After beating the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs last week, the Atlanta Falcons will host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EST.
To no Falcons fan’s surprise, Atlanta are underdogs in the match-up. In any case, there are three ways the Falcons can at least give themselves a chance at defeating the 49ers and advancing to Super Bowl XLVII.
Generate a pass rush.
John Abraham aggravated his sprained ankle against the Seahawks and didn’t return to the game. The good news is Abraham says he’ll be ready for Sunday’s game. With their best pass rusher unavailable in the game versus Seattle, the Falcons had absolutely no pass rush. Russell Wilson had nearly all day in the pocket to find a receiver or scramble for a positive gain. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a bit different than Wilson; if the Falcons can’t pressure Kaepernick, he’ll immediately gash them for a huge gain on the ground. Essentially, Wilson scrambles to throw, and Kaepernick scrambles to run. A successful pass rush would pressure Kaepernick and negate both his ability to find the open receiver and his ability to scramble for chunks of yardage.
Continue to defend the run well.
The Falcons run defense was gashed throughout the regular season, but it showed up big against one of the NFL’s leading rushers in Marshawn Lynch. The running back was held to just 46 yards on 16 carries. The 49ers were the league’s fourth-ranked rushing offense in the regular season, and they boast several players – Frank Gore, LaMichael James, and Kaepernick – who can run the ball. Against the Green Bay Packers last week, the 49ers rushed for 323 yards, led by Kaepernick who rushed for 181 yards – an NFL record for a quarterback. If Atlanta wants to have any chance at winning this game, they can not allow the 49ers to rush for anywhere near that amount of yards.
Cover the tight end.
Atlanta neglected to cover Zach Miller last week, and the tight end responded with eight receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown. On nearly every catch, Miller was wide open. If the Falcons fail to cover Vernon Davis this week, it could get ugly in a hurry. Davis is much, much faster than Miller, so he wouldn’t be caught as easily. Although Kaepernick does not throw to Davis much, it would be hard not to look his way if he’s running uncontested through the Falcons defense.