“Let Russ Cook” seems to be the noise coming out of Seattle this offseason as the “12” implore the ‘Hawks to let Russell Wilson air the ball out more often and everything we’ve heard from Pete Carroll is they plan to do just that, looking to improve on a 14th ranked passing offense last year, adding veteran pass catcher, Greg Olsen to outside options Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf should help even if Olsen is in the twilight of his career especially against a Falcons defense which ranked 22nd against the pass last season but lets not get carried away, I don’t think it’s the smartest game plan to get yourself into a shootout with the Atlanta Falcons, this is an offense which boasts a man who for my money is the best WR in the game, even at 31, Julio Jones remains the gold standard at the position and this offense ranked 3rd in passing offense last year which isn’t surprising for an offense being called by Dirk Koetter, who must be licking his lips at the prospect of welcoming the 27th ranked pass defense to Atlanta. I’m interested to see how FA acquisition, Todd Gurley will help a run offense which finished 30th in the league last year, there’s no doubt he’s an extremely talented runner but the big question is just how bad are his arthritic knees? There’s a reason a 26 year old Pro Bowl Running Back could only find himself a 1 year contract and that suggests to me that NFL teams aren’t confident in his ability to stay on the field regularly or for the long term but there’s a bigger, more pressing Running Back centric issue for the Falcons to focus on and that’s Chris Carson and a Seahawk rushing attack which was top 5 last year.
On the other side of the ball I’m intrigued by both units, three of the guys Atlanta added on the defensive side I’m a big fan of, draft picks AJ Terrell and Marlon Davidson were guys I had first round grades on, AJ Terrell in particular was one of ‘my guys’ in the class and someone I’m looking forward to seeing on Sunday’s and Free Agent Dante Fowler Jr was a guy I was desperate for my Buffalo Bills to take a shot on and Atlanta will hope he and Davidson can help to solve some of their pass rushing woes. The Falcons sudden up-turn in form towards the end of last season ( 1-7 first half of the year but 6-2 after that including finishing up the year unbeaten in their last 4 contests) is something I put down to a change in defensive philosophy, Defensive Co-Ordinator Raheem Morris simplified what he was asking his D to do, moving away from his hybrid 3-4 scheme and implementing a Zone coverage scheme instead of the heavy Man to Man they started the year with, using stunts and blitzes to create a pass rush saw an improvement they’ll be looking to build on with their impressive new acquisitions. In Seattle the big news on defense is the huge trade for Jamal Adams, sending two (!) first round picks the NY Jets way for the Pro Bowl Safety and his ability to play in the box should help a unit which allowed 4.9 yards per rush last season but with Linebacker Bobby Wagner making a huge amount of tackles last year it really is the Defensive Line which needed the upgrade, I’m a big fan of Defensive Tackle, Poona Ford (Hook ‘Em) but the ‘Hawks will really need to see an upgrade in play from last year’s first round pick, LJ Collier who has failed to impress as Frank Clark’s replacement so far. Not re-signing the best player on that defensive line from last year, Jadeveon Clowney is a real head scratcher, sure his box score isn’t the most impressive read but those who watch the game know how valuable he is and how his work leads to his teammates making plays. Adding Jordyn Brooks in the first round was a bit of a surprise but expect him to rack up the tackles in that Will Linebacker spot, he and Jamal Adams are really good adds for this defense its just surprising to me they didn’t prioritise the defensive line before the already impressive Linebacker and Safety rooms.
Surprisingly for a team who keep three Linebackers on the field for the majority of the time the Seahawks actually handle three-receiver sets well, it’s when teams go heavy and run out two TE / RB sets where they struggled last year and that’s not a worry against this pass happy Falcons team so although I have the Falcons in an upset here it’s not of my favourite bets of the week and I’d be a lot happier with a + 3 spread instead of the +2.5 I’m seeing so instead I’m going with Atlanta new boy, Hayden Hurst to go over on both Receptions U/O 3.5 and Yards U/O 40.5, in this fixture last year Atlanta TE Austin Hooper had 6 receptions for 65 yards and a score. I also like Todd Gurley to punish a poor Defensive Line with a TD (Gurley scored 3 TD’s in 2 games vs Seattle last year and has 11 TD’s in 9 regular season career games against the ‘Hawks)
Todd Gurley anytime touchdown (11/10 Sky Bet)
Hayden Hurst Over 3.5 Receptions (8/11 Sky Bet)
Hayden Hurst Over 40.5 Receiving Yards (5/6 Sky Bet)
PREDICTION: FALCONS 27 – 24 SEAHAWKS