To Matt Ryan, it doesn't matter.
That's not meant as disrespect to Thomas. But the Falcons quarterback's attacking mindset won't change going into Saturday's divisional playoff matchup just because the Seahawks surrender more big plays without Thomas. A fractured tibia forced Thomas to season-ending injured reserve seven weeks after the Seahawks defeated the Falcons 26-24.
"We created some big plays with Earl in the lineup, too," Ryan said. "There's plays to be made at all times through games. One guy's not going to make it ... Earl's a great player, there's no question about that, but there will be opportunities. There always are during games. Like always, whenever we get our opportunities, hopefully we can make those plays."
During the regular season, Ryan completed 30 of 60 passes thrown 20 or more yards in the air down the field for 1,116 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. His 50 percent completion percentage was third best in the league behind the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck (50.8 percent) and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson (50.7 percent).
We'll see how many shots Ryan takes Sunday without Thomas lurking. ESPN's Bill Barnwell pointed out Thomas' impact here:
SEA w/ Earl Thomas on the field this year: Seven TDs, 10 picks, 77.8 passer rating— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 4, 2017
SEA w/o Earl Thomas: 9 TDs, 1 INT, 99.5 passer rating
Thomas is known for his range and his ability to "erase" big plays from opposing offenses' plans. The Seahawks have confidence in Steven Terrell at the position, but no one can expect him to be Thomas' equivalent.
Regardless, the Seahawks are sure to play their usual attacking, physical defensive style come Saturday, particularly coming off a 26-6 wild-card win over the Detroit Lions.
"I think their scheme stays pretty consistent," Ryan said. "I think that's probably one of the things that Seattle's done a great job of since Pete [Carroll] has been there. They really don't change all that much. And they do what they do, and they do it really well."
"I think they're really good on the defensive side of the ball," Ryan said. "Earl's out; Kam's back in. When we played them, Kam didn't play for them. He's such a good player, too. Kind of sets the tone for them in terms of physical [style] and being aggressive. Earl's a good player for sure and covers a lot of ground.
"Their scheme is really similar. Their front four makes their defense go. They play really well up front against the run, against the pass. I think they tie in really well, front end to back end."
During the Week 6 matchup in Seattle, Ryan hit on four pass plays of 24-plus yards, including a 36-yard touchdown toss off a straight dropback to a wide-open Julio Jones out of the slot. Thomas was late coming over and Sherman was in the wrong coverage while playing press-man against the tight end.
Most of the attention Saturday will be focused on whether the Seahawks opt to shadow Jones with Sherman. Jones had seven catches for 139 yards in Week 6, when Sherman lined up on Jones' side for 30 snaps.
"We've got confidence in 'Ju' man-to-man or zone coverage," Ryan said. "I mean, he's going to make plays. That's not something I worry too much about."
But as has been the case all season, Ryan knows how to spread the ball around, having hit 13 players for touchdowns. It helps to get speedy deep threat Taylor Gabriel back from a toe/ankle injury and red zone target Austin Hooper back from an MCL sprain.
"I think it's huge when you're at full strength," Ryan said. "I think that makes a big difference. Our guys have shown throughout the year that at any time when their number is called, they're able to go make plays. So when you have guys like Hoop or Taylor back, it gives you two more guys that are capable of making explosive plays at any time, and that's important for us. Depending on how thing shake out, how the game shakes out, who's got the right matchups, those guys could be critical for us."