BY Art Thiel 03:03PM 01/13/2017

Thiel: Seahawks, Falcons youngsters grew fast

Since the first meeting in October, several key young players among the Seahawks and Falcons have grown up fast. It helps to think of the NFL narrative in dog years.

Offensive line after clinching the NFC West title at the Clink: Starters Germain Ifedi (left) and George Fant (third from left); kneeling, Garry Gilliam, Justin Britt and Mark Glowinski. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

ATLANTA — Dog years. That’s the metric for how to measure maturity in NFL teams. At least, that’s the scientific theory that I’m sticking with until someone repeals and replaces it.

By that measure, a ratio of seven canine years to one for humans, the Seahawks’ offensive line, heading into its 18th game Saturday at the Georgia Dome against the Falcons, is approaching its 2½-year anniversary. Sorta.

At left tackle, George Fant is an outlier. He made the first football start of his life Oct. 30, so he remains in need of puppy training. I’ll leave it to you to smack his snout with a rolled-up newspaper.

But the fact that the Seahawks Saturday rushed for 177 yards in the playoff win over Detroit suggests plausibility to the theory that, in pro football, kids can grow up fast in a single year. Granted, the result was against a weak Lions defense. But in the game prior to the playoffs, the even weaker 49ers defense held Seattle to 87 yards in 25 carries.

The Seahawks were waaay out there with three first-year line starters –LG Mark Glowinski and RG Germain Ifedi,  before Fant made it three — for a team that has Super Bowl ambitions. Appropriately, the group was punished formally this week by the analytics site Pro Football Focus, which ranked Seattle last among O-line units for the 2016 regular season.

But as coaches like to say, that was then, this is now.

“In truth, what’s really different from (the Detroit game) than the whole year, we just did it better and did it with more consistency,” said O-line coach Tom Cable. “We were right more often. How we’ve looked, what we ran — absolutely nothing different than fall camp, day one.

“We’re just trying to find us. We have a system. We’ll keep searching for it.”

Cable was also cheered by the conversion in the second half of seven third downs in nine tries. That efficiency echoed a 28-point second half Dec. 24 against Arizona that included eight conversions in 12 chances. So lately, an argument for at least periodic competence has been made.

In the regular-season meeting between the teams, Oct. 16 at the Clink, the system was still missing. The Seahawks ran for 72 yards in 27 carries, 64 from RB Christine Michael, subsequently cut. Injured RB Thomas Rawls was out and QB Russell Wilson was gimpy from ankle and knee sprains. But the Seahawks still won, 26-24.

“There’s something really cool going on here,” Cable said. “We’re protecting, we’re throwing on time, we’re running routes right. Collectively, we’re playing better.”

But just as the Seahawks’ kidlets have aged abruptly, the same can be said of the Falcons’ defense. A similarly young group whose collective resume is less formidable than Atlanta’s second-ranked offense — led by QB Matt Ryan, a leading candidate for the league’s most valuable player award — a late uptick is visible.

The defense starts three rookies and three second-year players (minus former Huskies star Desmond Trufant, injured and out for the season), and 18 of the 25 listed on the depth chart have never played a playoff game, including eight of the starting 11.

But if the youngsters have any apprehensions about playing the more experienced Seahawks Saturday, it was not detectable by Dwight Freeney, the Falcons’ 14-year defensive tackle and former All-Pro.

“I haven’t had to pull guys aside this week,” Freeney, 36, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. “I haven’t seen any signs that said to me, ‘Panic time.’”

Over the final month of the season, the Falcons gave up 14, 13 and 16 points in three games, and were ahead of the Saints 38-15 in the finale before easing up, allowing 17 unanswered points at the end of a 38-32 win.

It’s true the other three opponents were, like the Saints, woebegones (Rams, 49ers, Panthers), but it was plain to QB Russell Wilson that the Atlanta defense has improved since the first meeting.

“Those guys don’t look like rookies, or second-year players,” he said. “They’re going to be a great football team for a long time.”

But the Falcons haven’t been very good for a long time. In fact, they have won just one playoff game since 2005 — and that was over Seattle, 30-28, in 2013 after the 2012 season.

The club so admired Seattle’s ability to sustain quality — Wilson is the only offensive starter who remains from the 2012 team of his rookie year — that two years ago, it hired one of Pete Carroll’s top assistants, Dan Quinn, to be head coach.

