably the greatest receiver on the planet and a catalyst any time he steps onto the field, Atlanta has shown it can churn yardage and score points without him being the main attraction.
Back in Week 6, Jones was targeted nine times for seven receptions, 139 yards and one score. Bu the wasn’t the most targeted receiver. Mohamed Sanu was thrown toward 10 times, tied for the most attention he received from Matt Ryan in 2016.
Another receiver who got extra attention was tight end Levine Toilolo. His four targets in Seattle were the most of his season; as were his three catches and 69 receiving yards.
Jones paced the Falcons with 139 yards, but Sanu and Toilolo shined. And Ryan hit 10 different receivers in that game.
The point here isn’t to say the Falcons don’t need Jones. It’s to say that other pass-catchers on the roster can flourish and hurt the Seahawks. Keep an eye on Taylor Gabriel, who’s caught all six of his touchdowns since the Seattle game. Since Toilolo made a splash as a secondary tight end to Jacob Tamme back in Week 6, there’s no reason to think a now-healthy Austin Hooper couldn’t do the same.
Justin Hardy has been rather special since the Falcons’ bye week too.