The Seahawks host the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field Monday night, the third meeting between these two teams in the past 13 months. The defending NFC champion Falcons (5-4) are looking to build off of last week's win against Dallas, While Seattle is hoping to improve its 6-3 record while adding to an 11-game winning streak on Monday Night Football. To find out more about the Falcons, we reached out to AtlantaFalcons.com's Kelsey Conway with five questions about Seattle's Week 11 opponent.
Q: Pete Carroll has talked about how playing in the Super Bowl, win or lose, can affect a team the following season—whether it's some sort of "hangover" or just the realities of being that good (losing free agents, top assistants, etc.). How much, if at all, are the Falcons feeling the effects of last season?
Conway:You know, I've actually been asked this question a couple times this year and I don't think playing in the Super Bowl and losing has really affected the team too much. I say this because, outside of Kyle Shanahan who was the Falcons' offensive coordinator last season leaving to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and was replaced by new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Atlanta has majority of their key players back. Outside of losing Patrick DiMarco in free agency, (head coach ) Dan Quinn and (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff retained almost all of their starting lineup from last season. Yes, the Falcons have new coordinators on both sides of the ball, but the scheme hasn't changed. The Falcons' issues this year have not come from losing players or putting a new scheme in place, it's been execution, and right now, I think this team is hitting their stride and really honing in on specific areas of their game.
Q: Maybe this is related to the previous question, but what has contributed to Matt Ryan and the offense having a bit less success after his MVP campaign last year?
Conway: Execution. I can only count two of Matt Ryan's interceptions being ones he would like to have back—the rest have been tipped passes. It's just been weird. The Falcons have also suffered a few dropped passes at pivotal times that would have kept them on the field. That's another thing, for a couple of weeks straight, the Falcons offense struggled to stay on the field, resulting in fewer possessions and less opportunities for Ryan & Co. to make plays. I think the performance of Atlanta's offense against the Cowboys is more similar to what you'll see on Monday night.
Q: Conversely, the defense looks to have taken a big step forward, what has been the key to the success on that side of the ball (aside from getting six sacks in a game out of Adrian Clayborn, I'd imagine that helps)?
Conway:That was definitely a big boost on Sunday! Atlanta's defense is full of young players and the unit really started to hit its stride in the playoffs and they've been rolling ever since. Players like Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and Keanu Neal all have a year under their belt and third-year players Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley have taken a step forward as well. The team also added Dontari Poe this offseason, and he's definitely been a presence. Having Desmond Trufant back healthy has also been a help. All together, the Falcons' defense has just been playing together longer and their confidence in one another shows.
Q: With Devonta Freeman out this week, how much does that affect Atlanta's offense? And how big of a luxury is it to have both Freeman and Tevin Coleman on the roster in situations like this?
Conway: It's a huge luxury to have two solid running backs. Tevin Coleman has showed numerous times, he can present problems for defenses to match up against because he's so explosive. He's also a type of player who relishes in the opportunity to step up and carry his team. Obviously, if Freeman can't go, that's a loss for the offense because of how talented he is when he has the ball, but this offense has so many weapons, including Coleman, that they can make up for it in other areas.
Q: Dallas last week, Seattle this week and Minnesota and New Orleans coming up soon, just how big of a test is this stretch for Atlanta's playoff hopes?
Conway:A big one…. All three of those teams are extremely talented and all in the playoff hunt as well. The Falcons have no breaks coming in their upcoming schedule, so it'll be fun to see how it all plays out.