Let’s jump right in to these advantages the 49ers should have going into the NFC Championship Game. You know the format. Be sure to check out the contest at the bottom, unless you don’t like free pizza.
1. 49ers’ run blocking vs. Falcons’ run defense
During the win over the Packers, the yardage totals were obscene. So were some of the blocks. They’re still trying to dig pieces of Brad Jones’ jersey out of the turf after Mike Iupati’s block on Frank Gore’s 11-yard run that set up an Anthony Dixon’s fourth quarter touchdown. The Falcons gave up 4.8 yards per carry during the season, and only Marshawn Lynch having a lackluster game kept the Seahawks’ from averaging more than the 4.4 yards per carry they did. Russell Wilson rushed seven times for 60 yards and the Falcons had trouble against Cam Newton — Colin Kaepernick should have some openings unless the Falcons focus their entire defensive gameplan on stopping the 49ers’ QB from running. And if they do…
2. 49ers’ pass blocking vs. Falcons’ pass rush
The 49ers would have the advantage here anyway, but they should have a much easier time in pass protection with John Abraham (ankle) and Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) both listed as questionable.
3. 49ers’ run defense vs. Falcons’ rushing offense
I asked Carlos Rogers if it’s easier or harder to deal with a team that has two great receivers (like Atlanta) or a team with more good receivers including a dangerous slot threat. Rogers talked about how the Packers were a bit of a one-dimensional team, and complimented the Falcons’ Hall of Fame tight end. Then he said, “They also can run the ball, so what do you do? That’s why we got a great coordinator that’s on the same page with our players and communication. We’ll be up for the task. We will.”
Thing is, Rogers was showing some of that southern hospitality. The Falcons aren’t really all that great at running the ball, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry on the season. The Seahawks gave up 160 rushing yards in Atlanta, but they were exhausted and trying to figure out how to cover for the loss of Chris Clemons. It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Falcons don’t decide to either live or die with Roddy White and Julio Jones, without many rushing attempts in the fourth quarter.
An aside: it didn’t deserve consideration as a matchup to exactly exploit, but I can see Rogers blitzing once or twice since the Falcons don’t have a slot guy to babysit across the middle. He’ll probably be used a bit on run defense as well, kind of like a No. 2.5 safety.
4. Patrick Willis vs. Tony Gonzalez
Gonzalez has 13 receptions in two meetings against Willis’ 49ers, but only 96 yards and no touchdowns. Gonzalez is still an amazing player, who didn’t just catch a pass in the back of the end zone but also finished with the highest run blocking score of any Falcon according to Pro Football Focus, with a 2.6. However, Gonzalez is more dangerous as a receiver than as a blocker, and Willis is the best in coverage of any inside linebacker in the NFL. The last time these two greats faced was 2010, and now Gonzalez is nearing the end of his career and Willis is better at covering tight ends than ever.
5. Ray McDonald and Justin Smith vs. Peter Konz
Konz, a 2012 second-round pick at right guard, isn’t bad. But he’s the weak link on the Falcons offensive line, and he’ll be facing a pair of defensive linemen who’ve been around a while and happen to be awesome.
Five exploitable matchups for the 49ers, and I barely mentioned Colin Kaepernick at all. As long as the 49ers don’t put the ball on the turf or tip it into a Falcon’s hands, things should work out. The 49ers should control the line of scrimmage on both sides, and they don’t have any discernible weaknesses elsewhere that should keep them from winning. That’s why I’m predicting a score of …
Congratulations to Ian T., the winner of Wednesday’s contest (who’s your favorite football announcer), and for his efforts he’ll receive a large pizza from Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria!
To win a large pizza of your own, predict the score of the NFC Championship Game.
First tiebreaker: Closest to the correct margin of victory
Second tiebreakder: points scored by both teams combined
If a third tiebreaker is needed, we’ll figure out something. Good luck!