Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Falcons finally give Seahawks a competitive yardstick

Atlanta receiver Julio Jones (11) will be a big test for the Seahawks on Sunday when the Falcons come to Seattle.
Atlanta receiver Julio Jones (11) will be a big test for the Seahawks on Sunday when the Falcons come to Seattle. Atlanta Journal-Constituion

Richard Sherman had only enough time to shower and straighten his bow tie on the way to the Meadowlands interview podium before he started anticipating his showdown with Atlanta’s gifted receiver Julio Jones.

Apparently, the time-tested NFL admonition against looking ahead more than one week is lifted in the case of entering a bye week, as the Seahawks did following the win over the New York Jets on Oct. 2.

Good thing they were getting an early start on it, as the stakes go up this Sunday when the Falcons visit CenturyLink Field in what kicks off the Big Boy segment of the schedule.

How they fare against the Falcons could be the first effective barometer of where the Seahawks stand in the conference, and how high expectations should be for them during the 12-game journey toward the annual goal of reaching the postseason.

Except for a hiccup against the Rams in Los Angeles, the Seahawks mostly took care of business in the first month, going 3-1 against a series of opponents that were a combined 6-14 (.300). Those three wins were against teams (Miami, San Francisco and the Jets) with just three wins in 15 games.

That part of the schedule is over, as the teams remaining are currently .510.

Buckle up, boys.

Sherman’s early salivation over a tasty matchup should be considered a good sign. As are the indications that some of the Seahawks’ ailments have healed over the bye week, particularly the dented legs of quarterback Russell Wilson.

The Falcons’ status reveals the great fallacy of trying to predict the difficulty of the schedule before the season starts. Because the Falcons won only three of their final 11 games last season after a 5-0 start, it seemed that this one at home might be a breeze for the Seahawks.

But the Falcons’ 4-1 mark now seems considerably more impressive than Seattle’s 3-1, having won four straight, including three on the road, and getting a convincing 23-16 victory in Denver on Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos.

And although coached by defensive-centric coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons are No. 1 in passing (333 yards a game), No. 1 in scoring (35 points per game) and No. 6 in rushing (124 yards per game).

If there’s anyone in the league with insight into finding cracks in the Seattle defense, it would be Quinn, formerly the Seahawks defensive coordinator.

The biggest difference this week will be seeing an opponent with a real NFL quarterback. Matt Ryan leads the league in passer rating (121.6), with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

The four quarterbacks the Seahawks have faced thus far — Ryan Tannehill, Case Keenum, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Fitzpatrick — all are rated below 84.0.

Presumably, the quarterbacks Seattle faces the rest of the way include Ryan, Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers — with 34 Pro Bowls spread among them.

Ryan and Julio Jones could be the biggest challenge of the season for the Seahawks defense. Jones’ 300 receiving yards on 12 catches against Carolina particularly got Sherman’s attention.

Coach Pete Carroll, meanwhile, said the Falcons’ offense “is just out of this world right now.”

Just beating the Broncos so convincingly on the road left an impression on Carroll.

“They’re on fire,” Carroll said of Quinn’s Falcons. “This is a high-flying team right now … that was a fantastic win yesterday at Mile High (Stadium) against an undefeated team. They played great football and they were banged up, too.”

Carroll makes a habit of calling every game a “championship game.”

This week, it’s a valid evaluation.

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

And they’ll have the advantage of having had a week off to heal up, and to start ramping up the intensity for an early conference showdown.

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