Sometimes all the flash, hype and glitz that can accompany an NFL game–especially a playoff game–gets pushed aside in favor of some fundamental skills and nasty, gritty play.
Fundamental football is what wins playoff games and this one may end up being one of the most boring games of the Divisional Round to watch. Both teams have marquee players and flashy stars, but in a game like this, it’s going to come down to the grunting and growling going on in the trenches.
You can talk about how stopping Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will be the key for the Falcons, or how trying to match up with the Falcons’ big and speedy receivers will make the difference for the Seahawks, but all that is just the window dressing to the real battle.
This will be one of those playoff games that is won or lost at the line of scrimmage and both teams know that fact all too well.
If the Falcons want to stop Wilson, Lynch and the read-option play, they will have to play on the other side of the line defensively and disrupt the play before it has any time to develop.
If the Seahawks want to neutralize Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, they will have to exert a lot of pressure on Matt Ryan and keep him from having time to get through his progressions–not to mention limiting the number of double moves the receivers can lay on Seattle’s secondary.
What else is going to matter in this game? Tackling, blocking, and ball security: the three most fundamental parts of the game.
Tackling? Atlanta has a tendency to be a bit sloppy, going for the big hit or trying to make that bump-shoulder tackle rather than wrapping the man up. Seattle plays in much the same way. Advantage – Push
Blocking? Atlanta has trying to mask the fact that they can’t run block by being creative with no-huddle drills. Pass protection varied from fairly good to average throughout the season. Seattle’s offensive line has flourished with the read-option offense and Wilson’s elusiveness has covered the ugly spots in their pass protection. Advantage – Seahawks
Ball Security? The Falcons rank fourth in the NFL in turnover margin with a +13, tied with…Seattle. The Falcons have thrown a few more picks, but the Seahawks have put the ball on the turf a few more times. Advantage – Push
So what’s the wild card tiebreaker in this evenly matched contest? Special Teams.
A little over a week ago, I would have said another push, but Seahawks’ kicker Steven Hauschka injured his calf in last week’s Wild Card game and Seattle may be forced to bring in a kicker who has spent most of the season with a video game controller in his hands. On the flip side, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant has been money this season. Advantage – Falcons
When all is said and done, look for a very low scoring, slow-paced, hard to watch game, with the Falcons squeaking by and moving on to the NFC Championship Game. The Matt Ryan/Tony Gonzalez jinxes will finally be lifted.