Matchup: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons meet in a battle between the two top seeds in the NFC, both teams vying for a spot in the Super Bowl.
3 Keys to Victory for the Falcons
—Play clean, efficient football on both offense and defense
A big reason the 49ers took down the Packers was because Green Bay allowed San Francisco to make it an ugly affair in the Candlestick Park dirt. The 49ers love to play hard-nosed, ground-and-pound style football, running with Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick on offense and gang tackling at the line of scrimmage on defense. Atlanta needs to set the tone early and use the Georgia Dome’s turf to its advantage, playing high-flying, Falcons football.
–Get the crowd involved early
Sure, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was able to succeed with all of Candlestick Park behind him, but it’ll be a different story in the Georgia Dome. Under the lights and the roof, the sound will reverberate and the Falcons are hoping to shake young Kaepernick early on. For that to happen, Atlanta needs to either strike first or come out strong, proving they’re the true No. 1 seed.
—Get the ball deep to Roddy White and Julio Jones
The only place where the 49ers aren’t completely stacked defensively is in the secondary, where a solidly above-average group of defensive backs hopes to stop Roddy White and Julio Jones. That won’t happen. White and Jones are so physically gifted that having a quarterback like Matt Ryan to get them the ball makes this Falcons team nearly impossible to stop.
3 Keys to Victory for the 49ers
—Feed Frank Gore early on
The 49ers are at their best when the zone read option is working to peak efficiency, but that doesn’t happen unless San Francisco can establish Frank Gore as a rushing threat. When defensive ends crash hard on Gore, Colin Kaepernick can run free and make plays. Whether it’s under center or from shotgun, San Francisco has to gash Atlanta early on with Frank Gore up the middle.
—Get to Matt Ryan
Linebacker Aldon Smith is a special player with a bevy of pass-rushing moves and he’ll be able to beat Atlanta’s offensive line off the ball. The Falcons want to get the ball down the field, but Matt Ryan will have to check to quicker, shorter passes if he feels the heat coming. Smith could be a huge factor in this game.
—Never say never
Last week, the Falcons almost succumbed to the Seahawks when Seattle pulled off a late comeback, despite a two-score deficit. Atlanta lets other teams hang around and if they start to put points on the board early, San Francisco can’t allow them to just run it up without a fight. Falcons fans can’t feel safe in this game until the final second runs out.
Nachmany Football’s prediction: Falcons 35-24
The buck stops here for Jim Harbaugh and his sophomore signal-caller. While San Francisco had success at home in the Divisional Round, the Falcons are at home this time and have scarier weapons than the Packers. Be on the lookout for Tony Gonzalez, who is playing in his last NFL season and wants a Super Bowl ring. 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree is playing with a looming sexual assault case over his head and he could be distracted, which would play a big part in the end of his team’s season.