The Falcons' run defense made encouraging strides last season, allowing 105.0 rushing yards against per game after giving up 118.4 in 2014. That progress has continued in 2016: Through five contests, Atlanta has surrendered just 98.6 rushing yards per game — good for 15th in the NFL — and, in the past two weeks, held the Panthers and Broncos to 49 and 84 rushing yards, respectively.
Next up is Seattle, which should give Atlanta's run D one of its toughest challenges yet. And that challenge begins with Christine Michael. By racking up 290 rushing yards on 63 carries (a 4.6 average) and two rushing touchdowns, Marshawn Lynch's replacement has shown he can be effective in a starting role.
And although Michael has been carrying most of the load — Seattle is 18th in the league with 93 rushing yards per game — improved health following their bye week should make the Seahawks more formidable on the ground.
Russell Wilson has been dealing with ankle and knee injuries, but the usually mobile quarterback “looked normal” on Monday, per Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who said the QB "feels really good" about his ankle. Wilson averaged 607.5 rushing yards per season from 2012-15 and is always a threat to take off.
The Seahawks' run game could also be bolstered by rookie O-lineman Germain Ifedi, their latest first-round pick, who could make his first career start after suffering a high ankle sprain in September.
Additionally, RB Thomas Rawls (fibula) may return to the lineup after missing the last two contests. The Central Michigan product has struggled of late — he's notched 25 rushing yards on 19 tries in 2016 — but in 2015, he tallied 830 rushing yards on 147 attempts, good for a 5.6 average.
Given the Seahawks' situation, it'll be key for Atlanta to limit explosive plays. This is something they've done well recently: The Falcons have allowed just 12 rushes of 10-plus yards, fewer than all but nine teams.
It'll also be important to limit damage on interior runs. Per NFL Game Stats and Information, Seattle has rushed up the middle 52 times this year, the fourth-most in the NFL and 40 percent of their total carries.
Grady Jarrett will undoubtedly be an important factor on such plays. The second-year nose tackle has emerged as one of Atlanta's best defensive linemen, and through five games, he has been one of the league's best run-stoppers. According to Pro Football Focus, Jarrett has made eight stops against the run in 2016, more than all but 10 DTs.