Wednesday, January 16, 2013

49ers vs. Falcons

The San Francisco 49ers opened up this game as a three point favorite to the Atlanta Falcons on the road. As a 49er fan I know once said, sometimes a little disrespect is all you need. After Colin Kaepernick's domination of the Packers last week, it's obvious why the Niners are the favorites. However, with the monkey off his back, Matt Ryan may have another trick up his sleeve.

It's important not to overreact too much to Kaepernick's symphony of destruction over Green Bay, but I'm just not sure how Atlanta's going to stop him. Sure, the Falcons are definitely preparing for him extra, but their defense is average, and I expect the quarterback to throw and run the ball comfortably. The Falcons' pass rush really needs to get going, and it won't be easy to because of a very talented San Francisco offensive line, so look for breakout receiver Michael Crabtree to have his way with the Atlanta defense. I also wouldn't be surprised if Vernon Davis and even Randy Moss got involved in the action. Sean Witherspoon, Asante Samuel, and Dunta Robinson are going to need to have big games to contain this offense.

As for the run game, Frank Gore dominated the Packers with 119 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  Atlanta was 21st against the run this year, and Gore has been running wild all season, so it's hard to expect that to change. The home crowd will definitely give the Falcons defense some help, but running behind a strong offensive line, Gore should have a day. Once again, look for LaMichael James to get involved as well. Whether it's Gore, James, or Kaepernick running the ball, I don't trust the Falcons defense. They also have to look out for Bruce Miller, who has been a factor.

What do you take more out of Matt Ryan's performance against the Seahawks, his two picks or his three touchdowns? Ryan has been both painfully good and painfully bad all year, hooking up with Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Julio Jones for highlight bombs, but also throwing some pretty ugly interceptions. For Ryan, it's key for him to limit the turnovers. The Niners have a very talented and physical secondary with Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson. I think due to the talent of the Atlanta offense, Ryan will have success. But if he turns the ball over, that could be it. Also, the key for the San Fran defensive backs is to hit the Falcons hard. Jones and White didn't have trouble against Seattle, but they may be a little out of their comfort zone if the 49er players can deliver some big hits. The San Francisco pass rush is a key to forcing turnovers. Justin and Aldon Smith have to generate pressure against a solid Atlanta offensive line if they want to make Ryan make mistakes. This is one of the biggest battles of the game, and if the o-line can hold up for the Falcons, that could be the difference maker.

Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers had a fantastic day against a tough Seattle defense, combining for 162 yards on 24 carries. Mike Smith developed a game plan that would deploy the two backs to their fullest abilities, and he'll have to do the same against San Franciso. Give him credit for what he did against the Seahawks, and it gives you confidence in his ability to do it again, but the Niners were fourth against the rush this year, and ever since Jim Harbaugh took over, they've been nearly impossible to run on. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman can be thanked for that.

One interesting thing to take from last week's game against Seattle is how the Atlanta defense was exposed in the second half. Not only do they need to play a full 60 minutes, but it also may not bode well if the Falcons jump out to a big lead again. They can score with anyone, and a lead may cause them to play more conservative, even though they have an explosive offense. I trust Ryan at the end of the game, but if he doesn't get the opportunity, I don't trust the defense.

In the end, I have to pick the 49ers. They have the edge on defense, running the ball, and coaching, and now with Kaepernick, they have a whole new element to their game. Ryan should get his big guns involved, but will also turn the ball over and not get the help from his running game like he did last week. Meanwhile, Kaepernick doesn't repeat his performance, but he plays pretty well, and Gore and the defense salt away the clock in the fourth quarter. I expect the Niners to head to New Orleans.

49ers 31, Falcons 20

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