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Clayton: The keys to Seahawks at Falcons in Week 8 of the NFL season

Jarran Reed and the Seahawks' defensive line should get sack opportunities in Atlanta. (Getty)

When the Seahawks’ schedule came out in April, most people thought their visit to Atlanta was going to be a top game.

Moore: Seahawks will bounce back in what could be Quinn’s last game

The Seahawks bounced back last year and returned to the playoffs, and the Falcons felt they put together a Super Bowl contender for this year with Matt Ryan expecting to have a monster season. But while the Seahawks have a 5-2 record and a chance to win the NFC West with a young team, the Falcons are 1-6 and probably the biggest disappointment of the 2019 season.

What’s sad is what could happen to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. The Falcons have a bye week following this game, and if the Falcons lose and are sitting at 1-7, owner Arthur Blank could endorse a coaching change.

There is a lot on the line Sunday in Atlanta. Let’s look at what to expect.

• The Seahawks have to make decisions at safety and along the offensive line.

Right guard D.J. Fluker is back to full practices after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Jamarco Jones, though, has filled in and is in competition for the starting job. Fluker isn’t happy about having his position up for grabs.

In the secondary, the Seahawks traded for safety Quandre Diggs and have to decide how he’s going to fit in. Diggs was a team captain for the Detroit Lions and a Pro Bowl alternate last year. His trade earned a lot of criticism in the Detroit locker room. Lions cornerback Darius Slay was most critical of the trade and how everyone on the Lions roster is vulnerable to change.

There is a decent chance the Seahawks could go with Diggs and Marquise Blair at safety on Sunday, though Diggs is questionable with a hamstring injury that has lingered this season. Bradley McDougald has a sore back and is questionable a week after missing the Ravens game and Lano Hill will be out again with an elbow injury.

• This is a game in which the Seahawks have to get sacks. Ryan could try to play despite being questionable with what might be considered a high-ankle sprain. The injury is to his right ankle, which is his plant foot and could take a little velocity out of his throws. Despite the 1-6 start, Ryan has been putting up big numbers this year. He’s still dangerous.

• The Falcons have had troubles all season stopping running quarterbacks. Quinn tried to vary up some of his schemes by putting in some 3-4 looks and plays in which he could have a linebacker as a spy.

Whatever he did, it didn’t work.

The Falcons are giving up 31.9 points a game. They rank 27th in yards allowed with 387.7 per game. They are giving up 6.02 yards a play. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are giving up 6.04 yards a play but their defense isn’t on the field as much as the Falcons. They have five less plays a game than the Falcons, who average 64.4. The Falcons also only have five sacks in seven games.

• One of the most baffling things about the Falcons is how the offensive line has struggled. The Falcons spent a combined $11.5 million a year and drafted two linemen in the first round. They probably have gotten less out of the line than any other team, and former Seahawks first-round pick James Carpenter won’t be able to play against his old team because of a knee injury. That’s why it’s vital for the Seahawks to get some sacks against the Falcons. They have only 11 this year, and just six over their last six games combined.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

More Seahawks coverage

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Moore: Can Hawks sustain their pace or are there too many concerns?
TE Ed Dickson expect to return next week
3 Questions: How will Quandre Diggs fit in Hawks’ secondary?

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