By Matthew Asher
Atlanta may be have the top seed in the NFC Playoffs. They may have home field advantage. But when the 49ers come to town, Atlanta is not expected to win, at least according to oddsmakers. Currently, the Falcons are a 3.5 point underdog. For the record, Atlanta was a 2.5 point favorite against Seattle, winning the game by just two points.
While the second seeded 49ers are no pushover, this team is not the 1985 Chicago Bears. Atlanta can beat San Francisco and these are three of the major keys to another Falcons victory.
Make Kaepernick Beat You With His Arm, Not His Legs.
As mentioned yesterday, the biggest key to victory will be limiting Colin Kaepernick’s scrambling ability. Kaepernick and Frank Gore both had field days against the Packers defense. Kaepernick gained 181 rushing yards and two touchdown runs while Gore picked up 119 yards and one touchdown. Both men individually out-gained the Packers running attack, which finished the game with just 104 yards.
This will be the fifth time Atlanta has faced off against a quarterback known for his mobility this season. The end results? Not bad. Atlanta had gone up against Cam Newton (twice), Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson going 3-1 in the process. The one time the Falcons lost to these mobile quarterbacks was when Cam Newton torched the Falcons’ defense for 116 yards on the ground. The Panthers rushed for a total of 195 yards.
The statistics in Atlanta’s win against the Panthers are a little different than you’d expect. Carolina actually rushed for more yards that game (199) than when they beat the Falcons. However, Newton was limited to “just” 86 rushing yards, but he made a key fumble in the fourth quarter, allowing Atlanta to get possession for their game-winning drive.
Against Washington, the Falcons did give up 129 rushing yards, but RG III accounted for only 7 of those yards on one rush. Sean Weatherspoon knocked Griffin out of the game with a concussion during his only run of the game.
Don’t just put pressure on Kaepernick, sack him.
It’s no secret that Atlanta is good at creating pressure for the quarterback, but not so great when it comes to sacking him. Atlanta picked up just 29 sacks, the fifth least in the league over the course of the regular season. Kaepernick has only been sacked 16 times, but that number is slightly deceiving since he didn’t make his first start until the Week 11 game against Chicago. Taking Alex Smith’s sacks into the equation as well, the 49ers have given up 41 sacks.
Protect Matt Ryan
Overall, the Falcons have done a decent job protecting Matty Ice. With the exception of the Carolina Panthers game where Ryan was sacked seven times (but came away with a win), the Atlanta offensive line has done a respectable job of protecting their quarterback. Ryan didn’t get sacked against Seattle so if the offensive line can repeat that performance, Atlanta will be in good shape. It won’t be easy though, because San Francisco has sacked quarterbacks 38 times, the 11th most in the league.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.