Hageman could help Falcons’ run D in ‘old-school match’ vs. Seahawks

Falcons defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

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Falcons defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

If Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls presents a new problem for the Falcons on Saturday, then defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman may be part of the answer in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game.

Rawls didn’t play in Seattle’s Week 6 victory over the Falcons because of injury and the Seahawks never got their running game going. Rawls punished the Lions for a franchise-record 161 rushing yards in Saturday’s wild-card victory, with 81 yards gained after contact according to Pro Football Focus.

Hageman’s size (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) and strength could be key for the Falcons in holding the line against Seattle’s favored inside zone-run scheme. Hageman said the Falcons expect the Seahawks to try to be physical with Rawls running the ball and that defensive linemen will have to take on double teams.

“We know they are coming,” Hageman said. “There is going to be a lot of double teams in the middle. Its’ going to be a physical game. But I feel like if we are able to hold our keys on the ‘D-line’ we will be fine. Give the linebackers a chance to go and make plays. It’s going to be really an old-school match when it comes to the trenches.”

Statistics sometimes don’t give a complete picture of performance at Hageman’s position because his job often involves absorbing blocks to free up teammates. But Hageman has been productive in limited snaps this season, especially over the final few weeks of the season.

He had a tackle for loss in three of the final four games, including two sacks, while playing a total of 92 snaps. In the regular-season finale against the Saints, Hageman played 14 defensive snaps and had two tackles against running back Mark Ingram after one-yard gains and another after a two-yard rush.

Hageman is coming on strong after he hadn’t made much impact since the Falcons selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Minnesota.

“I was going through some game tape and what really jumped out for me is how well he’s doing,” Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith said. “He’s doing a much better job of really coming off the ball, playing a lot more aggressively than a year ago. If you talk to him he’ll probably tell you we’ve put him in a position where he doesn’t have as much thinking to do and he’s coming off the ball. He’s been really disruptive. He’s a big man who is very, very powerful and he’s improved from a year ago.”