Another NFC West team for Atlanta to see with another bright young quarterback leading the charge.
Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers take their show on the road to the South of the country to face the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. Both teams enter Sunday as the top two seeded teams in the NFC with Atlanta being #1. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers ran over the Green Packers by a final of 45-31 to get here and the Falcons barely edged out a win over the Seattle Seahawks 30-28 after Seattle had made an amazing comeback.
This is familiar for almost all of the San Francisco players as the 49ers were in this spot last year when they hosted the NFC Title game vs. the New York Giants. New York ended up winning that game in Overtime 20-17 largely due to two fumbles by punt returner Kyle Williams in which the 2nd fumble lead to the game winning field goal by the Giants.
Despite this being the 2nd straight NFC Title game the 49ers have been in, Patrick Willis knows how rare it can be.
“Although we were here last year, the prior, four years before that we were at home those other times, we didn’t make the playoffs,” Willis said. “So just to have this opportunity again and to be here, it’s one of those things we don’t take for granted. We know that window for chances like this is slim and we have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
As for the Falcons, it’s actually the first time that Atlanta is hosting the NFC Championship game. They haven’t been this far in the postseason since January 23, 2005 when Atlanta lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10.
After his spectacular performance against the Packers, Colin Kaepernick has become a sensation across the football landscape along with his signature move of flexing his arm and kissing his biceps or “Kaepernicking.” Colin even got on the cover of Sports Illustrated which surprised even him.
“It was something that I didn’t expect,” Kaepernick said. “It kind of surprised me, but it’s a great honor.”
Kaepernick ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers last Saturday. He also threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns to Michael Crabtree. Almost all of this coming after an interception returned for a touchdown Kaepernick gave up on the first drive of the game. Falcons head coach Mike Smith certainly knows how dangerous a quarterback like Kaepernick can be.
“Colin’s got some very good long speed,” Smith said. “I think that was evident in the 57-yard run in the game on Saturday night. He’s very impressive. He’s long and picks up a lot of ground when he’s running when he gets into the open.”
While certainly fans expect Colin to run all over the city of Atlanta, it might not be as easy at it sounds. The Falcons were able to defeat Russell Wilson, a quarterback that plays similarly to Kaepernick, preventing him from being a factor until the 2nd half of that game. Atlanta Safety William Moore considers the experience of facing Wilson the previous week a good thing for the team.
“I think Russell Wilson was the best example we can get for this week as far as Colin this week,” Moore said. “From last week, I think it prepared us a lot for this week. I think we’ll be well prepared.”
There is also the fact that Atlanta has faced Cam Newton twice in the regular season that gives them more experience against a running quarterback. The Falcons split their two games with the Panthers with the loss coming the 2nd time around in Carolina. In those two games, Newton ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns along with 502 passing yards and four touchdown passes.
As for Atlanta’s offense, their quarterback Matt Ryan had a career statement game himself this last weekend against Seattle. With less than 30 seconds to go and down by one, Ryan was able to to throw for 41 yards on two plays to get the Falcons within field goal range where Matt Bryant made the game winning 49 yard kick. While certainly not his best performance as he threw two interceptions earlier in the game, Ryan showed he can be clutch when it counts.
“Matt’s done an outstanding job,” Mike Smith said during Monday’s press conference. “The offense has done an outstanding job. The one thing that was very evident on that sideline was that we were very confident with 31 seconds and two timeouts we could move the ball into field goal range. We’ve done it many times, not only this year, but in years past. We just never had an opportunity to do it in the second season. We’ve now checked that one off.”
Matt Ryan and the passing game, however, certainly have their work cut out for them Sunday. They face a team that was 4th in pass defense during the season allowing on average 200.2 passing yards per game, that held Aaron Rodgers to just 257 passing yards last Saturday, and managed to beat the Packers twice this year with the first time coming back in week 1 of the regular season. Now certainly part of the 49ers success vs. Rodgers last week was partly due to the fact they kept him off the field for so long as San Francisco had the ball for just over 38 minutes. But consider that possession time and think that the 49ers will try and do that again in Atlanta.
While the passing game has been their strength during the regular season, rushing might aid the Falcons against the 49ers. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 162 yards vs. Seattle averaging 6.75 yards per carry between them. Despite the fact that San Francisco is the 4th best run defense in the league, teams have run big on the 49ers a couple times this year which means there is a chance that Turner and Rodgers could have good games again. At the very least, Atlanta’s ground game could make San Francisco respect it enough to make Matt Ryan and the pass attack more effective.
Of course San Francisco’s running backs can ground and pound just as good as anyone. While LaMichael James will have the occasional carry, it will be Frank Gore charging out of the backfield more often than not. Gore ran for 1214 yards during the regular season and had 119 rushing yards along with a touchdown against Green Bay.
“I thought he had some just incredible runs in our last game on those types of plays,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s of no surprise to us here.”
Kaepernick and Gore could end up having big days in Atlanta. The Falcons are ranked 21st in rush defense which is actually four spots worse than the Packers. The saving grace for Atlanta is the fact they were able to hold Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks to just 46 yards on 19 carries.
What will happen in the NFC Championship game this Sunday? Expect the 49ers to run it however they can while the Falcons try and contain that along with Kaepernick. Meanwhile, Atlanta will try and figure out how to beat the San Francisco’s defense by air while also working the ground game to establish play action for Ryan. Atlanta must contain Kaepernick along with not making any mistakes on offense in order to win. San Francisco, on the other hand, needs to make sure Matt Ryan is stifled while their offense controls the ball and time of the clock.
About the Author
Written by Daniel Trucios