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Players and matchups to watch when the Seahawks host the Falcons.John Boyle
The Seahawks return home in Week 3 to host the Atlanta Falcons, with both teams looking to bounce back following losses in Week 2. For the Seahawks to improve upon last week's performance, they know they'll need to get their offense back on track, while also cleaning up some mistakes on defense.
"Man, this is an important week for us, getting back home and getting our act together," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We didn't do what we wanted to do last week, so all phases are called on, everybody's got to contribute. We need to put a good game together here. We worked really hard in that direction trying to get ready to play smart and play right and not give a bunch of stuff away-penalties and the ball and all that kind of stuff. So I'm looking for us to bounce and turn this thing back around and get rolling."
And with that thought in mind, here are five things to watch when the Seahawks host the Falcons at Lumen Field on Sunday:
1. Geno Smith has been historically accurate, now can he and the passing game be more explosive?
Dating back to last season's win over the Jaguars, Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith has completed 80 percent or more of his pass attempts in three straight games, making him the only quarterback in league history to accomplish that statistical feat.
Yet for six of the eight quarters the Seahawks have played this season, that high completion rate hasn't translated to points, with the offense producing 17 points in the first half of a Week 1 win over Detroit, and no points in the six quarters that have followed.
One way the Seahawks hope to get the offense going is by getting more out of what has so far been a quiet running game, but another factor, as Carroll highlighted this week, could be calling on Smith and the passing game to do a little bit more, not necessarily in terms of passing volume, but rather in pushing the ball down the field. And that's not to say that the Seahawks are suddenly going to revamp their entire offense, but rather, as Carroll has noted, Smith has played well enough in games and practice to earn the full trust of his coaching staff to the point that Carroll doesn't want to hold back in terms of the type of passes the team throws to attack opposing defenses.
"My confidence in him has just grown," Carroll said. "He had a fantastic week again. He's just on his game. Nothing is going to change drastically, but it's just that he has proven that he is ready. The preparation of the preseason and the offseason and all of that has folded into where now he's really ready to go, so whenever the opportunities do come, we're going to count on him to do stuff. There's no hesitation."
As for that unique streak of 80-percent completion rates, Smith isn't too concerned with that particular number, but rather with doing what it takes to keep the offense moving.
"The goal is always to be efficient," Smith said. "I'm not really harping on that (completion percentage stat) too much, I think it's just circumstantial. Obviously, I want to complete 100 percent of the passes I'm throwing, I'm going to try to complete them all. The main thing, again, is stay on schedule as an offense and to put us in the right position to make plays. However that happens, it doesn't really matter to me. We just want to win."
2. Will the defense continue to shine in the red zone?
Seattle's defense has some issues to clean up (see the item below this one), but one reason the Seahawks won in Week 1 and still had a chance to come back in the second half last week has been the play of the defense in the red zone.
In Week 1, the Broncos didn't score a touchdown in four trips to the red zone, and came up completely empty on two of those trips, turning the ball over at the goal line. Last week, the 49ers were 2 for 5 in the red zone, settling for three short field goal attempts, one of which was blocked and returned for a touchdown.
Ideally the Seahawks will clean up some of their issues and keep opponents out of the red zone more often going forward, but the defense at least knows that, regardless of what else is going on, it can stand strong when an opponent is knocking on the door of the end zone. "It's the mentality of bend but don't break," safety Josh Jones said. "(Linebacker coach John Glenn) says it all the time and that's kind of a theme in the defensive room, 'Just give us a blade of grass, and we will defend it.' That's the time for guys to bow up. They get down there, but the object, obviously, is to not let them in and not let them score. Then, if we can just hold them to a field goal, that would be nice, but if we can take the ball away, that would be great. Obviously, you guys seen that we did it a couple of times in Week 1."
3. Can the defense eliminate the costly penalties and missed tackles?
While a Seahawks comeback last weekend would have required more points from the offense, the defense also made things a little harder in the second half, not so much because it was giving up points, but rather because what looked to be quick stops were wiped out by defensive penalties that allowed San Francisco's offense to stay on the field and burn more clock. That's why Carroll didn't hesitate to call out those penalties when he was asked what he most wants to see his defense clean up in Week 3.
