By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are five keys for Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons:
>>The Seahawks must exploit the Falcons’ struggling run defense with Marshawn Lynch, who rises to the occasion in the postseason with a physical style that allows him to pile up yards after contact. Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry while rushing for 132 yards in last week’s wild-card victory against Washington. The threat he poses in the backfield helps enhance the effectiveness of the option plays the Seahawks like to run with fleet rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. And that isn’t good news for the Falcons, who ranked near the bottom of the NFL in run defense.
>>Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan needs to have a big day against a stingy, hard-hitting Seahawks defense. Ryan is an exceptionally talented quarterback who is particularly effective working out of shotgun formation and running a no-huddle attack. Despite lacking the help of a productive running game, Ryan manages to deliver game-breaking throws to the highly talented pass-catching trio of wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
>>The Seahawks have to get at least an efficient performance from Wilson, provided he has the help of a strong running game. Wilson has had a remarkable season. He shows great poise and has an extremely strong passing arm to go along with his outstanding mobility. But he will be hard-pressed to avoid turnovers against the aggressive and creative scheming of Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Wilson must be careful not to serve up interceptions to a secondary that includes the highly opportunistic Asante Samuel.
>>Atlanta’s top pass rusher, defensive end John Abraham, needs to rattle Wilson as much as possible. It won’t be easy. As dominant as Abraham can be and as much as he alternates between right and left end, he is likely to spend most of the game across from standout offensive tackle Russell Okung. Still, the Redskins, who hardly have a dominant defensive front, managed to sack Wilson five games last weekend.
>>Seattle has to prevent the Falcons from finding success on the ground. The Falcons have not been a good rushing team, ranking 29th in the league in that department. The Seahawks limited Alfred Morris, the Redskins’ superb rookie running back, to 80 yards in the wild-card game. They simply cannot allow Falcons running back Michael Turner to get rolling, because it will only enhance an already dangerous Falcons passing game.
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>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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