The success of undrafted rookie Brian Poole
Not many times does an undrafted rookie get signed before the season and participate in all 16 games, but not most undrafted rookies are Brian Poole. Like the Falcons’ first round pick Keanu Neal, Poole played college football at Florida, and was recruited by Dan Quinn back when he was the DC at Florida. Neal has obviously been a standout, but Poole has unexpectedly put together one of the best seasons for all rookie defenders.
Poole has spent the majority of his time as the Nickel corner on the defense. With the Falcons primarily playing a nickel defense, Poole has gotten a ton of work and has thrived. He will have his hands full on Saturday, as the Seahawks like to line up their primary receiver, Doug Baldwin, in the slot. Atlanta used a lot of Desmond Trufant on Baldwin in the first matchup between these teams, but Trufant will not be playing in this matchup. Baldwin is one of the best receivers in the league, but given the way Poole has gone from an undrafted rookie to an everyday starter in no time, he is not going to be backing down from any challenge.
Baldwin is Russell Wilson’s favorite target. He will be looking at him early and often on Saturday. Baldwin will have some catches, but expect to see Poole, a name many people do not know, make a lot of plays to impact the game.
The explosion of Taylor Gabriel
Gabriel was signed by the Falcons after he was cut by the Browns before the start of the season. Gabriel’s relationship with OC Kyle Shanahan goes back to the days when he was the OC in Cleveland, so Shanahan knew the type of talent he was bringing in. Gabriel was not much of a factor in the week 6 matchup between these two teams. He recorded just a single catch for six yards, but that was before most Falcons fans even knew who Taylor Gabriel was.
Gabriel has exploded since week 8 and has caught 6 TD passes in his last 8 contests. He has really been the weapon that has put this Falcons offense over the top the second half of the season. At only 5 feet 8 inches tall, Gabriel is one of the few sub 4.3 40 guys around the league. His speed has been utilized magnificently by Kyle Shanahan, and Gabriel should be fully healthy following the bye week. Gabriel may not be the biggest guy on the field, but expect his fingerprint to be all over the game Saturday.
The kicking game
This may come as a surprise to many, but this may be where Atlanta has one of it’s biggest edges. Both Seattle and Atlanta fans will remember the 2012 divisional game (for different reasons), as Matt Bryant nailed a clutch 49-yard field goal to send the Seahawks packing.
Hauschka on the other hand is not nearly as reliable, especially in the clutch. Baltimore fans will tell you all about Hauschka’s hiccups on the big stage. He missed a couple of short field goals in the playoffs, including a game winner to send the Ravens past the Patriots. While Haushcka has been much more reliable for the Seahawks, he still has a tendency to choke in major situations. He missed a gimme from inside of 30 yards to give the Seahawks the win in overtime earlier this season against the Cardinals.
Hauschka is money from inside 50 yards for the most part. However, he does not have nearly as strong of a leg as Matt Bryant and is not exactly trustworthy with the game on the line. Matt Bryant has been and will go down as one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history. If the game is on the line Saturday, and Matt Bryant needs to make a kick, you can put 3 points on the board before he even steps out on the field.