He has pushed them to an 11-5 record and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, which provided a bye last week for Quinn to load up his players on Seahawks arcana (he probably spent five minutes on prepping for the Lions).

An extra week doesn’t sound like much, even compared to a dog year. But in the NFL, where time is compressed like almost nowhere else, boys can become men and little edges can mean much.

Prediction: Falcons 27, Seahawks 24.


YourThoughts

  • MrPrimeMinister

    Yes, things evolve over the season, but . . . . .
    Advantages
    QB–atl
    placekicker–atl
    OL–atl
    RB–atl
    receivers–atl
    Agree with your prediction, perhaps much worse.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Home field – advantage Atlanta. And that’s huge because Seattle has won 10 straight playoff games at home but only 3 or 4 in their history on the road.

    • It’s only Sports

      Dan Quinn has had literally two weeks to prepare for SEA…so that alone should guarantee a Falcon Victory? Well perhaps and perhaps not.
      I am sure you were predicting SEA was doomed when they rolled into Foxboro this season and Billy B. had a bye week plus to prepare to crush SEA like an aluminum can?
      Result: The Team that traveled 2750 miles to get there left with a victory and for the 1st time since the NFL 1970 Merger an opposing teams receiver caught 3TDs in Massachusetts in a Win…that was Doug Baldwin who wasn’t even born in 1970.
      The Swami just released his picks. He is tapping Seattle 29~27. I think Chris Berman the wily yoda of ESPN is about right.
      As far as your post…on paper you might argue your points have validity.
      Last Saturday in his FIRST play off start Rawls Established the single play off game rushing record. On paper doesn’t take into account efforts like Doug’s and Thomas. Who will step up Saturday? Cassius Marsh was thrust into a rare start against ATL in October as Clarks services weren’t available and he came through with 2 sacks …a nutty penalty negated a 3rd one.
      Seattle has the talent that allows a Marsh to step up or a Baldwin to break a record held since 1970. I am expecting another unexpected performance generated from a member of this club. Perhaps another record rewrote. Maybe Avril has 5 more houses to build with Falcon doorknockers in Haiti in addition to his fumble recovery for a TD. Who knows…you can’t know on paper.
      I like their chances. I am going with the Swami.

  • Gerald Turner

    It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

  • Paul Harmening

    Art, you would have been a successful gold mining prospector back in those 49′er days of the 19th century.

    • art thiel

      Nah. I prefer the riches of journalism.

  • coug73

    This will be a good game. It’s 50-50 for the Hawks to win or lose.

    • It’s only Sports

      Its as much about talent as it is about heart. As much has been dissected about that narrow loss to the Falcons on this very day in January 2013?They didn’t have Avril or Bennett on the squad yet. The heart and soul of their sack patrol.

      I just read Chris Bermans piece on ESPN …

      Of all the units on the field, I think the Seattle offense has the biggest hidden ceiling. It can be much better than we’ve seen. And the Seahawks still have the best defense left in the NFC. Seattle edges out Atlanta.

      He picked SEA 29~27. As much as I love reading Arts stuff…. I am going with the Swami in this one. Go Hawks!

      • coug73

        I’ll take it.

      • art thiel

        Berman? You know how to hurt a guy.

        • It’s only Sports

          I just think they are going to gut it out… I could be wrong. Seems to me you picked SEA to lose to Minn last year… I hope you are wrong but if your right? Good Job of reporting I guess.

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  • ll9956

    I hate your prediction, Art, but I have to reluctantly say you’re probably right.

  • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

    I love all the predictions in favor of Atlanta as it plays right into the chip on our collective shoulders. I think the Hawks dominate on defense, force a couple of turnovers (at least), (Ryan can’t pass if he’s running for his life). Russell Wilson goes off running and throwing, our O’ line is decent enough, and we slowly squeeze the hope out of the Falcons, even if they start fast like they usually do. Hawks 34 Falcons 20

    • art thiel

      It started with the Vegas bookmakers, and they’re right way more than they’re wrong, which is why they can afford to build gigantic casinos to further drain our cash reserves.

      • disqus_aEA4p3zFXu

        No doubt, but since I don’t gamble, I never lose. My heart tells me the Hawks show up in force. Then again I was wrong about Trump.

  • PokeyPuffy

    The outcome of this playoff game will totally depend on which Seahawks team shows up. The tight efficient and motivated team we have seen on occasion will do well. The sloppy unfocused team that has frustrated us so much will easily lose this game.

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