By Matthew Asher
One of the good things to take away from any terrible game performance is the ability to review mistakes and make strides toward fixing said mistakes. With that said, the Falcons have a lot to work on following their 30-20 thumping by the Carolina Panthers.
While Atlanta has already clinched a top four playoff seed, what teams should they be worried about? Assuming Week 14 was the last week of the NFL’s regular season, the other five NFC teams to clinch a Playoff spot would be the 49ers, Packers, Giants, Seahawks and Bears.
Stopping or Limiting a Mobile Quarterback
Newton was responsible for all three Carolina touchdowns and more than 400 of his team’s 475 yards of total offense. Of the five other NFC Playoff teams, three of them have quarterbacks who are definitely mobile.
While nowhere near the runner that Newton is, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson are all mobile quarterbacks and have proven that when they need to scramble to pick up yards, they have no problem tucking the ball in and picking up the yardage the old fashioned way.
Atlanta wouldn’t have to face San Francisco until the NFC Championship game, but Kaepernick is probably the one quarterback they don’t want to face. Not only does Colin have the most rushing touchdowns (5) of these three quarterbacks, but since he’s really only played in the last five San Francisco games, he’s much fresher and will be less of an injury risk.
When the Passing Game Fails
Anyone who has been following the Falcons this season knows that the running game, specifically Michael Turner, has been the Achilles Heel of the team. In seven of the games he’s played this season, Turner failed to eclipse the 50-yard rushing mark. Even worse, in three games he’s failed to eclipse the 20-yard rushing mark. Those three games have all happened in the last five Falcons games.
While Matt Ryan and company have the fourth best passing game in both the NFL and NFC averaging 289.2 yards per game, these are the teams that are the best at limiting yardage through the air. This is a two-part analysis that takes into account a team’s ability to first stop the pass and then see how good they are at also stopping the run.
Three of the NFC Playoff teams rank in the top six in passing defense in the NFL, and also all rank in the the top four for the NFC. San Francisco’s 184.7 pass yards per game is the best in the NFC and second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seattle’s 196.3 passing yards allowed is the second best in the NFC and fourth best overall. Finally, Chicago’s 205.5 passing yards given up each game is the fourth best in the NFC and sixth best in the NFL.
For the record, the Giants give up the sixth most passing yards in the NFL and fourth most in the NFC with 252.8 yards each game. Atlanta and Green Bay are right in the middle of the NFL, giving up the 16th and 17th most yards through the air each game, respectively and are separated by just three-tenths of a yard per game.
Using the Running Game to Win
But what about these five teams and their ability to stop the run? Unfortunately for Atlanta, there are two teams great at stopping the run as well: the 49ers and Seahawks. Giving up just 90.8 yards on the ground each game, San Francisco is tied with the Houston Texans for second place in the NFL. The Seahawks have the tenth best run defense in the NFL, fourth in the NFC, allowing 105.4 yards per game.
The Bears rank fifth in the NFC, and twelfth in the NFL giving up 108.7 yards. Green Bay is fifteenth in the NFL and eighth in the NFC with 116.7 yards. New York rounds up the run defense ranking thirteenth in the NFC and eleventh worst in the NFL with 123.3 yards.
With all of that taken into account, the one team Atlanta should match up favorably against is the New York Giants while the San Francisco 49ers are the one team that Atlanta does not want to face.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.