"If we just take the penalties out of our play-we gave them four first downs," Carroll said. "Those are huge plays where we are off the field and sitting down. And we don't have to do anything different. If there was one thing, I would clean that up first. There's other things we are working on, but those were the significant plays. It's like a 40-yard catch that didn't happen. Those are huge field swings. We have to do better there."
In addition to eliminating those drive-extending penalties, the other big priority for the defense will be to clean up some of the tackling issues. Some of that comes down to player making their one-on-one stops, but as Carroll noted, the Seahawks also hope to make life easier on would-be tacklers by having more players around the ball.
As defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said, better tackling "would fix a lot of things" for Seattle's defense. "You want to keep down explosives, and if you keep explosives down, you also keep down points. Tackling is a huge issue, and it is frustrating for myself and obviously for all of us. The players are cool because it's not like it's something that goes ignored, we work on that all of the time and even have added phases into practice so that we can continue to work on it. The guys are tracking and doing the right things in practice. Right now, we are playing fast in the game, we are playing aggressively, and are throwing our body, but we are not wrapping up. We are leaving our feet too much, and these are all of the things that players know that we've talked about that has to get fixed. We have to continue harping on it."
4. Can the Seahawks get Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III enough touches to get going?
The Seahawks re-signed Rashaad Penny in the offseason, then selected Kenneth Walker III in the second round of the draft, giving them what they hope will be an explosive 1-2 punch in the running game. And while Penny showed some flashes in Week 1-Walker missed the opener before returning last week-neither player has really had a chance to establish himself through two games. A big reason the Seahawks haven't run the ball very well thus far is a simple lack of opportunities given that the Seahawks ran just 49 offensive plays in Week 1 and 47 in Week 2. For comparison, the Broncos ran 70 plays against Seattle while the 49ers ran 64. Some of that has to do with the aforementioned defensive issues that have allowed opposing offenses to stay on the field for long, time-killing drives, but it also falls on the offense to execute better to create long drives of their own.
"I think where it starts is getting more plays, getting more opportunities," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said when asked about the run game. "And sometimes it has happened over the course of the last year or so when it gets inefficient early on, that's where the running game can suffer. So, we want to keep stressing that early first and second down efficiency where we can get more runs called, executing on third down and really just building that inventory of plays throughout the course of the game where we do get a good amount of runs off."
If the Seahawks can sustain drives and get more total plays, they're confident that both Penny and Walker are poised to make big contributions.
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Learn More 5. How will the defense handle another mobile quarterback?
The Seahawks opened the season game-planning for a mobile quarterback they knew very well, and as Carroll explained after the fact, the plan to try to move Russell Wilson to his left paid off for the defense. Last week the Seahawks were prepared for a running threat in Trey Lance, but he unfortunately suffered a season-ending ankle injury early in the game. And now, for the third straight week, the Seahawks have a mobile quarterback to contend with in the form of former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. The former Oregon standout and No. 2 overall pick is still explosive eight years into his career, as was evident in his 72 rushing yards in Week 1, and is just part of a Falcons rushing attack that will test Seattle's defense.
"We certainly have to attend to that," Carroll said. "They've looked really good. The running backs look good. The quarterback has been a big factor already and they've really transitioned quickly to Marcus being in there and shifted the emphasis where he is a big part of the run game too. He's averaging almost five yards a carry. That's always a difficult deal for us. It always is because they run option football. We've got to take care of that."
Carroll added of Mariota, who is in his first year with the Falcons, "I've always liked him. I've always liked his athleticism and his running ability. He's always been able to do a little bit of everything well. He can even throw the ball too. He kind of got mired in a back-up role. He looks like a starter to me. He's back at it and he's doing great. What you see is he's still a real threat to run the football. He's really fast and he plays fast. He's got a good attitude. He's aggressive with the way he takes off in runs and they get vulnerable there, but he's still making the most of his opportunities. I think the way that they've shown it in the first couple of weeks, it really plays to his strengths. (Falcons coach Arthur Smith) has done a nice job transitioning from a totally different make-up of a quarterback and immediately it showed up that they were able to take advantage of what Marcus can do."