The Seattle Seahawks were able to blow the game open in the second quarter of their 27-20 win against the Falcons on Sunday, and they had a little bit of help from Atlanta in doing so.
Defensive miscues and breakdowns in communication have plagued the Falcons during their 1-7 start, and that was once again the case in the first half on Sunday. The Seahawks scored their first touchdown of the game, a 4-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to a wide-open DK Metcalf, by snapping the ball before Atlanta's defense was fully set.
"They came out of the huddle and quick-counted us," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We had been prepared for that. The Rams had a long history of doing that, so we had just practiced quite a bit of that the week prior."
As Wilson called for the snap, the Falcons' secondary was still making checks and getting lined up. The result of that quick snap was two defenders – Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee – chasing wide receiver Tyler Lockett towards the left sideline and leaving the middle of the field open for Metcalf.
That error on Atlanta's part could be explained as a good bit of gamesmanship by the Seahawks, but Quinn admitted that the second defensive miscue later in the quarter was due to miscommunication.
With under a minute remaining in the first half, the Seahawks again lined up with two receivers bunched closely together near the left tackle – a similar formation to the one on Metcalf's first touchdown. Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell quickly pressured Wilson on the play, forcing him to backpedal, but the Seattle quarterback lofted the ball towards the right corner of the end zone, where Metcalf was once again wide open for the score.
Oliver and Kazee had again covered the same receiver – this time Jaron Brown – leaving Metcalf to run free and provide Wilson with an easy target.
"We were going to play two players in a certain way, and a miscommunication took place amongst two players," Quinn said. "Usually that's the case when one has a call and one didn't get it. And down in the red zone, you know this, how clear and strong that communication has to be, because the mistakes, there's no room for an error."
Atlanta's defense and the secondary, in particular, has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. The Falcons held the Seahawks offense to just a 33.3 percent conversion rate (3-of-9) on third downs Sunday, their best performance in that area of the season, and Atlanta gave up just 171 passing yards, which were the second-fewest passing yards they've allowed to an opponent.
Despite some of those improvements, the miscommunications proved costly on Sunday and allowed two easy scores. When asked if, in his experience, it's common to have those types of miscommunication issues this late in a season, Quinn simply answered, "No."
Making defensive checks and changing the call is a two-way street for Atlanta's defense, requiring both players to acknowledge that a change has been made. Quinn explained how that process unfolds during a game, illuminating a bit more how something like Metcalf's second touchdown could occur.
"In the heat of it, you and I may have to communicate on a call, that happens," Quinn said. "But, if I didn't get it to you and you didn't give it back to me, then it didn't exist. To get a call, you have to give one back. Just because I told you, 'Hey, watch for this,' and you didn't acknowledge it, then I can't tell that you had it.
"[Communication] is always at the front of the list. I wouldn't say [miscommunication] is so uncommon. Do you want it to happen, hell no. You won't prepare for every scenario, but that one could have been prevented."