NFL Preview - Seattle (8-1) at Atlanta (2-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - What happened to the Atlanta Falcons?
Last year's NFC South champions and No. 1 seed in the NFC is just 2-6 on the season and it could get even worse with the Seattle Seahawks in town Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Seattle will try to exact revenge from a 30-28 loss at Atlanta in last year's divisional playoff game. The Seahawks rallied from a 20-0 deficit, but a Matt Bryant field goal with eight seconds left sent them home for the offseason.
The Seahawks have the best record in the conference and are 5-0 against teams from the NFC. They have ripped off four straight victories and are off to the best start in franchise history at 8-1. In Sunday's hard-fought 27-24 overtime win over hapless Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers stormed out to a 21-0 lead, but the Seahawks persevered by scoring 27 of the next 30 points.
Steven Hauschka's 27-yard field goal in the extra stanza kept the NFC West- leading Seahawks rolling.
"That was a huge win. You think about the deficit we were under and to be able to comeback in that fashion, that's big time," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said.
Seattle has now won 12 straight home games to match the franchise record set from 2004-06 and will put its 4-1 road mark on the line in Atlanta. Much of Seattle's success this season has come through the run game, most notably Marshawn Lynch, who is second in the NFL with 726 yards on 167 carries and ran for 125 on 21 touches versus the Bucs.
"Our guys really did a great job of blocking," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said after the game.
Lynch is nursing a banged-up knee and the Seahawks, who posted 198 yards on the ground in the recent win, are fifth in the NFL in rushing (147.0 ypg). Wilson can run, too, and had 36 yards and a score Sunday. Wilson also completed 19-of-26 passes for 217 yards with two TD passes and two interceptions. Seattle is 27th in passing, averaging 200.8 yards through the air.
Wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are Wilson's primary targets and Lynch plays a role out of the backfield. Lynch is fourth on the team with 19 receptions.
The Falcons are embroiled in what seems to be a disappointing season at 2-6. Picked to win the NFC South and possibly represent the conference in the Super Bowl, the Falcons lost their second straight game Sunday in a 34-10 loss at Carolina.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was ice cold, passing for 219 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. The biggest issue for the Falcons besides their terrible run production, which is last in the NFL (64.4 ypg), is that wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White have been banged up. Jones (foot) is out for the season and White is bothered by a hamstring, but is probable Sunday.
White hasn't played since Oct. 7 in a Monday night loss to the New York Jets.
So who's left for Ryan and the fifth-rated pass attack (289.2 ypg)? Harry Douglas (571 yards, TD) and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez (476 yards, 4 TD), who leads the squad in receiving touchdowns. Gonzalez had 81 yards and a score on six receptions against the Panthers.
Ryan talked about the team's attitude leading up to Sunday's game with Seattle.
"I think everybody is disappointed with where we're at, there's no question about it," Ryan stated. "I think there were high expectations for our football team coming into the year, but certainly things have not gone as we'd hoped. Such is life. You've got to adjust. You've got to keep plugging away. You've got to keep working hard and try to find ways to make it better. I think that's what all of us are trying to do."
Ryan threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns with two picks in that playoff win over the Seahawks. It was the first playoff meeting between the teams. Seattle is winless in the last four matchups with Atlanta, but leads the all- time series by an 8-6 count.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Don't be surprised if the Falcons finally get things going with their putrid ground attack headed by the aging Steven Jackson. Jackson is second on the team in rushing yards with only 140 and has played in just four games. Jackson ran for 57 yards on 13 carries.
Jacquizz Rodgers only had five carries for 19 yards and Falcons head coach Mike Smith is seeing improvement in the run game on Monday.
"If there were some positives that you take away from the game: the offensive line's play in pass protection and we ran the ball more effectively. Not as good as we would like to, but I felt like we ran the ball more effectively," Smith said. "When you turn the ball over like we did yesterday and like we did the week before, it makes it very difficult to get the outcome that you want."
The Seahawks are 19th against the run (116.2 ypg) and allowed the Bucs to grind out 205 yards on the ground, 158 of which came from Mike James on 28 carries. So there could be a bright side for Atlanta on Sunday.
The Falcons are primarily a passing team and the Seahawks thrive in shutting opposing aerial attacks down. With talented and verbal cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, Atlanta will have its hands full. Both players have four interceptions for a defense that is tied with Denver in interceptions with 13 total.
But the Seahawks have to be cautious up front and have allowed 405 rushing yards in the past two games after allowing an average of 91.6 in their first six. Carroll hopes that will be corrected come Sunday.
"We were sloppy in our run fits, again," Carroll said. "Unfortunately we missed some reads on a couple of new plays that they (Bucs) ran, did a nice job in changing up. And we weren't as sharp. We're just off a little bit and we have not fixed it in these two weeks, obviously, with that many yards being run. We've got to keep working hard at it."
The Seahawks have talented pass rushers in Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. They each have at least 3 1/2 sacks, with Bennett leading the trio with 5 1/2. Clinton McDonald has 3 1/2 sacks as well.
While the Seahawks are rolling, the Falcons are folding. After going through a scare in front of their home crowd, the 'Hawks are across the country and have no pressure in churning out another win.
Atlanta will be down early and forced to throw against an intimidating secondary, which will come away with at least two interceptions in a double- digit victory. Oh yeah, Lynch will reach the 100-yard rushing mark for a second straight week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 26, Falcons 13
11/07 15:26:54 ET