Sunday's game could be decided by who can impose its will on offense.
That’s what Atlanta will want to do. No time to waste. Not after losing its first playoff game three times in the past four seasons and certainly not with an offense that features three different players who have caught more than 70 passes plus a running back who has more receptions than anyone on Seattle’s roster.
Slow it down.
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That’s how Seattle will try to respond. Hand the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch, set a more deliberate pace and keep Matt Ryan and that high-octane Atlanta attack cooling its heels.
“The best thing we can do is keep them on the sidelines,” coach Pete Carroll said, “and the best way to do that is to convert, and running gives us a great chance.”
This is the crux of Sunday’s divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome, where an Atlanta offense that ranked seventh in the league in scoring will face a Seattle team that runs more often than anyone in the NFL. It is a clash of styles, a test of wills and, considering the teams had identical turnover statistics in the regular season, Sunday’s game could be decided by who can impose its will on offense.
“Everybody wants to control the tempo and start fast when you play a football game,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said this week.
“That’s probably the mantra of every coach 99 percent of the time when they’re preparing a team for the football game.”
But last week, Seattle faced a team that wanted to play a similarly ground-bound style. Washington rushed for the most yards in the league during the regular season; Seattle ranked No. 3.
Atlanta is a whole different cut of meat. The Falcons ranked No. 29 in the league in rushing yards, the only team in the bottom 10 of the league in that category to reach the postseason.
And yet the Falcons failed to score 20 points only twice during the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan can throw to receivers Roddy White or Julio Jones, tight end Tony Gonzalez or even running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who has 53 receptions.
“They’ve got every bit of firepower that a team wants,” Carroll said, “and the quarterback can deal it. And they go after you, too. They’re not sitting on anything.”
Carroll compared the Falcons to Buffalo’s offense under Jim Kelly when the Bills had receiver Andre Reed, running back Thurman Thomas and an offensive approach that put the top down and burned rubber.
“They had such good players that they went fast so they got their good players more chances to make plays,” Carroll said.
Then Carroll pointed to the Falcons.
“They’re that kind of a team,” he said. “They’re that loaded with their talent. The receivers, the tight end, the back, the quarterback. They’re that gifted, so I’m sure that that’s what they play to. Hopefully we can quiet it down a bit.”
That task doesn’t belong solely to Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks’ offense has a role, too, because the longer they hold the ball, the fewer opportunities the Falcons will have.
That brings us back to the central question: What makes the difference in a game between two teams with such distinct offensive styles?
“It’s a matter of who can execute their system better than the other team, at the higher level,” Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said. “It’s going to come down to who’s more on their game.”
Will the Falcons be able to hurry their way through Sunday’s game, or can the Seahawks succeed at slowing it down? The outcome of Sunday’s game may depend on that question.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil