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Atlanta Falcons

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Falcons to face big brothers in Seahawks

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn served two stints in Seattle and was their defensive coordinator from 2013-2015.

The Falcons are set to face the Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

Over the bye week, Quinn wanted the Falcons to focus on self-improvement. Also, the Falcons couldn't fixate on the Seahawks because they also could have faced the Packers or Giants in the NFC's divisional round.

But while answering a question about the return of Seattle safety Kam Chancellor from injury, Quinn offered his view of a rematch of their Oct. 16 loss at Seattle.

"He's a factor," Quinn said. "It's the physicality that he plays with. But, like I said, all teams are a little different now and I'd say we're a better version of ourselves then when we played them."

Now the Falcons will get the chance to prove it and they'll be relatively healthy as Quinn said he anticipates that all of his players will be healthy enough to participate in the team's practice on Tuesday, its first full-speed session in preparation for Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Seahawks.

That would mean the return of two starters, tight end Austin Hooper (knee) and cornerback Robert Alford (knee), as well as No. 3 wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot). Gabriel and Hooper did not play in the regular-season finale against the Saints.

Alford suffered his injury during the Saints game and last week worked on the side with trainers when the Falcons practiced during the bye. Quinn said Alford "looked good" while participating in Monday's walk-through practice.

"To see him move and have his intent right, we were encouraged," Quinn said.

Quinn said it's possible some players would be limited for Tuesday's practice. Four players played against the Saints after appearing on the injury report: wide receiver Julio Jones (toe), guard Andy Levitre (hip), safety Keanu Neal (ankle) and tight end Joshua Perkins (neck).

The Falcons beat the visiting Seahawks in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl the following season and then lost to the Patriots in the next year's Super Bowl when quarterback Russell Wilson threw a late interception near New England's goal line. Quinn was Seattle's defensive coordinator during both of those seasons.

The Seahawks have not been as formidable this season as they were during those runs. A Football Outsiders metric that measures weekly variance in performance rated the Seahawks as the fourth-most inconsistent team in the NFL from game to game.

The Seahawks believe they rediscovered their identity in the 26-6 victory over the Lions. The Seahawks punished the Lions with their running game, Wilson made some key throws and the defense kept the Lions out of the end zone.

Cornerback Richard Sherman was the Falcons' antagonist in their 26-24 loss in Seattle. The Falcons were furious that he wasn't called for pass interference after pulling down star wide receiver Julio Jones on their final play. A penalty would have set up the Falcons for a potential game-winning field goal in the last minute.

The Seahawks improved to 4-1 with that victory, but went 6-4-1 the rest of the regular season. The defeat at Seattle dropped the Falcons to 4-2 and they were 7-3 after that.

Seattle's defense remains one of the top units in the league, especially against the run. The Seahawks ranked first in the league in rushing yards allowed per play this season and also were third in points allowed. But the Seahawks have been vulnerable against the pass, especially since safety Earl Thomas suffered a season-ending leg injury five weeks ago.

Seattle allowed 33 passing plays of 25 yards or more during the season, tied for fifth-most in the league. In October, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed four passes of 24 yards or longer against the Seahawks, including touchdown passes of 46 yards to Levine Toilolo and 36 yards to Jones.

To advance to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four years, the Seahawks will have to do so on the road and slow the NFL's top-ranked offense.

"(The Falcons) are an incredible team and I love the job that Dan has done," Carroll said. "They are loaded on offense. They've got an aggressive group. Really good on (special) teams. Tons of playmakers."


Notes, Quotes

 Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal has an autographed Kam Chancellor Seahawks jersey hanging up in his locker stall. The Falcons play the Seahawks on Saturday in an NFC divisional playoff game but Neal said he has no plans to move the jersey out of sight this week.

"I don't see it as '(playing) against the Seahawks so I've got to hide it,'" Neal said. "It's Kam Chancellor. He's a brother to me."

Neal and Chancellor worked out together last summer after Chancellor reached out to him. Chancellor wrote a message on the autographed jersey wishing Neal success.

Neal said he and Chancellor stay in touch via text messaging.

"He's helped me out football-wise and off the field, as well," Neal said. "It's a brotherhood. He's huge on helping people. He's big on 'each one, teach one,' just being able to help everybody. And he's definitely helped me a lot."

The Falcons selected Neal with the No. 17 overall draft pick. The Falcons envision Neal growing into the enforcer role that Chancellor, also a safety, plays with the Seahawks. Falcons coach Dan Quinn worked with Chancellor as Seahawks defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014.

