Seahawks’ defense to face its stiffest test yet vs Atlanta

Oct 14, 2016, 8:05 AM | Updated: 9:37 am

The Seahawks are allowing the fewest yards in the NFL, though they haven't faced an offense like At...

The Seahawks are allowing the fewest yards in the NFL, though they haven't faced an offense like Atlanta's. (AP)


The best offense in the league will be a benchmark for the 2016 Seahawks.

An opportunity to see if Seattle’s defense can mute opponents as effectively as it did three years ago en route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. In fact, the Falcons come to Seattle averaging one-tenth of a yard more per game than that record-setting Denver offense the Seahawks so ruthlessly muzzled to win the 2013 title.

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And while Sunday’s game won’t be nearly as important as that game at MetLife Stadium, it will be the most telling indication yet of how proficient this year’s defense is.

“It’ll feel like a championship matchup,” coach Pete Carroll said, “just like we like.”

Just like they like to dominate, he means. At least that was the case in 2013 when only three opponents scored more than 20 points in a regular-season game against the Seahawks. Seattle rode roughshod through the league, extinguishing opponents with extreme prejudice. A 9-2 New Orleans team came to town on a Monday night and left with just seven points. A Broncos team that led the league in both points and yards couldn’t manage more than a single touchdown either.

Three years later, the Seahawks haven’t left the league’s defensive penthouse. They’ve allowed the fewest points in the league during each of the past four seasons, and no one has allowed fewer yards than Seattle this year, though that fact comes with an asterisk.*

*Three of Seattle’s first four opponents ranked among the eight worst teams in the league in total offense last season.

Atlanta’s offense is a different cut of meat entirely. There’s no doubt about the Falcons’ chops. They have a pedigreed quarterback in Matt Ryan and a bona fide game-breaker in Julio Jones. Ryan is averaging 348 yards passing, which is 47 more than the next closest quarterback, while Jones is just two weeks removed from a 300-yard receiving performance. Yes, that was 300 yards. By himself.

The Falcons have already scored more than 40 points twice this season. The Seahawks haven’t given up that many points in a game since 2010, Carroll’s first season in town.

In the five years since then, Seattle has reshaped itself as a unit that is one of the fastest in the league, relying on the athleticism of its pieces more than the complexity of its scheme or intricacies of its personnel packages.

In a league where opposing offenses try to force mismatches, Seattle’s versatility is the perfect antidote. The Seahawks don’t panic if a linebacker gets matched up on a receiver in the slot. They doesn’t break down if a cornerback is asked to cover a tight end. The Seahawks trust the athletes they have in place to follow the one overriding imperative: Don’t get beat deep. So far this year, no one has covered its back end quite like Seattle, which has allowed a league-low eight completions of 20 or more yards so far.

The Falcons are going to test that. They have 26 completions of 20 yards or more this season, most in the league. Ten of those plays have gone for 40 or more yards.

It’s a potency Seattle certainly remembers. After all, it was in Atlanta that these Seahawks first glimpsed how good they could truly be before letting an NFC Divisional victory slip away in the final minute with a pair of completions from Ryan and a last-second field goal.

Four years later, the Falcons are coming to Seattle for a game that will be measuring stick to tell us how good these Seahawks still are.

“Treat everything like a championship opportunity,” cornerback Richard Sherman said of his approach to a game like this. “You always treat it like you’re playing the No. 1 offense.”

And this week, that’s exactly what Seattle will be doing.

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