In a word, no, especially not if John Abraham isn’t John Abraham at all this weekend, and is instead the limited shell of himself we saw Sunday when he re-aggravated his ankle injury and only appeared in 15 plays. But since a post that’s one word long isn’t a post at all, I thought it would be fun to look back at recent case studies, and what this edition of the Atlanta Falcons defense has given us when it’s been faced with a quarterback who excels at propelling his body down a football field quickly with the use of his feet.
Colin Kaepernick is quite good at that, we’re told.
Russell Wilson routinely ran around to the sweet tunes of Benny Hill while rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown against a defense that gave up 123.2 rushing yards per game (21st) during the regular season, and much of his career high passing yardage was often the product of several Falcons whiffs after he escaped from the pocket. Wilson finished with 385 passing yards, which is significantly higher than his season per game average of 194.9 yards.
But that’s just one game, amirite? Well, yes, but the Falcons were kind enough to play a quarter of their regular-season schedule against notoriously mobile quarterbacks, which is what will happen when you’ve been dealt the misfortune of having Cam Newton in your division. The results from those games were mostly awful.
Alright, that’s a lie. More accurately, the result of the Falcons’ attempts to contain running quarterbacks were mostly horrendous, even though the result on the scoreboard was not. Atlanta won three of the games discussed below, but they did it only narrowly, and not impressively for a team that went 13-3 overall. Combined, wins over the Panthers, Eagles, and Redskins were earned by only 12 points.
Their first meeting with a fast QB guy this year was also the Falcons’ first meeting with Newton in Week 4. That ended in a 30-28 Falcons win, and Newton had 86 rushing yards and a touchdown, and his longest run was a 32 yarder. Over the previous three weeks Newton had been crunched twice on the ground, rushing for a combined 10 yards during meetings with the Giants and Buccaneers. He was also sacked three times by Falcons defenders and he fumbled twice, neither of which were lost. The open space he was able to find led to better passing numbers with his passer rating of 119.3, one of only four times this season when that rate went above 115.0.
There was an improvement against Michael Vick in Week 7, which can partly be attributed to the general tomfoolery of the Eagles’ offense throughout the season, and especially their battered offensive line. Vick attempted seven carries for 42 yards, and his longest carry went for 13 yards. Like Newton, he was also sacked three times.
The Falcons’ most impressive performance against a running pivot came in Week 5, when Robert Griffin III was held to only seven rushing yards on one attempt while being sacked twice before leaving early in the third quarter with a concussion after a Sean Weatherspoon hit. He was contained efficiently throughout the day, and he wasn’t able to find many running lanes, although Alfred Morris didn’t struggle too much in that endeavor through the read-option offense (115 yards on 18 carries).
So the problem this year, with this defense, was Newton. That becomes clearly evident when we combine his Week 4 totals with Week 14 when he had 116 rushing yards — a career high — meaning he averaged 11.2 yards per rush over his 18 attempts this season against the Falcons while accumulating a total of 202 yards. There was also this…
That’s a 72-yard touchdown run, also easily a career high (his previous high was 49 yards). He threw for 276 yards with two passing touchdowns that day, finishing with a rating that was above 100.0 again (110.1), much higher than his overall rating for the season (86.2).
Abraham’s health and how he progresses throughout the week will be massive. But even with him there’s still a far better chance that we see another ground QB gashing similar to the three so far this season (Newton twice, and Wilson), and not the more rare Griffin-esque containment. The common thread between Seattle and Carolina is a deep receiving threat who can stretch the field, and keep eight men out of the box while opening up more space. Pierre Garcon wasn’t at nearly full health during that Week 5 Redskins game, while Newton had Steve Smith, and Wilson worked with Golden Tate and Sidney Rice, who combined for 163 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Sunday Kaepernick will have deep options in abundance too between Randy Moss, and especially Michael Crabtree, who’s averaging 109.6 receiving yards per game since Week 13 with six touchdowns.