The Atlanta Falcons had the NFL’s highest scoring offense in the regular season averaging 33.8 points a game. But while they have a reputation as a spectacle in the passing game, the Falcons understood there were going to be few explosive plays against the Seahawks here Saturday. They were not going to rip the top off the Seattle defense, even with safety Earl Thomas not playing.
That’s how the Falcons practiced all week. They prepared for a grind and that’s what they did: a 70-yard drive, a 79-yard drive, a 99-yard drive. Tempo was supposed to be Seattle’s calling card with running back Thomas Rawls, but it was the Falcons who were orderly and painstaking.
“We knew it was going to be that way,” right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. “We knew we were going to have to grind those guys down to the point where they broke, and I think we got there.”
The Falcons won the NFC Division game, 36-20, in the rollicking Georgia Dome, but there were no majestic heaves from quarterback Matt Ryan to wide receiver Julio Jones. Jones had a modest day by his standards: six receptions for 67 yards, which was half the yardage he got in the Hawks’ Week 6 regular season win over Atlanta.
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Atlanta averaged 6.1 yards per play and was 50 percent on third down (6 of 12).
“We knew it was going to be a hard, eight-man front and tough to run, one play at a time,” Freeman said. “We knew it was going to be three yards here, zero yards there, that’s the type defense they have.
“But, it was a matter of time when it would come together.”
The Falcons ran 69 plays to the Seahawks’ 54. Atlanta’s game is supposed to be up-tempo and full of juice, but the Falcons ran 15 more plays than the tempo offense of Seattle, which was also a function of the Seahawks falling behind — 19-10 at the half, then 26-13 after three quarters.
Ryan kept his poise, even in the face of a withering Seattle rush in the first quarter where he was nearly sacked four times. Ryan stayed upright enough to complete short throws and then the Atlanta run game arrived to take the pressure off.
“If they can’t stop you running, they can’t stop you,” Schraeder said. “We talk about it. The best pass block is a run block. We feel like if we can get into those guys with the run game it is going to slow them down in the pass game.”
Asked about laying long drives on a defense and the wear and tear, Schraeder said, “They are more tired than us, usually.”
Jones came up big when the Falcons were trapped back on their 1-yard line in the second quarter. Ryan flipped his All-Pro wideout a short pass for eight yards. Ryan then hooked up with Tevin Coleman for a 14-yard play. Atlanta was out of trouble.
The Falcons then went on a 99-yard scoring drive and a 19-10 halftime lead.
“That drive was kind of a synopsis of what we did the entire day,” Ryan said. “We executed really well.”