The Seahawks (5-2) head to Atlanta (1-6) this weekend hoping to bounce back from a tough Week 7 loss to Baltimore. While the Falcons have struggled this season, Atlanta has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, so the Seahawks know they can't afford to take Dan Quinn's team lightly regardless of the two teams' records.
"They're explosive on offense," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They got highlight players that we recognize and know. The running backs, receivers, the tight end, the QB. Matt Schaub is a renowned backup quarterback that has come off the bench for teams for years. He's got a winning record if he's the one that plays. Danny coaching the defense and Bob Sutton, a friend of ours that we know for years from KC and all that and years beyond. I have a lot of respect for what's going on. I know, just watching the film and watching what we're up against, they're going to cause problems for us. We've got to get ready to go."
If the Seahawks are going to improve to 4-0 on the road this season, here are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Wilson to Lockett vs. Atlanta's pass defense.
The Seahawks will try strive for balance, as always, but this could be a game where the Seahawks look to move the ball through the air. For all of their defensive struggles, the Falcons have been solid against the run, allowing opponents to gain just 3.7 yards per carry, tied for sixth best in the NFL. The Falcons pass defense, meanwhile, has struggled, allowing 274 yards per game (28th). Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions against Atlanta, and have a 116.3 passer rating, the second highest opponent passer rating allowed in the league.
There are a few reasons for Atlanta's struggles in that department, including a pass rush that has produced only five sacks, as well as some significant injuries in the secondary. Former Pro-Bowl safety Keanu Neal is out for the season with an Achilles injury, and cornerback Desmond Trufant, a former University of Washington standout, is out this week with a toe injury.
And if Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game are going to have a good day, it's probably safe to look for more big plays out of Tyler Lockett, who has been outstanding this season, catching 40 passes for 515 yards and four touchdowns.
Asked if he has been around a quarterback and receiver who are as in sync as Wilson and Lockett have been this year, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said, "I really don't think that I have, if I'm being honest. I think if I sat down and thought about it for a long time, maybe. It's very impressive. I always say it, I go back to last year with the whole (perfect passer rating when targeting Lockett) thing. You guys know, you guys have watched it. They weren't short easy completions last year. They're not short, easy completions this year. I think there's a trust. I think that's critical. I think you see it. it takes both guys to do it. It's not just one guy. It's not just Tyler, it's not just Russ. It's that (touchdown catch against Baltimore). Then you go back to the Rams game, the other catch… I would say that those guys have something pretty special."
2. Julio Jones vs. Seattle's secondary.
For all of their struggles this season, the Falcons still possess one of the league's most dangerous passing attacks, a unit that is averaging 299 passing yards per game, the second most in the league. And whether Matt Ryan is healthy enough to play or Matt Schaub fills in at quarterback, Julio Jones remains one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Jones, who has 40 catches for 560 yards and four touchdowns so far this season, has at least 1,400 receiving yards, in five straight seasons, including 113 catches 1,677 and eight touchdowns last year. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and possessing elite speed, Jones is one of the toughest receivers to match up with for any NFL defense.
"He's just a big specimen who can do everything," said Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers.
The Seahawks have gotten great play out of cornerback Shaquill Griffin this season, and Flowers' play has improved in recent weeks, so the Seahawks like the talent in their young secondary, but they know it'll fall on everyone to contain Jones, who is a complete receiver capable of playing all over the field.
"Everybody's going to get their shot covering Julio for sure," Flowers said.
3. Seattle's pass rush vs. Atlanta's offensive line.
If the Seahawks are going to slow down Jones and the passing game, it would definitely help if they can put pressure on whichever quarterback suits up for the Falcons Sunday. The Seahawks have just one sack in the past three games, and while Carroll isn't panicking about his team's pass rush, he would like to see the numbers start to improve against a Falcons offense that has yielded 19 sacks, including five last week.
"That (sack) number isn't going in the right direction," Carroll said. But Carroll also noted that, while he wants there to be more sacks, he also isn't overly concerned yet because for the most part opposing passing games have not been all that effective against the Seahawks.
"The passing game, there were like two plays (against Baltimore) in the passing game and the rest of it was really well done by our guys making plays and disrupting," Carroll said. "We pressured a number of times and got good disruption out of it… Again, I think this is something you guys are going to worry about a lot more than I am, really. We'd love to get more sacks. We'd love to have more hits on the quarterback whenever because that gives us the ball for the most part. We just want to keep battling away. I think now, if we're going to get better, it's going to happen in the next couple weeks. I think the fact that (Jarran) Reed is back out there should make a difference. He played real hard and came out of the game healthy and all that. Being his first game in a month and a half, he'll get better and help us."
The Seahawks and the Falcons will meet this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during week 8 of the 2019 season. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.