Birds' air matchups big

Birds' air matchups big

January 13th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Professional

Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones (11) leaps into the end zone past Carolina Panthers' Haruki Nakamura (43) for a touchdown as Falcons' Harry Douglas (83) watches during an NFL game in Charlotte, N.C.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - With Atlanta's Julio Jones at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and fellow receiver Roddy White at 6-foot, 211, the Falcons enter almost every game with a physical advantage in the passing game.

Almost.

In the Georgia Dome this afternoon for the NFC divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, Jones and White actually will be looking up at cornerback foes Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 195).

"I might be a minority, but I look at it as strength on strength," first-year Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told the media this past week. "Heck, let's go."

Countered Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley: "[Atlanta's receivers] are probably the most complete that we've faced. I mean, we've faced some good ones, so I don't want to slight anybody else, but these guys are very talented, very talented."

That much is certain on both sides of the air battle of the birds. Jones and White have combined for 171 catches, 17 touchdowns and 2,549 yards. Sherman was named All-Pro after picking off eight passes for the Seahawks.

Throw in Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and his team-high 93 catches and Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, and you have one of the most fascinating games within a game imaginable.

"They present a lot of challenges," Sherman said. "They have a lot of weapons. We look forward to those kinds of challenges."

So do the Falcons, apparently. Asked Thursday what kind of game he expected, Gonzalez replied, "I anticipate a big day for all of us, honestly. If you look at the receivers and the arsenal of firepower we have ... the PYP (pick your poison) offense, it can be anybody's game. Our receivers are really, really good."

But the Seahawks have been better down the stretch, winning their last six games while the Falcons have won just two of their last four.

There's also Atlanta's playoff record under fifth-year coach Mike Smith. While the team has posted five straight winning seasons, their three playoff appearances have all ended in quick defeat, at least partly because quarterback Matt Ryan has yet to throw for 200 yards in a postseason contest.

"You have to be accurate with the football and trust in the guys that we have," Ryan said last week. "You have to trust that they're going to win on their routes and also look for other areas to throw the football.

Given that Ryan threw 32 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions in the regular season, the Falcons receivers won their routes far more often than not as the team went 13-3 and earned a bye week while the Seahawks had to win at Washington last weekend.

But Smith also cautioned: "I think [Sherman and Browner] are arguably the best duo at cornerback positions in the NFL this year. They can create some issues when they get up there, and they are in physical mode where they're playing close to the line of scrimmage."

Countered Browner: "I think they're the best tandem of receivers we'll face, if not the best in the league. They're going to give us their best shot, and it's going to be a good matchup."

It should be the most important matchup in determining whether the Falcons are preparing for the NFC title game this time next week.