John Abraham is the leads all active players in career sacks, with 122. That might not last long with 29-year-old Jared Allen only five sacks behind. But Abraham, 33, is still going strong. He registered 10 sacks in 2012, along with seven pass deflections and six forced fumbles, and was by almost any conceivable measure the best defensive player on the Atlanta Falcons.
Mike Smith may not have had anything to do with the nonsensical onside kick from Matt Bosher with eight seconds remaining in Sunday’s Divisional Round game against the Seahawks. But even if that’s what Smith called for, it would have looked like a genius move compared to the decision to put his team’s season in jeopardy because finishing 14-2 was supposedly so important two weeks earlier.
Abraham was injured in the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay game in the regular season finale when head coach Mike Smith elected to play his starters despite having the No. 1 seed wrapped up.
Abraham plans to be ready for the 49ers.
“Oh yeah, you know me, you can’t keep me out of that game,” Abraham said. “We’re going to treat the (heck) out of it.”
I think we all know what “treat” means. Abraham could be talking about ankle tape, acupuncture and supportive high-tops. He could also be referring to Toradol and/or other pain relievers. Regardless, Abraham surely tried several creative measures to get his ankle ready to face the Seattle Seahawks, but he had to leave in the second quarter anyway after only 16 snaps when he “just couldn’t push off of it anymore.”
Clearly, the Falcons are hoping Abraham recovers like the 49ers’ great defensive lineman Justin Smith, whose triceps injury caused great concern until Colin Kaepernick threw an early pick-6. From that point on the 49ers had other worries, and Smith played the entire game while producing (especially while defending the run).
Not enough information exists to know whether or not Abraham can play (he was listed as a “limited” participant in practice on Wednesday). Or, if he can’t, whether Atlanta can cover up well enough for his absence to keep the 49ers’ offense from outscoring the Falcons. But if Abraham can’t go, Atlanta’s pass rush takes a huge hit.
In 2012, Abraham accounted for 31% of his team’s sacks, 17% of its QB hits, 22% of its QB hurries and 54% of its batted passes. Pro Football Focus gave Abraham a pass rush score of 22.2 for the season, and the closest Falcons to Abraham were Jonathan Babineaux (4.7) and Sean Weatherspoon (4.4). PFF ranked Abraham as the fifth best pass rushing 4/3 DE in the NFL. No. 4 was Chris Clemons, who Seattle sorely missed in Atlanta after tearing his ACL in the Wild Card round.
Even at 33, Abraham is really, really good. However, he isn’t good enough to beat Joe Staley or Anthony Davis one-on-one with a bum ankle. And though Abraham isn’t a bad run defender, the 49ers would surely run straight at him to see how his injury holds up. If Abraham can play, Atlanta will probably be forced to limit his snaps to obvious passing downs, which would mean more snaps than usual for guys like Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews. That’s bad news for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who like Abraham is tasked with preparing for the first conference title game he has ever been a part of.