Divisional round film preview: Can Seattle's defense contain Atlanta's high-powered offense?

Seahawks got the win the first time around, but can Falcons get revenge on their turf?

By ANDREW GARDA — @Andrew_Garda
Published: Updated:
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) reacts after Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) broke up a pass play intended for him in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) reacts after Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) broke up a pass play intended for him in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear) — Stephen Brashear

NFL Wild-Card Weekend went pretty chalk, with the favorites and higher-ranked teams coming out ahead in every matchup. During the divisional round, that’s a tougher outcome to see happening, especially since every game is a repeat of an earlier meeting between teams.

We could spend a whole week breaking down each game both upcoming and in the past, but one of the more intriguing ones is the Seattle-Atlanta, in part because the Falcons ended up on the wrong side of that one.

There are a few things which will impact the game this time out though. First of all, Seattle is a much less effective team on the road than they are at home. Their offense scores less points and struggles overall, as evidenced by their 3-4-1 road record. The only playoff team with a worse road record is the Houston Texans at 2-6, and every other remaining team has a road record of at least .500.

Part of the issue stems from their 15.87 points per game on the road, which is a huge issue when you look at Atlanta’s 35 points per game at home. Atlanta lives and dies by their offense, and that means the Seattle defense has to have one of its better games this year.

That’s saying something for a defense which has allowed just 19.5 points per game on the road. Still, that small points differential between what the defense allows and the offense scores can be huge and has been all season long.

How can the Seahawks' defense slow down this high-powered Atlanta offense? And how can the Falcons' offense counter the Seahawks' defense?

Looking back at their meeting in Week 6, we see the answers to both questions.

In the first half, the Seattle coverage was superb, They covered Julio Jones very well (mostly with Richard Sherman), holding him to just a pair of catches for 24 yards. They kept the pressure on Matt Ryan with a pair of sacks and six more quarterback hits. Even when Jones got open, far too often Ryan found themselves unable to get the ball to him as he didn’t have time.

Both were contributing factors to the first half sacks.

For the first and third sacks of the game, coverage allowed the Seattle defensive front to get after Ryan.

On both plays, the Seattle secondary did a solid job of staying on top of every weapon Matt Ryan had to throw to. On the above screenshot, Ryan did have a receiver slip out to the right on a short route, but by the time that developed, it was too late.

This was also a factor in Seattle’s fourth sack late in the game.

The second sack was simply a good effort on a delayed blitz on Seattle’s part.

However, on all three touchowns during Atlanta’s surge to take the lead in the third quarter, Seattle’s coverage broke down in some way.

For an example, we can look at Jones’ first touchdown.

On the play, it’s clear that the cornerback assumes he is getting safety help over the top, which is why he lets Jones continue on his route solo. It could also be he is caught peeking into the backfield, though what he’s looking at would be a mystery.

Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the safety is late coming over. He had been watching the receiver who was free in the middle of the field, and didn’t see Jones until it was too late. That lack of communication is a problem — what was the safety’s primary responsibility? Why didn’t the linebacker in coverage or the cornerback communicate with each other? Why didn’t the corner see the linebacker letting his own player go free.

Breakdowns like that, against a great offense like Atlanta’s will cost you.

Atlanta has to find ways to get their receivers open and cause confusion, as they did in that third quarter, while the Seahawks need the defense to communicate like they did in the first half.

The team which achieves those goals better will be the one to advance to the NFC Championship game.

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