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Updated Friday, January 11, 2013 at 10:36 PM

Matchup between Seahawks' physical cornerbacks and big, talented Falcons receivers could be key to Sunday's game

By Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle's cornerbacks are going to have their hands full this weekend. At least that's the Seahawks' hope, because Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are going to be outside, asked to engage, battle and frustrate Falcons receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White at the line of scrimmage before Atlanta's offense gets a chance to take off.

"We're going to try and hang with them," coach Pete Carroll said, "and we'll find out what happens."

Stand up and man up. That's something Sherman shouted on the sideline during last week's game at Washington, and a motto he repeated in the locker room after Seattle's victory.

But Washington was a run-oriented offense, a team that sought to play at a similar pace to Seattle. Atlanta is part of the NFL's new era of airborne offenses, and as far as receiving tandems go, White and Jones are a pair of aces.

"Probably the most complete we've faced," Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said, "and we've faced some good ones. I don't want to slight anybody else, but (they're) very talented."

They will be playing into the teeth of a Seahawks defense that in many ways works from the outside in. It is the ability of Browner and Sherman to play man-to-man coverage, combined with the range of safety Earl Thomas over the top, that is one of the keys to this defense.

And as strong and fast as Atlanta's receivers are, the Seahawks don't intend to concede anything on the outside.

"I expect our guys to try to play like they always play," Carroll said. "They don't need to change anything, because we're not doing anything different."

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was one of 11 quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,000 yards this season, the second straight year he reached that mark. The Falcons had the fewest rushing yards of any playoff team in the regular season, yet they were the No. 7 scoring team in the league.

They had three players catch more than 70 passes, tight end Tony Gonzalez (93 receptions), White (92) and Jones (79). Running back Jacquizz Rodgers caught 53 passes, which is more than anyone on Seattle's roster.

That puts the onus squarely on the secondary that has been considered the strength of the Seattle defense, and it starts with Seattle's cornerbacks who, for once, won't always have a huge size advantage this weekend.

"We're built similarly," Sherman said in reference to Atlanta's receivers.

Browner is 6 feet 4, giving him an inch on the 6-3 Jones. The 6-3 Sherman has 3 inches on White, who was a two-time high-school state champion in wrestling.

"It's going to be a fun matchup because they're physical," Sherman said. "They've got two great receivers. We've got two good corners. It's going to be a fun matchup for both sides."

It also might turn out to be the difference in this game The test that Atlanta's passing offense presents is a chance for Seattle's defensive backs to make a difference in the game as the Seahawks' defensive backs will be asked to stand up and man up.

"It just gives us an opportunity to show what we're made of," Thomas said.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @dannyoneil



Seattle's Brandon Browner, at 6 feet 4, has the size to take on Atlanta WR Julio Jones, who is 6 feet 3.




JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will get tested by an Atlanta receiving group that includes wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.




JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has responded to most challenges this season.




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