|Seattle fullback Marcel Reece (Photo Credit: Seattle Times)|
After a season of troubled gestation, our offensive line improbably came together and came to life, manhandling Lion linemen and linebackers to make running room for a finally-healthy Thomas Rawls. Even our tight ends blocked well, but the secret sauce in our revitalized ground game is late-season arrival Marcel Reece. Though new to the team, the fullback is an old hand in Tom Cable's run scheme, by virtue of their common Oakland pedigree. Last week, Reece played a key role in clearing those running lanes for Rawls, and then Baby Beast Mode did the rest, grinding out precious yards after contact by busting through arm tackles and dragging defenders with him.
Fortunately, the Falcon run defense ranks 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL, so the Seahawks should be able to gain some yards on the ground today. Less happily, Reece hurt his foot last week, so he may not be able to play as much or as well. To compensate, Seattle might need to run more read-option. Moreover, the possible return of rookie CJ Prosise--a tough and elusive runner with great hands--would add a welcome extra dimension to Seattle's backfield.
By running the ball, the Seahawks can Bogart time of possession, slow down the game, and keep Atlanta's potent offense off the field.
The Falcons struggle to stop opposing passers, too; they rank 28th in pass defense. Atlanta particularly struggles to cover tight ends, so Seattle should target Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson early and often. As for the wideouts, Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson had monster games last week, and Jermaine Kearse has a knack for playoff heroics.
Special teams may be interesting. Punter Jon Ryan remains consistent, but Stephen Hauschka continues to shank extra points with alarming frequency. Newcomer Tyler Ott may prove a steadier longsnapper than the injured Nolan Frese. In Devin Hester, Seattle replaced the injured Tyler Lockett with the best returner in league history. Hester may have lost a step, but he may have also added value as a source of fairly recent intelligence on Atlanta special teams, having played there from 2014-15.
The main event, of course, is the showdown between the high-octane Falcon offense, which led the league in scoring, and Seattle's defense, which ranked third in stinginess.
Atlanta runs and throws equally well. The Seahawks remain stout on the ground, but have become suspect through the air. In our narrow home win over the Falcons earlier this year, Earl Thomas III showed up big, but Kam Chancellor and Frank Clark missed the whole game and Michael Bennett missed half of it due to injuries. Since losing Thomas, the Seahawks have struggled to stop opposing passers.
Fortunately, the rest of our defense is reasonably deep and pretty healthy again, and they looked good last week. Three-fourths of the Legion of Boom remains intact: Chancellor continues to enforce; Richard Sherman remains miserly, and DeShawn Shead has held up well on the other side despite relentless targeting. All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner continues to play like a man possessed. If our front four can pressure, punish and rattle the normally imperturbable "Matty Ice," then Seattle may be able to slow Atlanta enough to make the game competitive.