This weekend the San Francisco 49ers will once again take the field in the NFC Championship game, though this time they will be playing away from home at the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons enter the game as the number one seed in the NFC and the 49ers enter the contest as the number two seed in the NFC, yet still the Falcons are predicted as the underdog. When looking at the match up closely, there is good reason for the disparity coming into the game. First, the 49ers are entering the game with a ton of momentum after handily beating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional playoff round. And two, the Falcons have displayed some very prominent weaknesses at times, even though they won a nail biter against the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC divisional playoff game.
The thing is, the Falcons do not try and hide what their intentions are during the game. It’s unfair to say that they’re one dimensional, but they make little effort on offense in masking what they are going to do with the ball. They are going to throw it, a lot. As they should though, they have three of the best pass catchers in the league to throw the ball to; it would be a shame not to utilize those guys. Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez are all in the top 30 in receiving yards during the regular season. And all have big play potential. The 49ers secondary will have their hands full again as they face another multi-faceted receiving core.
Unfortunately, the passing game is the very product that makes the Falcons vulnerable. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball on average 38 times per game, good for sixth most in the league. And while that is impressive, and he makes good use of his receivers, it nearly completely negates the production of the running game. The Falcons run with a tandem of running backs, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, with Turner averaging 14 carries per game and Rodgers averaging six carries per game. When they are only averaging 20 carries per game as a team, their opposition is allowed the opportunity to put direct focus on the passing rather than the running. And with a stout run defense like the 49ers have from their front seven, the running attack by the Falcons may even be more limited. Leaving the secondary to make plays without worry in regards to backing up the run defense.
To make things harder on Ryan, the 49ers front line needs to get pressure to Ryan as they did against Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers. They cannot let Ryan get too comfortable in the pocket or he will pick them apart with his receivers. The Falcons offensive line was a mystery over the course of the regular season, it’s not certain whether they are vulnerable or not in this area. They did not give up a lot of sacks during the regular season, only 28. But they did give up a lot of hits on the quarterback during the regular season, 83 in total, good for eighth in the league.
But even still, the Falcons proved that they have the wear with all to take on a powerful defense and come away with a victory, as evident by their game last week when they defeated the Seahawks number one ranked defense.
Defensively, the Falcons are also an enigma. During the regular season they gave up almost 366 yards per game, ninth worst in the league, they gave up the 12th most rushing yards in the league and they gave up the tenth most passing yards in the league. Yet they still ranked in the top five in least points allowed. What that says is that even though they give up a lot of yardage, they make plays when it counts, and they keep the offense from scoring. They were tied for third in interceptions at 20 during the regular season.
That being said, the 49ers offense has to be smart with the ball more than anything, they can put up a good deal of yards against this team. But if they get sloppy, the Falcons defense can and will take advantage of them. Again the key to the 49ers offense will be running back Frank Gore; he needs at least 20 carries in the game. His carries dictates the flow of the offense and does not allow the Falcons defense to focus in on one area of the running game. In turn that allows quarterback Colin Kaepernick to utilize his rushing abilities to their maximum. Kaepernick does not have to be as good as he was in the Packers game, but if the offense is ran the same way, his success will again be high. His biggest concern is protecting the ball and not making throwing errors.
Prediction: 49ers 35 Falcons 21
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