It's safe to say Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is the most dangerous running back the Falcons have faced this season. Lynch carries the apt nickname "Beast Mode" into Atlanta along with a career-high 1,590 rushing yards, third highest in the league.
While rookie Russell Wilson has provided a boost to Seattle's offense this season with great quarterback play, Lynch is the motor behind the unit. His 11 touchdowns this season are tied for third in the NFC and when Lynch got hot this season, so did Seattle.
Lynch has rushed for more than 100 yards in nine of his past 11 games, and during that stretch he's averaged 106.6 yards per game. He's also rushed for 10 of his touchdowns during that time.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith ranks Lynch among the top three backs in the NFL, and on Wednesday he said Lynch's ability to use a straight-ahead running style with decisiveness is what makes him so dangerous.
"He is a big, strong, aggressive running back," Smith said. "I think he's got very good vision. He's a guy that when he has to lower his pads and punch a hole in the defense he can do that. He's also got the innate ability to cut the ball back."
The Falcons have shown this season they can give up yards, especially on the ground, and still keep opponents out of the end zone. Lynch will be a tough test to that season-long ability for the NFL's fifth-best scoring defense. This season, the Falcons held opponents to 18.7 points per game, but in the red zone Lynch will likely be Seattle's top option and a very good one to pound the ball into the end zone inside the 20-yard lines.
Keeping containment of Lynch will be vital for the Falcons defense around the goal line. The Falcons allowed a touchdown inside the red zone this season only 45.24 percent of the time, good for fourth in the league, but Lynch may require their best effort. Flocking to the ball and trying to get as many defenders as possible on Lynch will the goal for Falcons defenders.
"You've got to hit him early," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "He's a tough back. I've played him a few times. He gets downhill pretty quick. He's tough. He wants to play football; he's not trying to get out of bounds so you've got to be physical with him."
Lynch will very likely get his yards against the Falcons, just like other running backs have done this season, but the test for each side will be when Seattle gets into scoring position. The winner of that matchup — Lynch vs. the Falcons D — will go a long way toward determining who moves on to the championship round of the NFC playoffs.