Seattle inflicted a handful of self-induced wounds Monday night. Strange timeouts, challenges and field-goal bungles -- both the missed potential game-tying attempt and the decision to call a fake at an inopportune time -- hindered the team. Yet, their MVP-caliber quarterback fought like hell to give them a chance of winning. Needing Russell Wilson to play the hero isn't new for the 2017 version of the Seahawks, and it was apparent after their prime-time game last week that's what they'd need to survive as a playoff contender going forward. The story that unfolded Monday feels familiar and expected, in some respects.
Nevertheless, Seattle leaves Week 11 probably wondering where it stands now. After the defense lost two pivotal pieces in Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, we knew this wouldn't be the same unit. It didn't make what we saw any less worrisome for this team going forward. Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi described the Seahawks' defense Monday as "a former boxing champion that knows how to fight but does not have any fight left in them."
What seemed to spark Lombardi's comments was a fourth-quarter drive where the Falcons called five run plays after Julio Jones burned Jeremy Lane for a 29-yard gain on third down. Seattle didn't seem to have the punch needed to slow down Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward as Atlanta marched down to the 1-yard line before settling for a field goal.
Defenders were in advantageous position for the Seahawks during the game, and the line held firm in run defense. Seattle allowed the Atlanta running backs to gain an average of minus 0.61 yards before they closed to within a yard, the lowest average allowed by the team in any game this season. However, as seen on several of Ward's late runs, tackling was more of an issue than normal. The Falcons' backs averaged 3.51 yards after close on the night, which is still under the league average, but it was Seattle's third-worst performance of the season.
The run defense got the Falcons off the field on their final drive, giving Wilson and company a chance to seal the comeback. The far bigger issue for Seattle was what happened in the injury-ravaged secondary.
Matt Ryan's production by area of the field
Left: 7/9, 88 yards, TD (144.4 Passer Rating)
Middle: 5/8, 30 yards (69.8 Passer Rating)
Right: 7/10, 76 yards, TD (125.4 Passer Rating)
The Falcons' passing game moved with ease in this contest, looking like shades of the historic 2016 version of itself against the depleted Seahawks. This was all while the team still got more than enough pressure on Ryan. The pass rush held up its end of the bargain, posting a 35.7 percent pressure rate, the fourth-highest of any team in Week 11. Newcomer Sheldon Richardson bullied his way to Ryan on a gorgeous sack to send Atlanta off the field on its final drive.
Seattle came into Week 11 with a 32.1 percent pressure rate as a team, good for seventh-best in the NFL. It hasn't been quite the same ferocious defensive line of years past, that's for certain, but it appears this is still one area of its stop unit Seattle can depend on.
The performance as a pass rush unit, while positive, also only serves to emphasize what a disaster the Seahawks currently sport in the secondary. The replacement players at the cornerback position simply can't hold up in coverage. Outside of Byron Maxwell, now on his second go-round with the team, the Seahawks' corners allowed ghastly numbers.
The group particularly struggled at the catch point, an area where Sherman has been notoriously difficult on opposing quarterbacks throughout his career. The lengthy cornerback always made it difficult for passers to fit the ball to their receivers in his coverage, as he'd either find a way to extend and knock the ball down, or simply pick it off himself.
Seattle came into Week 11 allowing a mere 40.9 passer rating on tight-window throws (less than one yard of separation), a top-six mark in the league. The group that squared off against Ryan allowed a 105.8 passer rating on such attempts. Not only did Ryan throw more tight-window passes in Week 11 than in any other game this season, but he posted his second-best passer rating.
It's clear after watching their Monday night defeat that the Seahawks will now play out the rest of the 2017 season with an all but unrecognizable defense. With that unit in tow, the team will have to rely on Wilson to save their postseason chances. It'll be a different approach for Seattle, one with a razor thin margin for error.