Good teams don't beat themselves with foolish mistakes.
They make the other team beat them.
The Atlanta Falcons are a good team, perhaps the best the Seattle Seahawks will face this season. With an NFC-best 11-2 record, the Falcons can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Seahawks this afternoon.
The Falcons hold the blueprint for a rebuilding Seahawks organization – a playoff-caliber team with a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Matt Ryan surrounded by a young nucleus of playmakers ready to take a shot at a Super Bowl.
“They’re playing the kind of football that we hope to play and what we’re trying to become,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said last week. “I think we’ve got the makings of it, but we’re struggling to get there. But I think we can get that. And they’re doing it right – they’re winning at home and they’re winning their close games on the road. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us – they’re the best team in our conference.”
The Falcons excel in the statistics most coaches believe dictate the outcome of games. They take care of the ball, evidenced by a plus-8 turnover differential, third in the league. They score points, averaging 25.8 a contest, fifth in the league.
And they control the clock by converting third-down opportunities. Atlanta, at 48.5 percent in converting third down, is second only to New Orleans (50). Atlanta ranks third in the league in time of possession (32:14). And the Falcons are the least penalized team in the NFL, with 49 accepted penalties this season.
More important, the Falcons ramp up their game in the fourth quarter. They’ve outscored opponents a league-best 104-47 in the final quarter. Ryan has led the Falcons to six come-from-behind victories this season, and seven of their 11 victories have come by seven points or fewer.
“I think our guys have really bought into, regardless of what happens, is if we’ll be resilient and keep our head down and play hard – and I know it sounds simplistic – but you’ll like where you’re at at the end of the ballgame,” Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said.
“No matter how pretty or ugly it looks, they stack those wins by doing things right late in the game,” Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. “All game, but definitely late in the game, you see if Ryan doesn’t have that pass he likes, he throws it out of bounds. They’ll punt and live to see the next series. And so I mean you respect that. And in a game like this we really have to get some turnovers.”
At the heart of Atlanta’s success is a balanced offense that controls the tempo of the game, led by the three-pronged attack of Ryan, running back Michael Turner and receiver Roddy White.
Ryan has thrown for 3,147 yards and 22 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. Turner is fourth in the league in rushing with 1,174 yards and 11 touchdowns. Turner has rushed for 100 yards or more in five of the past seven games, and has scored 10 touchdowns in those seven games.
And White is the leading receiver in the league with 99 receptions for 1,219 yards and seven scores. The three make Atlanta one of two teams in the league (Houston is the other) to have a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver.
“We’re balanced all the way around,” White said. “We can run the football, we can throw it. That’s just giving defenses so much difficulty when they come and bring the eight guys down in the box and they play a lot of single-highs (safety) and we’re making plays on the outside. Me and Mike Jenkins are making plays down the field and it’s tough to do that. If you play cover-two, we’ll hand the ball off to (Turner) and he’s breaking a lot of tackles, he’s doing a lot of things.”
So how do you stop an Atlanta offense that can beat you in so many different ways?
“You prepare,” said Seattle linebacker David Hawthorne. “They’re a team across the board where their whole philosophy is to do what they do, and do it well, and to just be consistent and don’t put themselves in bad situations to lose games.
“It’s our job as a defense to make them make bad choices by disguises and just trying to mix it up on them. On the other end, we have to prepare like they’ve prepared all year. You can tell they’re a team with some veteran guys that know what they’re doing. So we have to take that into consideration in our preparation.”
Seattle has a couple of factors in its favor. Ryan is an impressive 19-1 in starts at the Georgia Dome, but 10-11 on the road. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have won four out of the five times Atlanta has traveled to Seattle.
And the Falcons could be a bit road weary. This is Atlanta’s third straight road contest, and the farthest it will travel this season for an away game. Freezing rain is in the weather forecast for today’s game. And the Falcons are a dome team that plays in the Southeast.
“From a record standpoint and everything, they are the best in the NFC right now,” Tatupu said. “And if we do expect to make the playoffs, it’s going to be a team like this that we match up with. So I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks
FALCONS FLYING HIGH
The Atlanta Falcons, who play at Qwest Field today against the Seahawks, are an NFC-best 11-2 and tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the NFL. Here’s why:
They control the ball
Rank 3rd in turnover differential (+8)
Rank 3rd in time of possession (32:14)
Rank 3rd in total first downs (294)
Rank 2nd in third-down conversions (48.5 percent)
Rank 2nd in fourth-down conversions (81.8 percent)
They don’t make mistakes
Rank 1st in fewest penalties (49)
Tied for 4th in fewest sacks allowed (20)
Tied for 4th in fewest interceptions (8)
They are balanced
Rank 5th in scoring (25.8 points per game)
Rank 8th in fewest points allowed (18.7 ppg)
Rank 9th in total offense (355.8 yards per game)
Rank 16th in total defense (340.5 ypg)
They have playmakers
Quarterback Matt Ryan (8th in TD passes with 22, 11th in completion percentage at 63.2, 12th in QB rating at 90.7)
Running back Michael Turner (4th in rushing yards at 1,174, zero fumbles)
Receiver Roddy White, right (1st in catches with 99, 1st in yards with 1,219, 12th in TDs with 7)
Tight end Tony Gonzalez (58 receptions, 565 yards, 5 TDs)
Defensive end John Abraham (3rd in sacks with 11)
Linebacker Curtis Lofton (100 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception)
ATLANTA (11-2) AT SEATTLE (6-7)
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m., Qwest Field
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: The teams will meet for the 12th time. Seattle holds an 8-3 advantage. The most recent game was a 44-41 victory for the Falcons on Dec. 30, 2007, in the finale of the season in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.
What to watch: Seattle starting wide receivers Mike Williams (ankle) and Ben Obomanu (hand) should both be available after missing last week’s game against San Francisco. Offensive guard Chester Pitts returns to the starting lineup after a three-week absence. Pitts will start at left guard, while Mike Gibson moves to right guard, replacing Stacy Andrews. The Seahawks will field their ninth different starting offensive line combination in 14 games. Whether WR Brandon Stokley (hamstring) and CB Roy Lewis (knee) play will be game-time decisions, while CB Walter Thurmond (hamstring) will not be available today. Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy played for the Falcons from 2006 to 2008.
TNT pick: Falcons, 30-24.
17Mike Williams (WR)6-5235fourth Seahawks have missed his big-play potential.
8Matt Hasselbeck (QB)6-422512th He needs to play better after poor performance last week.
57David Hawthorne (LB)6-0246third He has been a tackling machine for Seattle the past month.
29Earl Thomas (FS)5-10202first Falcons will try to get him out of position for a big play.
33Michael Turner (RB)5-10244seventh “Burner” Turner sets the table for Falcons offensively
88Tony Gonzalez (TE)6-524314th One of the best to ever play the position
95Jonathan Babineaux (DT)6-2296sixth Older brother of Seahawks safety Jordan Babineaux.
23Dunta Robinson (CB)5-10180seventh Seahawks will go after this smallish corner.
Eric D. Williams, staff writer