The predicted end of the world as we know it did not happen Saturday night in Western Washington. It’s lightly raining on and off and breezy this morning in Seattle, so the weather may not be the factor in the passing game today as once feared.
What will be a factor: Kam Chancellor and Frank Clark are indeed inactive for today’s game, as became likely on Friday. Chancellor got a groin injury in practice Thursday. Clark strained his hamstring Monday. Yes, two starters got hurt in not-full-pads practices coming off being a week away for Seattle’s bye.
Kelcie McCray gets the chance at strong safety against Atlanta’s top-ranked passing game. Expect the Seahawks to be in nickel defense the majority of snaps, with Jeremy Lane again coming in as the extra defensive back. That will make Mike Morgan being out at strongside linebacker after his sports-hernia surgery and Kevin Pierre-Louis’ first game at that position a lesser issue, as Lane will replace that outside linebacker in nickel sets.
ATLANTA FALCONS (4-1) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (3-1)
Sunday 1:25 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: The Seahawks lead the all-time series 9-6 but have lost four of the last five meetings dating to 2007. That includes the Falcons’ last-minute rally to a 30-28 win over Seattle Jan. 13, 2013, in Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoffs. The Falcons have won the last two games at CenturyLink Field, in 2010 and ’11. The Seahawks’ last home win over Atlanta came when Bryce Fisher’s sack of Michael Vick late helped preserve Seattle’s 21-18 victory. That was on Sept. 18, 2005.
Line: Seahawks by 6½.
Sherman shadowing Jones: Both guys and teams were coy about it leading up to this game, but after Richard Sherman shadowed the Jets’ Brandon Marshall all over the field in Seattle’s last game the three-time All-Pro cornerback is surely going to track Atlanta’s All-Pro receiver in this one. This will be a different kind of shadow: Instead of short routes in front of Sherman, Jones will try to run deep past him; he leads the NFL with 21.5 yards per catch and is two weeks removed from becoming the sixth player ever with a 300-yard receiving game. The entire league is going to be watching to see who wins this battle royale. According to figures from Pro Football Focus, in the last six games Sherman has shadowed top receivers those foes have had 13 catches in 33 targets for 186 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and an opponents’ passer rating versus Sherman of just 30.6.
Show off Wagner, Wright: Sherman vs. Jones will get all the attention, but this is the key to the game: The Seahawks have an advantage over just about every other team that plays Atlanta: They have two linebackers, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, who never come off the field. Their size and speed make Seattle far better equipped than other teams to defend Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman coming out of the backfield on passing routes. Coleman is second only to the great Julio Jones in receiving yards for Atlanta’s No.-1 ranked passing offense. But when the Seahawks go to nickel defense, their ability to devote more DBs to receivers and their stud linebackers to the running backs is the decisive advantage for Seattle’s top-ranked defense against the Falcons’ No. 1 offense.
Beware of the tight end: Safety Kam Chancellor being questionable with a groin injury is a siren call to the Falcons to send Jacob Tamme (17 catches in five games) at what has been Seattle’s area of concern for two years: defending the tight end down the middle. Whether it’s a less-than-fully-healthy Chancellor or fill-in Kelcie McCray, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan is going to test him and Earl Thomas by targeting the tight end(s).
The pick: Stats and weather say Seahawks may run more. But Russell Wilson’s still not fully healthy, so he stays in the pocket for a dart-throwing contest with Ryan. Seattle’s defense is uniquely equipped to slow down Atlanta just enough. Seahawks 28, Falcons 24.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
25 Richard Sherman CB 6-3 195 sixth
Sherman vs. Jones. All-Pro vs. All-Pro. Sherman usually is at his best when so challenged
88 Jimmy Graham TE 6-7 265 seventh
Is he finally, fully in Wilson’s passing plans? Maybe, but still not fully healthy from knee surgery
72 Michael Bennett DE 6-4 274 eighth
Defenders have not been able to put ATL QB Matt Ryan under duress this season. Bennett can
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
11 Julio Jones WR 6-3 220 sixth
ATL is going to send him deep. Often. He cherishes this faceoff with Sherman
26 Tevin Coleman RB 5-11 206 second
ATL’s second-leading receiver in yards will test SEA’s LBs far down the field
44 Vic Beasley LB 6-3 246 second
3½ sacks, 2 forced fumbles last wk at DEN. But Russell Wilson is so much better, craftier than Trevor Simien