Four matchups to watch: Seahawks at Falcons

Posted Nov 9, 2013

The Seahawks, with the best record in the NFC, return to the site where their 2012 season ended with a 30-28 loss to the Falcons in a divisional playoff game – one step shy of the NFC Championship game.

A look at the Seahawks’ Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, including four matchups that could impact the outcome:

When: Sunday, 10 a.m. PT, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records: Seahawks 8-1 and first in the NFC West after Sunday’s 27-24 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field; Falcons 2-6 and last in the NFC South after Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the Panthers in Carolina.

TV: FOX (Q/13 in Seattle), with Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch and Erin Andrews

Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 KIRO FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller

Rest of the West: Rams (3-6) at Colts; Panthers at 49ers (6-2); Texans at Cardinals (4-4)

Matchup microscope

Seahawks defense vs. Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez: “Nobody can cover him. He’s just killed everybody for a whole career.” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll offered that assessment of the most productive tight end in NFL history before Gonzalez did just that in the Falcons’ 30-28 victory in January’s divisional playoff game in Atlanta. Gonzalez caught six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown, but the damage was far greater than those stats would indicate. He had a 9-yard reception against strong safety Kam Chancellor on the game-opening drive to a field goal. His TD came on a 1-yard catch against Chancellor later in the first quarter. He had a 6-yarder on third-and-5 against middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and an 11-yarder on third-and-9 against third safety Winston Guy during a touchdown drive on the Falcons’ first possession in the second half. He had a 19-yarder against zone coverage on the Falcons’ drive to their game-winning field goal in overtime. The Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary cannot allow Gonzalez to have a repeat performance on Sunday. He’s 37 and halfway through his 17th NFL season, but he still leads the Falcons in receptions (44) and TD catches (four).

One to watch

Seahawks FS Earl Thomas vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: It was somewhat ironic that in a game when Thomas had a career-high 12 tackles, he missed more tackles in the first half of last week’s game against the Buccaneers than he had in the first eight games combined. It was a testament to Thomas’ resiliency. Sunday, it’s the other side of his ample game that could prove pivotal. Thomas not only shares the NFL lead with four interceptions – and he was stripped of a fifth against the Bucs on a play where the league admitted the official’s pass-interference call on the play was not the right call – he has baited QBs and alerted teammates on other plays that resulted in interceptions. That aspect of Thomas’ game is needed against the Falcons, because Ryan, who is 3-0 against the Seahawks, has thrown seven of his 10 interceptions in the past two games. 

Fun to watch

Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant: The opportunities to see these friendly rivals when they were teammates at the University of Washington, respectful high school foes at Wilson in Tacoma (Trufant) and Lakes in Lakewood (Kearse) and even youth football opponents will be limited. But when Trufant does draw Kearse – as the corner on the right side or the nickel back who covers a slot receiver – it will be worth watching. Trufant, the Falcons’ first-round draft choice and youngest brother of former Seahawks corner Marcus Trufant, got his first NFL interception last week and leads the Falcons with eight passes defensed. Kearse has just 10 receptions, but he’s averaging a team-best 17.1 yards and also has three touchdown catches to share the club lead. 

One tough task

Seahawks run defense vs. Falcons RBs Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers: Say what? The Falcons are averaging 64.4 rushing yards, which rank 32nd in the league. But the Seahawks allowed a combined 405 rushing yards to the Rams and Buccaneers the past two games, and those teams ranked 29th and 21st before going for 205 and 200 against a Seattle defense that once ranked No. 6 against the run. The Bucs ran the ball 38 times and the Rams 37 times. As coach Pete Carroll put it, “That’s because it’s available. They wouldn’t run it that many times if we were playing it better.”  

Worth noting

The Seahawks lead the series 8-5, but the Falcons have won the past three meetings in the regular season as well as January’s playoff game. … A Seahawks’ victory would tie the franchise record for road victories of five that was set by the 1984 team and tied by the 2005 team. … The Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch ranks third in the league with 726 rushing yards and is coming off a season-best 125-yard game against the Bucs. … QB Russell Wilson passed for a career-high 385 yards and two TDs against the Falcons in January’s playoff game. … A victory would be Wilson’s 20th, tying him with Ryan and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco for third place among QBs for the most wins in their first two seasons behind the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (22) and former Dolphins’ QB Dan Marino (21). … Seahawks TE Zach Miller caught eight passes for 142 yards and a TD in the divisional playoff game. … Jackson, who played his first nine seasons with the Rams, has run for 1,137 and eight touchdowns in 17 games against the Seahawks. … The Falcons are 35-9 at the Georgia Dome since 2008, the third-best home record in the league during that span. … Thomas leads the Seahawks with 69 tackles. … S William Moore leads the Falcons with 75 tackles.