By Matthew Asher
Atlanta’s heart-attack inducing 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks should leave Falcons fans optimistic heading into the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.
For those who did see the game, on the surface there appears to be a lot of cause for concern: Atlanta led 20-0 at halftime, 27-7 after three quarters and gave up 21 points in the final quarter, trailing 27-28 with 31 seconds remaining.
But as bad as the Falcons team was in the fourth quarter, there is a lot to like about Atlanta’s overall performance. In the first half, Atlanta dominated Seattle in every facet of the game. Michael Turner was able to pick up 66 yards on the ground on just nine carries while Marshawn Lynch was held to just 27 yards on eight carries. If it wasn’t for Zach Miller’s production, Seattle would have mustered only 108 yards of total offense.
In the third quarter Seattle was finally able to score, but Atlanta answered right back. That third quarter drive, Atlanta’s only drive of the third quarter was a 14-play, 80-yard drive that took nearly seven and a half minutes and should have been the dagger. Not only did Atlanta match Seattle’s touchdown with one of their own, but possessing the ball for nearly half of the third quarter signaled that one more good drive from the Falcons in the fourth quarter would be all she wrote.
That didn’t happen. But despite all the bad things that happened to Atlanta in the fourth quarter, there is a positive note to take away from the game: when they needed to, Atlanta was able to win the game.
It may sound obvious, but if Atlanta’s offense not gotten kicker Matt Bryant within field goal range in less than 25 seconds, this article would not have been written. Now why is all of this important? Because San Francisco is a lot more identical to Seattle than you might originally think.
Colin Kaepernick has not been making the news because of his passing abilities. In the games that Kaepernick has played for the 49ers this season, he’s only averaging about 140 passing yards per game. The reason he’s a dangerous quarterback is the same reason Russell Wilson is dangerous: both can run the ball and are often successful when they do. For the record, Wilson averaged about 195 passing yards each game he played.
While Wilson finished the game as Seattle’s top rusher with 60 yards, Atlanta did a good job of limiting his damage on the ground. The majority of those yards were when Atlanta’s secondary blanketed the Seahawks receivers. It was only Atlanta’s inability to sack Wilson that led to those rushing yards.
Wilson and Lynch combined to rush for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Neither man had a 20-yard run and both touchdowns were scored from just one-yard deep. This means Atlanta did a good job of limiting the damage done by the two backs.
Green Bay was not so lucky. Kaepernick and Frank Gore combined for exactly 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Both Kaepernick touchdowns were long runs (the first was 20 yards and the second was 56 yards). Gore’s touchdown was from 2 yards away, but his longest run was a 26 yard gallop.
With that being said, the focus for the Falcons should be on limiting the ground attack of the 49ers and take their chances with Kaepernick throwing the ball. While it’s no guarantee for a victory, it certainly makes preparing for your opponent a lot easier.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.