Vic Beasley Jr.'s cadence was hard to hear much like he hopes that Falcons fans make it difficult to catch the voice of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in Saturday's playoff game against the Seahawks.

Try as he did to pump the value of crowd noise in the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta second-year defensive end from Clemson couldn't rise up above the cacophony of a nearby Alabama super fan.

Fellow All-Pro Julio Jones, a former Crimson Tide standout, was all riled up.

Beasley said that fellow former Clemson teammate Grady Jarrett, now a Falcons defensive lineman, were going to watch Monday's national championship game together. "Yeah, we plan to," he said. "He'll probably bring some folks over, and we'll definitely have a big screen TV."

At about the same time, Jones - who was not available to media for interviews Monday - may have found a foil. "Put your money up!" he bellowed from about 10 feet away from Beasley's media scrum to an unknown teammate.

Without much to say about the national title game itself, he tried to focus on questions about the Seahawks.

Mindful of the crowd noise that Seattle fans made when the Falcons lost 26-24 there on Oct. 16, and the effect of similarly raucous Atlanta fans in a season-ending victory over the Saints in the Dome, he echoed head coach Dan Quinn's call for racket Saturday.

"It was very loud," he said of the dome experience. "We're definitely looking forward to having that. On defense, you can't even translate a call; you have to do hand signals. Keep your voices down (when the Falcons are) on offense, but keep it up on defense."

With a smattering of teammates getting dressed, and quarterback Matt Ryan playing ping-pong nearby, Jones boomed again: "We're going to whip this dude."

Then, "SEC all day!" Someone, not Beasley, offered, "ACC!"

One part of the narrative for Saturday's Falcons-Seahawks game is head coach Dan Quinn facing his old team and boss. The more interesting angle is this will be Quinn's first playoff game as a head coach. His decisions will face more scrutiny than ever and, if the regular season is an indication, expect Quinn to be aggressive.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of in-game coaching decisions this season ranked Quinn as the fourth-most aggressive coach in the NFL. The study compared coaches' decisions against the league average in three categories: fourth down, general offense and defensive play-calling (and) special teams. The analysis considered "game situations," including score and time remaining.

Quinn's play-calling aggressiveness was about average, ranking 15th among the 32 head coaches. But he was fifth-most aggressive with his special-teams calls and seventh-most aggressive with his fourth-down decisions. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, Quinn's former boss, ranks in the middle of the pack at No. 17 overall in aggressiveness.

Some caveats: The WSJ's data didn't include the final regular-season game. And the article is not clear on the specifics of its methodology regarding play-calling. Quinn, like all head coaches, does not make every offensive and defensive play-call though he obviously is in charge of game plans.

However, the special teams (when to go for two or onside kick, for example) and fourth-down categories are pretty straightforward. Quinn has been among the most aggressive coaches in those situations. Quinn's aggressiveness on fourth-down calls likely goes back to his wrongheaded decision to punt late in the game at San Francisco in 2015.

Actually, that's more than a guess: Quinn has said several times that he regretted the call because it didn't signal confidence in his team. That's a qualitative reason to knock the decision. It was also the wrong call from a quantitative standpoint because it decreased his team's chances of winning.

Quinn has been more aggressive after that episode. But the strategy backfired in two Falcons losses this season.

Tied in overtime against the Chargers, the Falcons failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from their 45-yard line. San Diego went on to kick the winning field goal.

Against the Chiefs, a failed two-point conversion by the Falcons while trailing 27-22 with 11:57 still to play led to another two-point try when they went ahead 28-27. Eric Berry returned Matt Ryan's interception for the first winning "pick two" in NFL history. In that game the Falcons also failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at Kansas City's 10-yard line while down 27-16 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

Quinn's decisions didn't work in those cases, but bad outcomes don't always mean bad decisions. For example, Brian Burke of ESPN Analytics offered a quantitative defense of Quinn's fourth-down call against the Chargers. But the primary reason head coaches don't take more chances, even if the numberw say they should, is that when unconventional decisions lead to losses it means intense public criticism and possibly decreased job security.

Starting Saturday, Quinn's decisions will be examined more closely than ever. It will be interesting to see if he stays aggressive under the brighter lights of the playoffs.


Strategy & Personnel


QB Matt Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history.

WR Julio Jones has 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns.

DE Dwight Freeney finished with three sacks.

DE Adrian Clayborn finished with 4.5 sacks.

LB Vic Beasley finished with 15.5 sacks, which was tops in the league.

TE Austin Hooper (knee) is expected to return to practice on Tuesday.

WR Taylor Gabriel (foot) is expected to return to practice on Tuesday.


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