After sustaining a scary injury to starting center Justin Britt early, the Seahawks took flight Sunday against the Falcons, taking a 24-0 halftime lead with star-worthy performances on both sides of the ball.
Creative play-calling helps Seattle take control early
It is often said that the most popular player on a football team is the backup quarterback. Just as often the least popular person is the play-caller.
Give Seattle’s offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer plenty of credit for Seattle’s fast start to Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, however.
Everyone knows that Seattle’s top target is Tyler Lockett but in getting Malik Turner, David Moore, Luke Willson and DK Metcalf involved – in that order – it forced an Atlanta secondary decimated by injury to adjust.
A delayed throwback screen to Lockett, an end-around by Moore and a few rushes sprinkled in from backup running back Rashaad Penny were notable examples as the Seahawks jumped out to an early 10-0 lead punctuated by Metcalf’s third touchdown of the season. After spending most of his rookie season outside, Metcalf was deployed in the slot on a bunch formation, which caught Atlanta by surprise and resulted in about as easy of a touchdown pass as you’ll ever see in the NFL.
After failing to secure a second touchdown following a well-run combo route, Metcalf atoned for his mistake just before halftime, snagging another easy score to extend Seattle’s lead to 24-0 in front of a stunned and silent Atlanta crowd.
Metcalf is now tied with Lockett and the injured Will Dissly with four touchdown receptions this year.
Joey Hunt takes over for injured Justin Britt at center
After worrying all week about the health of their offensive tackles, the Seahawks appeared to be in excellent shape up front prior to Sunday’s kickoff against the Atlanta Falcons.
That optimism lasted just over one drive with starting center Justin Britt going down with a left knee injury in the first quarter.
After lying on the turf in obvious pain and frustration, Britt was escorted first to Seattle’s medical tent and then to the locker room. The Seahawks announced that he had been ruled out of Sunday’s game shortly thereafter.
While the Seahawks are in better shape than most clubs with fourth-year pro Joey Hunt a proven capable backup, losing Britt is significant, especially against an Atlanta defense built around penetrating defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
From a physical standpoint, the Seahawks will miss Britt’s (6-foot-66, 315 pounds) size and power at the point of attack. Even more important is his leadership. He is among Seattle’s most respected players inside the locker room, as was demonstrated with the concern Russell Wilson showed when his center went down. In classic Britt fashion, he gave encouragement to each of Seattle’s offensive linemen – including Hunt – before he walked to the locker room.
The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Hunt is smaller and quicker than Britt. He is also a very cerebral player, showing rare football IQ and competitiveness in playing all over the offensive line during his three seasons in Seattle since being drafted in the sixth round out of TCU in 2016.
Chris Carson running hard at home
Some have questioned why the Seahawks have not featured Penny more given the fact that he was the club’s first round pick two years ago.
The answer is obvious – Carson has emerged as a Pro Bowl caliber back and the better fit in Schottenheimer’s (and Pete Carroll’s) scheme.
That is no knock on Penny, who again showed of his rare combination of size and speed in the first half, rushing five times for 42 yards in the first half.
But as he’s done throughout most of this season, Carson was dominant, using his improved burst and vision from a year ago to complement his trademark stiff-arm and rugged running.
Carson may be especially motivated in this contest given that the Oklahoma State product grew up outside of Atlanta in Lilburn, Georgia, attending Parkview High School. According to the FOX telecast, Carson had more than 40 family members, friends and former coaches at the game.
Carson ran for 73 yards in the first half, including a pretty cut and scamper to the right side for a touchdown with 4:46 remaining in the second quarter to give the Seahawks a commanding 17-0 lead.
Seahawks proving that consistent pressure is more important than periodic sacks
There has been plenty of criticism of Seattle’s defense and its lack of sacks to this point in the season. Given that slow-footed journeyman quarterback Matt Schaub started for Atlanta instead of 2016 MVP Matt Ryan, most anticipated this could be the day the Seahawks’ pass rush got well.
That did not occur in the first half. Seattle did not record a single sack until Jadeveon Clowney recorded one in the closing seconds. Better yet, he forced a fumble, giving Seattle two turnovers during the first two quarters.
The Seahawks did get some pressure on Schaub, however, and that is despite the fact that the veteran routinely threw to his primary read rather than look to secondary targets.
Seahawks back seven dominating Schaub and the Falcons’ pass-catchers
Any consternation over the Seahawks’ lack of a pass rush should be quelled with the play of their defensive backs and linebackers in this contest. Seattle recorded at least four pass breakups over the first half with star cornerback Shaquill Griffin making two especially impressive disruptions.
Outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks recorded his first interception of the season – his first since 2013.
Given the lopsided score, one can expect that Schaub will finish the game with plenty of yards. He does have All-Pro Julio Jones to throw to after all, as well as Austin Hooper – who entered the game as the NFL’s leading receiver at tight end – and former top picks Calvin Ridley and Devonta Freeman.
The yards are relatively meaningless, however, at least not as important as the fact that the Falcons finished the first half just one of five on third down conversions.