Week 3 is here, and the Atlanta Falcons are once again 0-2 to open the season. Luckily, the team faces its most winnable game yet with a matchup against the Seattle Seahawks (1-1). Even though the game is on the road, the Falcons are currently just 1-point underdogs against the Seahawks according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you all incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Seahawks, so I’ve enlisted the help of a Seattle expert: John Gilbert. John is the deputy editor covering the Seahawks over at SB Nation’s Field Gulls.
I brought five questions to John to try to get a better read on how the Seahawks have looked over the first few games, including a surprising upset over the Broncos in Week 1. Read on for his answers.
Q1. The Seahawks opened the season with a surprising win over the Broncos before falling to the 49ers in Week 2. Heading into Week 3 at 1-1, how are you feeling about Seattle’s start to the season?
John Gilbert: It was absolutely phenomenal to get the season opening win over the Broncos, and in particular ruined the debut of Russell Wilson for Denver. That said, the defense has been gashed repeatedly and the offense putrid for much of their time on the field, so it’s certainly great to be 1-1, but it almost feels like that may be a misleading record because of how poorly the team has played on both sides of the ball.
With that in mind, it’s a team that has played the majority of the first two games with three first year starters on the offensive line in Charles Cross, Abe Lucas and Phil Haynes, while on the defensive side of the ball much of the personnel is on the field because of his youth and upside potential rather than his experience and proven performance. Add in a new defensive scheme that players are still learning their assignments while gaining the experience necessary to play at a competent level in the NFL, and things are about where one would expect them to be.
In short, this is a team that is working towards building for the future, and there could be significant growing pains in the coming weeks on both sides of the ball. The result should lead to a better team in the second half of the year and into 2023, but for now this is a team that probably won’t be as good as the majority of Seahawks teams over the past decade.
Q2. Geno Smith is leading the league in completion percentage at 81%, but the Seahawks have scored just 12 points per game over two weeks (29th in the league). What’s the main reason for the offense’s struggles so far, despite Smith playing reasonably well to start the season?
JG: The Seahawks have thrown the ball a lot, and Geno has certainly hit his receivers the majority of the time, but they have not challenged defenses down the field. In the first half of the win over Denver, the Broncos defense was primarily using linebackers to cover the Seahawks tight ends, and that allowed the trio of Will Dissly, Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson to put up 98 receiving yards in the first half. In the second half Denver started covering those three with defensive backs with better speed and coverage skills, and then the Niners did the same thing in Week 2. The result has been just 15 yards to those three over the last six quarters, and with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett not challenging deep defenses consistently, that has allowed opponents to stack the box and stuff the run game.
In the wake of the loss to San Francisco, Pete Carroll was open about the fact that the reason they game planned in this manner was to protect the young and inexperienced offense line, but it appears they may be ready to rip the bandaid off and see how the youngsters perform when trying to pass protect for longer developing plays. The Falcons certainly don’t have the same pass rush as the Broncos or 49ers, but it could make for a long day for Geno Smith if the offense repeatedly looks to go deep.
Q3. The defense kept Russell Wilson in check to open the season, before allowing 27 points to San Francisco in Week 2. Are you concerned at all about the defense heading into a matchup with the Falcons, who are currently 9th in scoring through two games?
JG: The scoreboard was a bit misleading in Week 1, as the Broncos moved the ball up and down the field, but the Seahawks were able to come through with clutch performances in the red zone. Seahawks fans have been arguing since then whether or not generating two turnovers inside the five yard line is the result of skill and a repeatable feat, or whether it was simply a lucky convergence of randomness. At the end of the day the Seattle defense came away from back to back goals to go situations without allowing any points, when the expected outcome would have been somewhere between seven to ten points.
For fans who like analytics, the two plays on which the Broncos lost fumbles had a combined EPA of 8.82 prior to the play, meaning that if expectations of historic performance is reached, not only does Seattle likely lose the game, they likely also fail to cover the spread.
Q4. The Falcons dominated the Saints on the ground in Week 1, but struggled in that area against Los Angeles after falling behind. What’s your level of confidence in Seattle’s run defense against the Falcons?
JG: The run defense has been gashed in both games. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for more than one hundred yards on the ground in Week 1, and then the 49ers had 108 yards on the ground in the first quarter before Trey Lance left the game. Marcus Mariota could have a big day on the ground if Arthur Smith is able to exploit the deficiencies in the defensive front seven that both the Broncos and Niners have done.
Whether the lapses against the run through the first two weeks have been because of the new scheme or because of new personnel or because of existing personnel filling different roles than they have in the past remains to be seen. That said, both Mariota and Cordarrelle Patterson have more rushing yards this season than any member of the Seahawks, and it could be a very, very long day for the Seahawks defense if they aren’t able to stop the ground game, and can then apply extra stress to the defense through the use of play action and RPOs.
Q5. What are your overall thoughts on the Atlanta-Seattle matchup, and do you have a prediction for the game? Which of these teams do you think will finish with a higher draft selection when the dust clears on the 2022 season?
JG: I’d love for the Seahawks to come away victorious, and they have historically been tough at home. However, it is likely to be a close game with whichever team is able to put together a fourth quarter touchdown drive coming away victorious. Given that Seattle has yet to score any offensive points in the second half of either game through the first two weeks, my fear is that the team that is able to put together that fourth quarter touchdown drive is not the Seahawks. Hopefully, the defense can hold up in the second half and the Hawks can come away with a 19-17 win, or something along those lines.
Many thanks to John Gilbert for taking the time to answer my questions. Give him a follow at @JohnPGilbertNFL on Twitter. If you’re in the mood for a Seahawks perspective on things, follow the Field Gulls at @FieldGulls.
If you’d like to see my answers to John’s questions, you can find that story right here.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.