D. Orlando Ledbetter, a veteran NFL scribe who expertly covers the Atlanta Falcons, has been good enough to answer five questions on that team heading into Sunday’s much-anticipated match-up with the Seahawks.
Check out the Q&A below.
1. With the Atlanta Falcons 0-3 in the postseason during Mike Smith’s tenure, how much pressure is on the team to validate their accomplishments and earn a playoff win after finishing 13-3 during the regular season?
A. There is a great deal of pressure. After last season’s 24-2 loss to the Giants owner Arthur Blank let the entire city know that the Falcons are not playing to just make the playoffs. He stated – emphatically – that he wants the Vince Lombardi Trophy and a massive parade down Peachtree Street. There is a great deal of pressure internally from the owner and externally from the national media as the Falcons attempt to establish their legitimacy as a power in the league.
2. Matt Ryan has a lot of weapons at his disposal, including Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, what’s been the key to his success this season?
A: Matt Ryan is a gamer and student of the game. His 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 22 game-winning drives during the regular season have been remarkable. He has progressed each season since being drafted third overall in 2008. Former quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave and former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey must be credited for helping him get off to a great start in the league. Now, since he’s seen every defense the league has to offer and knows how to read pro defenses at a high level, he’s able to move the ball around the field to his various weapons.
3. How much has Julio Jones improved and matured from his rookie season to this year?
A: He’s improved a great deal. He’s in sync with Ryan and knows where he’s supposed to be on the field. Last season, he was running around and getting by on his athletic ability.
4. Atlanta finished No. 24 in the league in total defense, but only gave up 18.7 points a contest during the regular season. How has the defense been successful in keeping teams out of the end zone?
A: It’s the classic bend-but-not-break unit. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has successfully used some schemes to confuse quarterbacks and force turnovers. They morph between 3-4 and 4-3 looks and when the ball gets down inside scoring range, the unit – led by linebackers Stephen Nicholas (116 tackles) and Sean Weatherspoon (114) — has been able to standup and get some stops.
5. What do you think the Falcons have to do well in order to win on Sunday?
A: They have to stop Marshawn Lynch or they’ll be sent home. It’s really that simple. They haven’t consistently stopped the run this season. They have five players with more than 10 missed tackles. If Lynch is able to run on them, Seattle won’t have to ask rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to do much at all. If Lynch is on the loose, the only hope for the Falcons would be to dominate the Roddy White/Julio Jones vs. Brandon Browner/Richard Sherman matchup.