Seahawks safety Steven Terrell's terrible game has the Falcons one win from Super Bowl LI
It only took a few plays, if that, for the Atlanta Falcons to take notice of Seahawks free safety Steven Terrell's presence Saturday.
And once they found him, let's say that the response was not a respectful one.
Terrell was filling in for the injured Earl Thomas, as he has since the All-Pro safety exited the Seahawks' 40-7 win over the Panthers in Week 13 with a broken leg.
For one of the best defenses in the NFL, Thomas was a linchpin — proficient in all areas of the game and a step (or 10) above reliable.
The Seahawks knew that his absence would be felt. They didn't know how much it would be felt until Saturday.
Seattle's season is over for many reasons, but a significant portion of the blame must be placed on not having Thomas in the fold.
Terrell had a no-good, terrible, rotten, very bad game Saturday, as he was beaten by receivers, lost in the coverage schemes, indecisive, and missed tackles all over the field.
In short, in Seattle's 36-20 loss, it was painfully apparent he was not Earl Thomas.
It was clear that the Falcons, who boast one of the best offenses in NFL history, targeted the weak link on the Seahawks and reaped the benefits. They might as well have pointed at him before every play.
The O-Ring theory in economics states that you are only as strong as your weakest link in a system of development. It was certainly the case for the Seahawks' defense Saturday.
Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan put on a masterclass of playcalling that directly targeted Terrell.
The Seahawks love to play Cover-3, in which the top two cornerbacks drop back and cover between the sidelines and the numbers, and the free safety floats in the middle and cleans up everything else.
When Earl Thomas is on the field, you don't tend to notice how difficult the free safety's job is in the Cover-3 scheme.
When Steven Terrell is on the field, you notice.
Terrell was directly responsible for two touchdowns being scored against the Seahawks on Saturday and his missed tackles set up at least one more.
Seattle might have turned the ball over twice on offense and a game-changing holding call on a Devin Hester punt return certainly contributed to the Seahawks' season being over, but Terrell's poor play was the constant in the contest.
Perhaps there's nothing that Terrell could have done to stop this play — the Seahawks did not seem ready for Julio Jones to get the ball on a screen (and it was offensive pass interference) — but it's clear that Shanahan wanted to put Terrell in a situation where he would have to stop Jones.
Surely the Atlanta offensive coordinator took note of Terrell's missed tackles early in the contest.
The second score — the game breaker just before halftime — was another target of Terrell, who never abandoned his post in the middle of the field to adapt to the receiver overload on the left (from the offensive's perspective) side of the field.
The result: Tevin Coleman was wide open in the corner of the end zone, and Atlanta had a nine-point lead it never relinquished.
We don't know if Thomas would have been able to stop Jones, or if he would have diagnosed the Coleman touchdown on the fly and prevented the running back from getting open, or if he would have missed the amount of tackles Terrell missed Saturday.
But it's fair to say that the Falcons would not have targeted the best free safety in the game the same way they targeted his backup.
Terrell made it easy for Atlanta on Saturday, and because of that, the Seahawks' season is over.