Note :: Matt Ryan did not practice on Wednesday and may not practice this week, but he is currently expected to suit up for this game on his busted ankle. If that changes, we will revisit this game in later-week content; but in that case, the entire Falcons passing attack would almost certainly go into the tank, while the Seahawks’ chances of leaning run-dominant would be heightened.
We’ll begin this game with a look at the disciplined Seattle zone defense that is shaving almost 8% off the league-average aDOT and over 4% off the league-average catch rate — but that ranks middle of the pack in receptions of 20+ yards allowed, middle of the pack in wide receiver receptions, and middle of the pack in wide receiver yards. With Seattle ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate, good quarterback/pass-catcher combos are typically able to wait out open spots in the zone and move the ball on this squad.
Of course, once we start taking pricing into account, Julio Jones (priced as a top four wideout on all three sites) is a bit overpriced for an offense that is — frustratingly — refusing to emphasize their generational player, with target counts across his last five games of 9 // 7 // 7 // 9 // 9. Julio has a respectable aDOT of 12.8 and a 33.8% share of the Falcons’ air yards, but he is simply not being used to the level he should be used (with this head-scratching usage further highlighted by his limited red zone role on the year — a mind-boggling trend for this team — with Julio having only five looks (and three touchdowns on these looks) inside the 20-yard-line). From a narrative-driven perspective, Julio (who is typically a quiet leader) did give a postgame speech last week to his teammates that got some attention in the Atlanta media. Perhaps this team feeds him a bit more fully this week. As always: if Julio gets 12+ targets, he’ll almost certainly smash. If he gets seven to nine targets, he has a shot — though truly, “Why, Koetter? Why?”
One of the few bright spots this year for the sure-to-soon-be-overhauled Falcons has been Austin Hooper, who has recent target counts of 7 // 11 // 9 // 8 // 5. The Seahawks have struggled against tight ends this season, allowing the sixth most catches and the third most yards in spite of a schedule (including Bengals // Cardinals // Browns) that has not exactly given them a list of world-beating tight ends. Those marks would be even worse had Mark Andrews not had multiple drops last week. This is a good spot for Hooper.
With Mohamed Sanu and his four to six targets per game shipped out of town, this passing attack has potential to become a bit more concentrated than it has been — which could further tighten up the looks Calvin Ridley typically sees. Ridley has only two games in his career of 100+ yards, but he has 14 touchdowns across 23 games and is generally a safe bet for around six “downfield-ish” targets with touchdown upside. As always, Ridley’s production is a bit of a guessing game — but the upside is there.
The other main piece on the Falcons is Devonta Freeman — and after he disappointed as chalk last week, it’s likely people will move off him in this spot against a solid (but non-dominant) Seattle run defense. But as the field moves off him, it’s worth noting that Ito Smith will be out this week, which puts Freeman in position to push for 70% of the team’s snaps and 20+ touches. (He has 19+ touches in three of his last five games. Four to five targets is likely in this spot.)
The biggest potential issue for the Falcons offense is not matchup so much as it’s concern that the ankle injury for Matt Ryan could put a bit of a dent in his effectiveness as a passer. Additionally, Seattle is allowing the sixth fewest opponent plays per game, and — especially with this team spreading the ball around so much — Atlanta thrives on volume.
Swinging over to the Seattle side of the ball :: we know that the Seahawks want to run, run, run as long as they are leading in a game or a game is remaining close — and as they are favored by 6.5 points, we are likely to see a lot of Chris Carson once again in this spot.
The matchup is not great for Carson. Atlanta ranks fourth in DVOA against the run and is giving up only 3.72 yards per carry to running backs. On top of the tough matchup, Seattle is refusing to give Carson the ball on the ground in touchdown range (he has 20 carries in the red zone, but only three carries inside the five) — but he has recent touch counts of 26 // 28 // 28 // 24, and volume is almost certain to be there once again in this spot, yielding solid floor and paths to volume-driven upside.
Given the matchup (Atlanta — as you are fully aware — is one of the more attackable teams through the air, ranking 31st in DVOA and 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt), it’s a shame that the volume for Russell Wilson will likely be low. The upside is still in place (Russ has three top-of-slate scores on moderate volume, and he should be able to get to that range against a powerful Atlanta offense), though if targeting that upside from Russ, realize that his (likely) moderate volume makes it tough for slate-breakers to emerge from his pass-catchers, making him a strong candidate for a solo spot on a roster.
If choosing to chase the low-volume upside from the Seahawks’ pass catchers (or if choosing to build around a shootout scenario — in which the Falcons take a lead and Seattle plays catch up), Tyler Lockett is the alpha of this passing attack. Lockett’s recent target counts (4 // 4 // 5 // 7) and production on the year (only one game over 79 yards) leads to questions as to why he is priced like an elite-volume player on a pass-heavy offense across all sites — but while the price makes this a poor play on paper, the upside is high enough to chase in tourneys if you want to take shots on this game environment as a whole turning positive.
Behind Lockett, this low-volume passing attack spreads the ball around to “tight end” (in the first game without Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister played 37 snaps to 34 for Luke Willson — though Hollister held a massive six to zero edge in targets), DK Metcalf, Jaron Brown, David Moore, and the running backs. We know that this matchup is good (hence the viability of Russ naked) — but a bet on one of these guys is either A) a bet on your ability to guess right (on production that is not guaranteed to emerge in the first place) or B) a bet on this game shooting out and upside piling up across the board.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With both teams spreading the ball around enough that high-scoring games don’t necessarily translate into slate-winning production (especially with the top pieces from this game priced up), there is nothing in this spot that stands out to me at the front end of the week as a staple piece. But if we move away from the “staple piece” discussion and talk purely upside, there is plenty to consider in this game. My favorite pieces (likely in this order — with price considered) are Russ // Hooper // Julio // Devonta // Carson, with Ridley and the deeper Seattle pieces in the conversation from there.
Naturally, if Matt Ryan can’t give it a go in this spot and Matt Schaub takes over, all pass catchers become far more thin (especially on Atlanta), and Carson’s volume and upside become that much more secure.
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