It was evident Sunday just how important Chris Clemons is to the Seahawks' defense.
Unfortunately for Seattle, it was Clemons' absence that proved as much.
Clemons' season-ending ACL injury, suffered last week against Washington, had a costly ripple effect throughout the Seahawks' defense. Rookie Bruce Irvin took over as the starting weakside defensive end, an every-down role that includes more responsibilities in the run game than Irvin had been accustomed to. Mike Morgan, a second-year linebacker who plays mostly on special teams, was among those assuming Irvin's old role of a situational pass rusher.
Playing without their leading pass rusher, Chris Clemons, the Seahawks did not generate nearly enough pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. (AP)
"Absolutely," coach Pete Carroll responded when asked whether the team missed Clemons Sunday. "How could you not? He's our best player at rushing the passer for three years, so of course we did. Mike Morgan had to play. Mike hasn't rushed the passer 10 snaps in his career. So yeah, we certainly did."
Matt Ryan, with seemingly endless amounts of time in the pocket, finished 24 of 35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
One of those picks came when the Seahawks brought defensive backs Marcus Trufant and Winston Guy off the left edge. That was one way Seattle tried to manufacture a pass rush in the absence of pressure from its defensive line.
"We felt like we had to to get pressure," Carroll said of the more blitz-heavy approach. "Even all the way down to the end."
It worked that time, with Bobby Wagner intercepting an errant throw from Ryan. But for the majority of the day Ryan found an open receiver when Seattle brought extra pressure. Atlanta's game-winning drive was no exception, as Ryan completed 22- and 19-yard passes despite Seattle sending an extra rusher each time.
The Seahawks finished with no sacks, but it wasn't just their pass rush that suffered without Clemons. The Falcons, the league's 21st-ranked rushing offense during the regular season, gashed Seattle from the start.
"It seemed like they was trying to run right at me," said Irvin, who finished with one tackle. "To start the game off, they was testing me."
In the first half alone, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 127 yards on just 15 carries. Each had a run of longer than 30 yards.
"We tackled so poorly against both guys," Carroll said.