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Matt Ryan. Roddy White. Tony Gonzalez. Michael Turner. And now, Julio Jones.
The obvious question for the Seahawks heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Falcons at CenturyLink Field is how to match, as well as defuse, the firepower that Atlanta brings to town.
“This is a great opportunity for us because this is such a good team, and we know that,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We have a lot of respect for them.”
And rightfully so, because win No. 12 in the Falcons’ NFC-best 13-3 record last season came against the Seahawks in Seattle, 34-18.
“They came in here and played great last year,” Carroll said. “We don’t forget the fact about how well they can function.”
Key word in that statement: Can. Because the Falcons are 1-2 this season, just like the Seahawks.
So there’s a nagging question for the Falcons, as well: How is that an offense with all this Pro Bowl talent has scored only one touchdown in eight quarters on the road this season?
“We have high expectations of ourselves and I don’t think anybody would say that we’ve kind of played up to the standards that we set for ourselves,” Ryan said.
Falcons coach Mike Smith definitely wouldn’t say that. His team did score 35 points in outlasting the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, but that was sandwiched between road games at Chicago and Tampa where the Falcons scored 12 points against the Bears and 13 against the Buccaneers.
“We haven’t played as effectively as we’d have liked to in the first three games,” Smith said. “We’re not executing.”
But that doesn’t stop the Seahawks from wondering if this is the week the Falcons’ offense rediscovers its productive ways.
“They’re very talented, and we know that first hand from playing them last year,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “They’re even better now with Julio Jones. They’re very talented and they’ve got a lot of weapons.
“I know they’re talking about some of their O-line issues, but when we watch them on tape they’re doing a good job.”
Line issues? One touchdown in two road games? Sounds familiar. But this is the Falcons, and not the Seahawks.
The best place to attack the Falcons’ offense is at the source: Ryan. And the best way to do that is to come after him, against a line that already has allowed 13 sacks – compared to 23 all of last season.
The Seahawks should have three things working in their favor in that matchup: The noise generated by the 12th MAN at CenturyLink Field, and the advantage it gives rush-ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock when the Seahawks go to their nickel and dime packages in passing situations.
“It’s definitely an advantage,” Brock said. “The atmosphere at the stadium is just unbelievable. When the offense can’t communicate and the offensive line has to get off on my first step or Clemons’ first step, it’s a great advantage for us.”
Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, who wilted in the second half of last week’s game under the relentless pressure from Clemons, and Brock, and others – with an extra-large assist from the fans. The Seahawks also brought more additional pressure against the Cardinals than usual,
blitzing 30 times. “A little more than we’ve done in the past,” Bradley said. “But we keep telling our players that, ‘Hey, eliminate busts, don’t make mistakes on the field; we’ll keep adding them.’ ”
But even when they’re not blitzing, the Seahawks’ 10th-ranked defense can generate ample pressure when Clemons and Brock are on their games – and playing at home. They combined for 20 sacks during the regular season last year – with 7½ of Brock’s nine coming at home, and Clemons getting 4½ of his 11. Each had a sack against the Cardinals last week.
It’s all about the relentlessness that comes with having a nonstop motor, even when you’re going against tackles that outweigh you by 30-50 pounds; or even 80, as was the case last week when the 254-pound Clemons was working against 335-pound Brandon Keith.
How do you offset a size discrepancy like that?
“It’s our speed,” Brock said. “We play great on this turf and the crowd noise helps us out.”
But it’s also about fundamentals, as Brock was quick to point out.
“Everybody wants to make a play, but at the end of the day your fundamentals allow you make the plays,” Brock said. “Just like me, Chris has been doing it for years. It’s our fundamentals, techniques and knowing how to study film that allow us to take advantage of the opportunities.”
There will be ample opportunities on Sunday, and the defense – no, the entire team – needs Clemons and Brock to take advantage of them.