When the schedules were released back in April, 49ers vs. Falcons in Week 16 looked almost unfair from a 49ers perspective. Isn’t a stadium’s last game supposed to be like a homecoming, in that the opponent should be a cupcake instead of a championship contender? Forget wishing The Stick a fond farewell (or just a snarky farewell, if you’re Keith Olbermann), the 49ers could be fighting for playoff positioning or even for a chance to make the postseason!
Things didn’t quite turn out that way.
Every year teams that were great and supposed to be getting even better take a violent tumble, and this season the 49ers lucked out with two teams on their schedule that went from contenders to cupcakes, Houston and Atlanta. Don’t let anyone fool you, the Falcons are not a team to fear on Monday night. It’s the job of a defensive coordinator to say stuff like this …
They’re still very good on offense. Anytime you’ve got Matt Ryan playing quarterback, Gonzalez at tight end, Roddy White and Douglas at receiver, and the backs of Jackson and Rodgers, they’re still very explosive on offense and have thrown the ball extremely well this year. And their running backs are running hard. So, they’re very, very capable of putting up points. And you’ve seen a lot of their games they have put up some good amount of points. To me, they’re still a very explosive offense, one that we’re going to have to play our best against them.
The 49ers go into this game as two-touchdown favorites, and the reasons cited by most include the Falcons’ porous defense and the emotional lift the 49ers should receive as they play the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. But notice that Vic Fangio mentioned Atlanta’s skill position guys, a list that would sound even more formidable if Julio Jones wasn’t lost for the season several weeks ago.
Fangio didn’t mention Atlanta’s offensive line, because he generally tells the truth during his weekly sessions. If pressed for some details about the way the Falcons open up lanes in the running game or protect their quarterback, Fangio probably would’ve had to either skirt the question or provide a general compliment how they’ve been “pretty good this year, probably not as good as they would like at times.”
Let’s take a look at what the Falcons are up against, with a little help from Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus.
Matt Ryan has been sacked 34 times this season, just as many times as Colin Kaepernick. But Kaepernick has only been pressured this season on 34.2% of his snaps while Ryan has faced pressure 41.2% of the time. That, along with the loss of Jones and White’s injury-plagued year, probably explain why Ryan is averaging almost a yard less per attempt this season than he did in 2012.
Aldon Smith is licking his chops. Our two lowest ranked pass blocking left tackles are Lamar Holmes (ATL) and Bradley Sowell (AZ). #49ers
— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) December 18, 2013
Aldon has four sacks, two quarterback hits and 16 hurries over the next four weeks, and he always seem to shine on Monday nights.
Steven Jackson averages 3.5 yards per carry. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling average 3.4. The 49ers allow an average of 3.9 yards per carry, a number that will probably shrink after Monday.
— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) December 20, 2013
The overall picture
The Falcons score 22.1 points per game, 22nd out of 32 NFL teams. They have the fewest rushing attempts and yards in the league. They lost 34-10 and 33-10 in consecutive weeks to the Panthers and Seahawks, respectively. That’s the type of game we should expect on Monday night. Who knows, maybe with all those former 49ers in the house we’ll see a game similar to this one (the second game I attended at Candlestick, after the 40-8 loss to Philly several weeks earlier).