While it's only Week 3 of the NFL season and 14 games remain after this weekend, it's not an understatement to say the Seahawks and Falcons will engage in a must-win contest at Lumen Field on Sunday.
Looking to rebound from a difficult 27-7 loss to San Francisco last week, Seattle has a gauntlet of games coming up against Detroit, New Orleans, and Arizona in coming weeks and the schedule won't get any easier. To stay in the NFC West race, coach Pete Carroll's team can't afford to slip up at home against Atlanta, who will arrive in town desperate after two hard-fought losses and hoping to avoid an 0-3 start.
As the Seahawks and Falcons prepare to duke it out with much on the line in an early-season battle, here are six matchups to keep a close eye on between the two rebuilding franchises.
Seahawks guards Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis versus Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett
While he isn't quite the household name of Aaron Donald, Jarrett has quietly been one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL since breaking into the league in 2015. The former Second-Team All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler offers plus-athleticism in the trenches and can be a handful for any guard to handle due to his quickness and ability to split gaps defending the run as well as rushing the passer. He's been at his best against the Seahawks, racking up 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and nine quarterback hits in four regular season games feasting on their interior offensive line. That may not be a good omen for the home team heading into this contest after Jackson allowed seven quarterback pressures in last weekend's loss to the 49ers and Lewis exited early with a thigh bruise, forcing Phil Haynes back into action. With Jackson and Lewis both expected to be back in the lineup, the two veteran blockers will have to elevate their games or Jarrett could once again play the role of game plan wrecker.
Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen versus Falcons receiver Drake London
With both teams in the midst of youth movements and rookies playing extensive snaps on both sides of the ball, there may not be a more compelling head-to-head matchup between first-year starters than London squaring off with Woolen. The first receiver selected in April's draft, the 6-foot-5 London runs well and plays to his size, using his physicality to win at the line of scrimmage and rise up to high point contested catches against smaller opponents. Through two games, he's looked the part of a top-10 selection, catching 13 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. Drafted five rounds later by the Seahawks, Woolen has exceeded all expectations thus far starting at right cornerback and should be well-prepared to face London after going against DK Metcalf regularly at practice. One of the few corners in the league with comparable size and athletic traits to match such a big-bodied, explosive receiver, he will put his skills to the test in a matchup that may play out like a battle of Transformers on the outside.
Seahawks receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett versus Falcons cornerbacks A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward
While Lockett found a rhythm a bit last Sunday with over 100 receiving yards against the 49ers, Metcalf has gotten off to a slow start with 11 receptions for only 71 yards and neither player has yet to find the end zone as Seattle's offense has slogged through the first two games. But if there's a game to get right, Atlanta may be the right opponent to draw at this stage of the season. When these two teams last met, both star wideouts had big games with over 90 receiving yards apiece and did much of that damage working against Terrell in coverage. The former first-round pick has improved a great deal since making his NFL debut in that game, but after earning Second-Team All-Pro honors last year, he has struggled out of the gate this year, allowing 10 receptions for 94 yards and four touchdowns. Life won't get any easier for him or Hayward covering Seattle's dynamic duo and with Metcalf due for a breakout, this has a chance to be an advantageous matchup for the home squad.
Seahawks defensive tackles Poona Ford, Quinton Jefferson, and Myles Adams versus Falcons guards Chris Lindstrom and Colby Gossett
While Atlanta has yet to win this season, the team has surpassed expectations in many regards through the first two weeks. Among many surprises, the interior offensive line has held up well in the run game as well as pass protection. Led by Lindstrom, a former first-round pick out of Boston College, the group hasn't allowed a sack in two games and helped the Falcons rush for over 200 yards against the Saints in Week 1. For the Seahawks to win on Sunday, they will need their 3-tech/4i-tech defensive tackles to hold up better against the run and contribute as pass rushers collapsing the pocket on Mariota. If there's good news, the trio of Ford, Jefferson, and Adams, who will make his 2022 debut replacing an injured Shelby Harris, should match up quite well athletically against Lindstrom and Gossett. If they are able to control the line of scrimmage, keep linebackers behind them clean, and generate a handful of quarterback pressures, Seattle's victory odds will improve exponentially.
Seahawks running backs Rashaad Penny and Ken Walker III versus Falcons linebackers Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker
Somehow, the Seahawks will enter Sunday's contest ranked dead-last in rushing yards in the NFL despite having a talented backfield headlined by Penny and Walker. Neither player has been able to get much going behind an offensive line that hasn't been consistently winning up front and the inability to sustain drives has limited their chances. But both backs are currently averaging more than four yards after contact per carry and the Falcons don't have the talent in the front seven that that 49ers do, which should make it easier to get them going. Evans and Walker have struggled bringing down ball carriers in the first two games, combining to miss four tackles. If Seattle can get its downhill run game working at the line of scrimmage and get Penny and Walker to the second level, there's a good chance they will be able to force missed tackles against Atlanta's linebackers and rip off a few long runs on Sunday. In addition, the backs could be an overlooked asset in the passing game for Geno Smith.
Seahawks linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton versus Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Cordarrelle Patterson
Dealing with a mobile quarterback for a third straight week in Mariota, the Seahawks once again will have to worry about defending read options and designed quarterback runs. Complicating matters, Patterson has emerged as one of the NFL's more unique threats out of the backfield. Formerly a first-round pick as a receiver, he has five runs of 10-plus yards and has forced six missed tackles in the first two games and has been an integral part of a top-10 rushing attack. Yielding almost 200 rushing yards to San Francisco last weekend, Seattle ranks second in the NFL in missed tackles so far and that simply won't cut it against the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Patterson, who regularly powers through arm tackles. Accounting for Mariota's dual-threat capabilities, Brooks and Barton will have to be decisive reading their keys and flow better to the football this week. Once they get to the ball carrier, they need to finish by wrapping up and teammates need to swarm to the ball to help out. Limiting the run game and making Atlanta one-dimensional would be a great recipe for success. But if the tackling woes continue, it could be another long afternoon defensively.
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