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Boasting the NFL’s best offense and the MVP favorite, the Falcons haven’t lost in six weeks, partly because of how difficult they are to prepare for on offense. Matt Ryan’s slew of weapons creates mismatch problems all over the field.
How are defenses supposed to account for Julio Jones’ physical route-running when doubling him means opening up seams for Taylor Gabriel? How will New England get an outside pass rush on Ryan and have enough linebackers to match up with the Falcons’ tight ends? Most importantly, how is any unit supposed to defend the complementary running back styles of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman?
Freeman has a short and sweet answer to the last query.
“We can do whatever we want,” Freeman told Pro Football Talk on Thursday. “Pick your poison. … We’ve had the game plan. The game plan doesn’t change.”
The duo’s features — one short and physical, one tall and speedy — have kept defenses on their toes all year, a success that informs Freeman’s pre-media day confidence. Their 171.0 scrimmage yards per game mark and 27 total TDs were tops among running back groups this season. Freeman and Coleman are also the third tandem in league history to tally 10-plus scores each on a Super Bowl-bound squad.
Both Freeman and Coleman’s pass-catching and route-running abilities have turned them into dual-threat weapons on a team already loaded with young talent on offense, but their most important qualities may be their unselfishness.
Freeman was tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns and fifth in rushing yards last season, but had fewer carries in 2016 because of Coleman’s emergence. But for the third-year back, it’s that team-first, offense-first approach that has seen Atlanta come this far.
A sack on a blown blocking assignment by reserve guard Rees Odhiambo pushed the Seahawks back. Then Wilson had Doug Baldwin dashing towards the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The quarterback sailed a pass long, forcing Seattle to settle for a field goal.
It was the first of several “just miss” moments for Seattle on Saturday.
After a 79-yard punt return from Devin Hester was wiped out by a hold on Kevin Pierre-Louis, Odhiambo stepped on Wilson’s foot resulting in a safety. Seattle scored just three points on their next five possessions while Atlanta moved up and down the field.
As the game spiraled out of hand, Wilson missed Baldwin on another potential touchdown in the red zone. On the next possession, the QB overshot Baldwin again as the receiver streaked wide-open deep. After dicing up the Lions last week, Wilson and Baldwin couldn’t find a consistent connection. Baldwin caught just 2-of-5 passes for 20 yards in the first half — he finished with 5 receptions for 80 yards on 9 targets.
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With Ryan dicing up a banged-up Seattle secondary, the Seahawks running game was left behind — Wilson led the team with 49 rushing yards — allowing Atlanta’s pass rush to tee off against a bad offensive line.
Wilson was flushed from the pocket on seemingly every drop back in the second half. Running for his life, Wilson ended the game 17-of-30 passing for 225 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs for a 75.0 passer rating. Wilson was under pressure on 18 of 39 drop backs, per Pro Football Focus. He had 96.9 rating without pressure and 46.3 rating with pressure.
The Seahawks entered 2016 with the most wide-open offense of the Wilson-era. Yet, spending cheap on the offensive line eventually proved Seattle’s Achilles heel. Pete Carroll’s team has the nucleus in place to retain its spot among the NFC powers. The offensive line, however, must be improved in 2017 for Wilson to have a chance of keeping up with the scoring machines in the conference.