Be honest. Did you even remember that the Atlanta Falcons were playing the nationally televised Monday Night Football game this week?! If you didn’t, now you know, and the Dirty Birds will be on the field for the first time since their close-fought win over Washington last Sunday. Let’s take a look at the particulars of the Falcons/49ers match-up.
Opponent - San Francisco 49ers (10-4 overall, 5-2 at home)
Time/TV - 8:30 PM ET (Monday Night), ESPN
Falcons Offense vs. 49ers Defense
This just in; the San Francisco defense is really good. The Niners are 3rd in the league in points allowed (16.4 per game), 5th in total defense (311.7 yards per game), 4th in passing defense (199.7 yards per game), and 6th in rushing defense (99.4 yards per game). Basically, they are balanced, talented, and terrifying.
In addition to the scary numbers, San Francisco is playing their best defensive football right now, as they have allowed 17-or-fewer points in 4 straight games. The linebacking corps is elite with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and they drive the entire defense, but for the most part, they are without weakness.
Matt Ryan has his hands full in this one, but on the bright side, the offense has been better recently, scoring 20+ points in three straight games. With the way the running game (still ranked dead last in the NFL) has played, though, the Niners defense is going to make things very difficult on Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Harry Douglas, and the only way to open up those passing lanes against a quality secondary will be to get something going on the ground.
Falcons Defense vs. 49ers Offense
It isn’t often that this side of the ball is (on paper) more favorable for the Falcons, but that may be the case here. San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick is certainly a big-time talent, but the Niners are only 30th in the NFL in passing yardage this season (179.1 yards per game), making them one-dimensional at times. Unfortunately, that dimension is very good, and also a bad match-up for the Falcons.
Frank Gore is over 1,000 yards yet again for San Francisco, and when you team him with quality “change-of-pace” guys and the speedy legs of Kaepernick, it forms the league’s 5th-best rushing attack. As mentioned, the Falcons are 29th against the run, and while they are certain to load the box, they have to do so at their own peril.
The Niners have an infusion of talent at wide receiver, as Michael Crabtree is finally back in the lineup, giving them 3 quality pass-catchers (Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis) for the first time this year. Playing at home, Kaepernick will certainly be comfortable, and nothing that Mike Nolan and company have put together so far this season will put any fear in the Niners offense.
At 4-10, the Falcons are still in firm contention for a top-5 NFL Draft pick, and that is the prime focus for some fans. That comes with the territory when the team is playing against a sometimes dominant, 10-4 San Francisco team in their own building, and to be honest, it would be outright shocking if the Falcons made this game terribly close, much less won it outright. Still, there will be much to evaluate during this game as the franchise focuses on the future, and this will also serve as the national “send-off” for what has been a long, long season.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Sunday morning, and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!