NFC Championship Preview: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

USATSI_7634672_154224518_lowresAll season long, the Atlanta Falcons’ defense has struggled with the hybrid quarterbacks. Last week, they gave up 445 total yards to Russell Wilson with three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 109.1. Against the Panthers, they gave up 301 total yards and three touchdowns in one game and 403 total yards with three touchdowns in the other to Cam Newton. Newton had passer ratings of 119 and 110, respectively, in those games.

Last week, the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick recorded 444 total yards with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 91.2. Kaepernick’s performance against the Packers was the highlight of this year’s post season thus far (which would have only been rivaled by Wilson’s performance had the Seahawks defense would have held in the final seconds of the game).

Considering the way things have gone for both teams this season, it seems as if the 49ers biggest offensive strength plays perfectly to the Falcons biggest defensive weakness in what will be the biggest game each franchise has seen in years: The Falcons can’t tackle in the open field and Kaepernick is most dangerous when he gets outside of the tackles. Pro Football Focus has some words on how bad the tackling has been on the perimeter for the Falcons this year:

Asante Samuel’s tackling ineptitude is the stuff of legend by now, but Thomas DeCoud has matched him with 21 missed this season. Sean Weatherspoon, their best linebacker, isn’t far behind with 15, and Dunta Robinson has missed 13 as he elects to go for kill shots rather than wrap-up tackles more often than not. Atlanta has six defenders that have missed more than 10 tackles this season, meaning that even though they might recognize the problem sooner than the Packers did, they aren’t guaranteed to be able to come up and do anything about it.

Regardless of how poor the Falcons have been defending the read-option this season, they’ve come away with two wins in the three games against option-based offenses — and this is mainly due to the fact that the Falcons offense is awfully prolific as well.

Matt Ryan has put together a great season with the weapons he has out wide with Julio Jones and Roddy White. With Tony Gonzalez catching passes from the tight end spot and Harry Douglass in the slot, this Falcons offense gets nearly impossible to stop when firing on all cylinders.

Despite the run game being inconsistent during the regular season, the Falcons were awfully successful running against the stout Seahawks defense early in the game, which opened up the passing game for Ryan and co. when needed. The 49ers corners have been fantastic all season, but will definitely have their hands full with the Falcons’ White and Jones.

Today’s game will come down to whether or not the Falcons can keep Kaepernick at bay and force him to make throws out of his comfort zone. For more on today’s match up, check out Serena Winters’ pre game report:


Phillip Barnett is the Senior NFL Editor at Sports City and is currently suffering through a decade long (and counting) playoff drought from the Oakland Raiders.

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