Matt Ryan is out.
The Falcons made that official Saturday, after the NFL MVP from 2016 sprained his ankle last weekend. So 38-year-old Matt Schaub will start his first NFL game in four years for the flopping Atlanta Falcons on Sunday against the Seahawks (5-2).
The Falcons are 1-6. They have a malfunctioning defense coming off a 27-point home loss to the previously struggling Rams inside a half-empty dome in Georgia. There is talk of coach Dan Quinn, Seattle’s old defensive coordinator, getting fired three seasons after the first-time head coach led the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
All those signs point to the Seahawks bouncing back from last weekend’s home loss to Baltimore, moving to 6-2 for the fifth time in franchise history and being 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1980.
But none of that will happen if they don’t adhere better to Pete Carroll’s cardinal team rule.
Last Sunday’s 30-16 home loss to the Ravens also was a cold, wet reminder of Carroll’s mandate, the one that bests “Always Compete,” “All In!” and the other mantras that are on signs throughout team headquarters.
“We had a tough ballgame (against Baltimore) that just hammered home one of the real lessons in our program: That it’s all about the ball,” Carroll said this past week. Before he looked ahead to this weekend’s opportunity to get right at Atlanta, he had to make a clear point about the paramount importance of turnovers.
The veteran coach preaches the importance of ball security from the first day a player becomes a Seahawk. But he hasn’t had to preach much in the first half of this season. Seattle is plus-4 in turnover margin. That’s tied for fifth-best in the NFL.
Russell Wilson has spoiled Carroll and the Seahawks. It had been so long he had thrown an interception, him finally doing it against the Ravens reinforced how thin the margin of error is for the Seahawks to win this season.
Wilson has 18 total touchdowns against just one interception.
But that’s a horrid one interception.
He threw late, outside, across his body and floated the ball in the direction of talented cornerback Marcus Peters. The former University of Washington playmaker made one on Wilson. He easily plucked the Seattle quarterback’s rare gift for an interception and ran untouched the other way for a 64-yard touchdown. It ruined what the Seahawks’ defense was doing to the NFL’s top-ranked offense and gave Baltimore the lead on its only touchdown over the game’s first 48 minutes.
Asked what the lesson and coaching point was from that pass, Wilson said: “Just don’t throw it.
“That’s it. There’s not much else.”
Then, after Lamar Jackson had taken over the game to give the Ravens a 23-13 lead with 4 minutes remaining, rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf caught a pass along the sideline. He turned to run and dropped the ball. Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey returned the fumble 18 yards for another touchdown gifted by Seattle. The Seahawks were buried, 30-13.
The defense got zero turnovers to match those giveaways. The previous week the Seahawks took the ball away four times at Cleveland. Yes, they won that game.
Minus-two in turnovers is how the Seahawks lost last week for the second time in seven games this season.
“We know. We were on it so diligently that when you give the ball up a couple times it’s hard to win,” Carroll said. “You gave up a couple scores that’s really difficult to figure out a way. You got to match them back up and neutralize them. We weren’t able to do that.
“As you look at this game, you think it’s all about the ball that they got in their turnovers. We didn’t get any. A week ago, we got four. This week, we got nothing. Makes a huge difference, obviously, in the outcome.”
Forget passer rating, total yards, wins above replacement, red-zone efficiency, even third-down conversions. Forget any other number.
The most important statistic in football, the one with the most direct correlation between winning and losing, remains turnover margin.
The Seahawks have a beaten-up offensive line, a pass rush that isn’t getting sacks and a secondary that continues to give up big plays and may make a job switch there with Tuesday’s trade pick-up Quandre Diggs or impressive rookie Marquise Blair potentially replacing Tedric Thompson.
But they are 5-2 because of how rare it has become for Wilson to make the huge mistake he made against the Ravens.
The Seahawks are 4-0 this season when they take the ball away from foes more than they give it away. They are 1-1 when they lose the turnover margin.
Since Carroll arrived to lead Seattle before the 2010 season, the Seahawks have won just 14 times in 41 regular-season games in which they’ve committed more turnovers than they’ve forced.
Their regular-season record since 2010 with a plus turnover margin: 60-12.
The only season they’ve won the Super Bowl, 2013, the Seahawks led the NFL with a turnover margin of plus-20. In Super Bowl 48 they forced Denver into four turnovers, committed none, and smashed Peyton Manning’s record-setting Broncos 43-8.
Seattle, of course, isn’t the only team that wins games when it wins turnovers. That’s usually how it works in football.
New England leads the NFL with a margin of plus-15. The Patriots were plus-5 Monday night against the New York Jets and smashed them 33-0.
Conversely, when you are at the bottom of the league in turnover margin, you lose. Miami is last at minus-11. The Dolphins are 0-6. The NFL’s other winless team is Cincinnati. The Bengals are 30th at minus-9.
The Falcons, who lost quarterback Matt Ryan to an ankle injury last weekend while getting hammered by the Rams? Seattle’s next opponent is 1-6 largely because it is minus-8 in turnovers. That’s 29th in the 32-team league.
Without Wilson’s interception and Metcalf’s fumble Sunday, Carroll thinks the Seahawks could have, if not would have, beaten Baltimore and be 6-1 right now.
“The rest of this game was a really good, hard-fought game. Both sides battling, just slugging it out kind of like we wanted to do,” Carroll said. “We thought if it could go like that, it would be a game that might be a last-possession type of game. We had a chance to make it that way, at least that way had taken care of the football better.
“The lessons couldn’t be more obvious, and we couldn’t be more clear about what we needed to do to change it. We’re going right back to work. We’re not going to spend any time on this game any more than we would otherwise. I want to do a good job of putting it behind us and getting going.
“We got to go to Atlanta and finish up this first half of the season in the best fashion that we can. That’s what we’ll do.”