Over the offseason, the Seahawks talked about tweaking their defense to account for the short passing attacks some savvy offenses have used to beat them.
Although Miami and the Jets worked the short game with some success in the first month, they didn’t do it well enough to beat the Seahawks. But now the Hawks are about to face their first big test against a quarterback and skill players who are capable of beating them the way Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have in recent seasons.
Sure, Atlanta’s 300-yard man, Julio Jones, will have a fun matchup against Richard Sherman. But the Falcons the Hawks need to be most concerned about are running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.
The Seahawks have long been vulnerable to scatbacks, tight ends and slot receivers making hay over the middle, and Coleman and Freeman will present a major challenge this week for Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Kam Chancellor.
“We’ll definitely have our hands full, but it’s going to be fun,” Wright said. “This game is a linebacker’s game.”
The Seahawks are the NFL’s top overall defense through five weeks. But they rank just 25th vs. receiving backs, thanks to big games by Miami’s Arian Foster (50-yard catch and run) and New York’s Bilal Powell (six catches for 54 yards).
Coleman and Freeman are even more explosive: Coleman leads all NFL backs at 18.4 yards per reception (313 yards on 17 catches) and Freeman has 14 catches.
“Both guys are really good. They’re really all-around football players,” Pete Carroll said. “They’re comfortable throwing them the ball in all different situations from the backfield, moving out and running individual routes as well.”
“Tevin showed last week his versatility getting down the field catching the football,” Carroll said. “They’ve got to be very fired up about these guys. There’s a lot of stuff they can do with them and we can’t zero in on them because of that.”
Good QBs know how to beat the Hawks, using the short and intermediate passing games. Brady, Rivers, Rodgers, Dalton and Newton all have used their backs, inside receivers and tight ends to great effect in wins over Seattle the past couple of seasons. Against Denver, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan showed he can do the same.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, Seattle’s one-time defensive coordinator, knows full well the weaknesses of Carroll’s “nothing deep” Cover-3 defense and surely will continue to mix it up with his multi-faceted running backs.
And we’ll see whether the Seahawks have learned how to cover their Achille’s heel.
“We’ve got to make sure we do a good job covering them,” Wagner said. “But I think it’s a challenge K.J. and I are up to, and we’re looking forward to it.”