Heaps previews Seahawks-Falcons matchups: How will Marquise Blair perform in coverage?
The Seahawks are a day away from their Week 1 opener in Atlanta against a familiar foe in the Falcons, whose head coach is former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
For the Seahawks, many of the key components of last year’s team remain the same, namely star quarterback Russell Wilson and All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, but there are certain aspects of the team that figure to be different in 2020 that will be on full display when the Seahawks and Falcons square off.
Former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy pointed to three matchups that concern him for the Seahawks during the season opener.
New nickel CB Marquise Blair
After playing the least amount of nickel defense in the NFL in 2019, the Seahawks are expected to roll out those packages more in 2020 due to the emergence of second-year defensive back Marquise Blair, who has converted from safety to nickel corner. Blair has drawn rave reviews from coaches, teammates and media members all camp, but now he’ll be tasked with defending opposing players. Heaps is interested to see how that plays out.
“He’s been a standout in training camp. Well guess what? You’re going to get tested Week 1 because the Falcons have tremendously speedy receivers all across the field,” Heaps said, pointing to All-Pro receiver Julio Jones and former first-round receiver Calvin Ridley, who combined for over 2,200 yards last season. And even while missing last year’s matchup with the Seahawks, quarterback Matt Ryan threw for over 4,400 yards and 26 touchdowns in 15 games.
The Falcons also have a new weapon at tight end as Austin Hooper departed for Cleveland in free agency. Heaps says Hooper was replaced by quite the football player.
“You’re going to see one of the best tight ends in the NFL in my opinion, Hayden Hurst, who was originally with the Baltimore Ravens,” he said. “He’s going to be matched up against him in Atlanta, and I think that will be a telling story there to see how Marquise Blair does.”
Seahawks’ defensive line
Perhaps no one group on the Seahawks has been discussed at length more than the defensive line, which was one of the worst in football at rushing the passer and stopping the run in 2019. Heaps is worried there will be more of the same on Sunday, especially because of the Falcons’ offensive players.
“How will they hold up in the run game? Are they able to generate a pass rush against a pretty good offensive line?” Heaps asked. “(Atlanta’s offensive line was) banged up last year, but this group right now is a good, sizable group and I am concerned with (former All-Pro running back) Todd Gurley and this offensive line that they’re going to be able to successfully establish the run.”
Seahawks’ offensive line
On the flip side, the Seahawks also have some question marks on the offensive line, which has just two returning starters from a year ago. Left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Mike Iuapti are back, but Ethan Pocic, rookie Damien Lewis and free-agent signing Brandon Shell will be the new starters at center, right guard and right tackle, respectively.
“The other unproven (unit), at least the right side,” Heaps described the Seahawks’ offensive line.
Making matters harder for the Seahawks’ new-look line is the fact that they’ll be going up against “a pretty darn good group” in Atlanta’s defensive line.
“Allen Bailey, a veteran (defensive tackle) in this league with 10 years experience … they added (defensive end) Dante Fowler Jr., you look at Marlon Davidson, a really good defensive lineman who was drafted in the second round, Grady Jerrett is one of the best defensive tackles in football,” Heaps said. “Just overall, they’ve got a really good unit that can get after the passer and make things difficult.”
Listen to Heaps’ thoughts and more from Tom, Jake and Stacy at this link or in the player below.