For me, a Seahawks' fan, this week's matchup with the Falcons will especially interesting because if there's one team in the NFL that Pete Carroll is trying to emulate, I'd have to say it's Atlanta. It's been talked about ad nauseam in the papers and online about Pete Carroll's basic tenets to build on:
1. Take care of the football; 2. Ball possession, time of possession, limit penalties, play disciplined; 3. Strong defense; 4. Excellent balance between run and pass; 5. Efficient, game-managing quarterback.
Last season, the Falcons were the model of this strategy, and Pete Carroll mentioned his admiration for them in Wednesday's press conference and noted that they had, "Tremendous balance on offense, discipline - least penalized team in NFL--, tremendous possession team, turnovers were great in their favor, solid in the kicking game..." Here are the numbers:
The Falcons ranked third in the NFL in turnover ratio at +14. They finished 2nd in the NFL in Time of Possession with 32:47 a game. They ranked 1st in the NFL with only 58 penalties on the season and 2nd in the NFL for least amount of penalty yards at 598.
Their defense gave up 18 points a game, good for 5th in the NFL. Their rush defense finished in the top-10. Their rushing attack averaged 4.8 yards per carry, 6th best in the NFL. Their pass offense finished in the middle of the NFL in efficiency and touchdowns.
The Falcons ran the ball 497 times and passed 577 times. Their pass to run ratio of 54% is ultimately close to what Pete Carroll wants to implement here in Seattle.
Finally, Matt Ryan was the model of efficiency last year for the Falcons. Ryan passed for 3,705 yards with a 62% completion percentage. He threw 28 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. He took care of the football, losing only three fumbles. He distributed the ball to his playmakers. Ryan, though he was a high draft pick, is the type of 'game-manager' that Pete Carroll has in mind.
Not the strongest arm in the world. Not the best athlete. What he does possess is great leadership qualities, accuracy, poise, and confidence. He led a balanced attack last year for Atlanta's powerhouse, grind it out offense on a team that finished 13-3, and that's the type of thing Pete Carroll would love to see here for his Seahawks.
I think it's fair to say that Pete has franchise envy for what Atlanta has built and were able to do in 2010.
With that in mind, it will be very interesting to see how the Falcons fare against this Seahawks team whose greatest strength is stopping the run. Thus far this season, the Falcons have struggled to get the run game going and they've resorted to passing at a higher rate.
Well, that hasn't worked well for them thus far and they're coming into this weekend 1-2, and possibly would have been 0-3 if Michael Vick hadn't left the game in week two with a concussion. The Falcons' biggest issue right now is the play of their offensive line -- they've given up 13 sacks on Matt Ryan, 3rd worst in the NFL, only behind the Seahawks and Bears.
It's a testament to how important the offensive line play really is, and just goes to show that if one important piece in your formula for success is taken away, things can fall apart rather quickly.
Atlanta comes into this week in a nearly must-win game - they're 1-2 and face off against Green Bay next week so a loss at Seattle would be devastating. That's exactly what Seattle would love to do, and it will start with taking Atlanta's run game out of it early. If that happens, anything could happen, and Seattle could just steal a win.
Regardless, what Atlanta was able to do last year is remarkable, and it's ultimately similar to the way that Pete Carroll envisions for this Seahawks team. It remains to be seen if this Falcons team has now the formula that it had last year or not, but if they do get that spark and manage to steam roll the Seahawks like they did to so many teams last season, just think of it as a glimpse into the Seahawks' future.