Matt Ryan gets a lot of the headlines for the Falcons’ high-octane offense, and all eyes will be on the Richard Sherman-Julio Jones battle on the outside when the Seahawks go to Atlanta for Saturday’s playoff game. But Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril told 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Monday that the key to beating the Falcons might be stopping Atlanta’s two-headed monster in the backfield.
“The first thing they tell you when you walk into the defensive room is we have to stop the run,” Avril said. “No matter what, we have to stop the run and make teams one-dimensional and then be able to pass-rush. And Atlanta, they do a great job of running the ball. We’re up for the task, though.”
Atlanta’s one-two punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has tormented opposing defenses all season, leading a rushing attack that averaged 120.5 rushing yards per game, good for fifth in the NFL. Freeman, a 5-foot-8, 206-pound fireplug, rushed for 1,070 yards and added 54 catches for 462 yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2016. The 6-1, 210-pound Coleman, meanwhile, added 941 combined rushing and receiving yards and 11 TDs.
“They definitely have a great one-two punch,” Avril said. “They are tough backs, they run fast, they hit the holes, they‘ll even try to run you over, so they do some great things of getting those guys involved. For us, it’s all about just playing sound defense. Not trying to do too much, being in the gap that you’re supposed to be in and playing fast, and, again, making tackles. I think if we can accomplish all those things on defense, we should do a good job against those backs.”
The Seahawks stymied Atlanta’s ground game when the teams met Oct. 16 at CenturyLink Field, though at least part of Seattle’s previous success against the Falcons’ rushing attack can be attributed to the Seahawks jumping out to an early 17-3 lead that forced Atlanta to be more one-dimensional. They held the Freeman-Coleman tandem to a combined 50 rushing yards on 17 carries and 17 receiving yards on four catches. Seattle had similar success in the wild-card win against Detroit, holding Lions running back Zach Zenner to 34 yards rushing on 11 carries, though the rookie did add 54 yards on six receptions.
Clayton noted that the Falcons’ offensive line was a weakness a few years ago, but Atlanta now has a good young left tackle in Jake Matthews and has benefited from the addition of veteran center Alex Mack. Avril acknowledged that they are a tough group.
“I think they work great because they are all on the same page, they understand each other, they’re all on one accord and that’s usually the hardest offensive lien to go against,” Avril said. “But I do like our opportunities though with Mike Bennett, and Frank (Clark) and Cassius (Marsh), and whenever we get those opps to rush, I do like our matchups, though. Even though they do some great things, we do some decent things, too.”