Clayton: Why Atlanta is the perfect Week 1 opponent for the Seahawks

Sep 11, 2020, 1:56 PM
Seahawks pass rush...
The Seahawks will get to test their new-look pass rush in Atlanta. (Getty)

The Atlanta Falcons are the perfect team to face for the Seahawks in the opener.

O’Neil: Seahawks shouldn’t just be better this season — they have to be

Pete Carroll and John Schneider knew this offseason the Seahawks needed improvements on the defensive line and the offensive line. The Seahawks only had 28 sacks last season and played as though they knew they wouldn’t have much of a pass rush.

Instead of playing man, they spent 75% of the time playing zone, hoping for linebackers and defensive backs to keep the plays in front of them. They had to blitz a little more because other than the disruptive play of now-Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, they didn’t have a lineman who registered more than four sacks. Knowing Clowney was the most disruptive player along the line, opponents constantly double-teamed him.

It helps the Seahawks that they aren’t playing one of the best teams in the NFC. The Falcons are good but not great. Last year, they jumped to a 1-7 start and then came back to win six of their last eight. The Falcons are somewhere in between.

Playing the Falcons will give everyone the idea of where the Seahawks might be with their pass rush, their run-stopping ability and their pass defense. Matt Ryan remains a top-flight quarterback. He threw for 4,466 yards and 26 touchdowns last year.

Though many experts around the country look at the Seahawks more like a wild card team than a top-two or three seed, a test against Ryan and the Falcons will tip off how this season might go. The Seahawks believe they will be fine and will be battling to see if they can get in the Super Bowl.

Playing an efficient passing team is a good thing for the Seahawks. Ryan threw 38.5 passes a game last year. The Falcons are primarily a three-receiver, one-back team. After playing mostly a three-linebacker configuration on defense last year, the Seahawks plan to use more nickel defense.

Marquise Blair was considered to the star of training camp with his switch from safety to nickel cornerback. K.J. Wright spoke about how much he wants to see Blair on the field. Blair is physical. He’s fast. He has a chance to thrive in that role.

No one knows how much Quinton Dunbar is going to play, but you have to figure he’s going to be sharing the opening game with Tre Flowers. Flowers will probably start because Dunbar missed so much time this summer at camp.

This will also be a good test for the pass rush. Both teams had only 28 sacks and the Seahawks need to test their pass rush. So do the Falcons. One of the keys to the game will be the play of Bruce Irvin, who grew up in Atlanta and played for them briefly after being cut by the Oakland Raiders in 2018.

Irwin will start at strongside linebacker and will move to the Leo defensive end position on passing downs. He had 8.5 sacks last year for the Carolina Panthers. If he can have a good game against the Falcons, it could make people believe the Seahawks can add 10 to 12 sacks more than last year.

What will also be interesting is to see how the offensive line matches up against the Falcons defensive line. The Seahawks’ starting offensive line averages 322.8 pounds per player. The Falcons have a rather light defensive line at 283.5 pounds a lineman.

Football is back. It should be fun.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

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