Can the 49ers Tame the Falcons, or Will They Be Trapped?

The Atlanta Falcons are ranked dead last in the NFL (#32) in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). The San Francisco 49ers travel to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans next Thursday night, on the eve of Christmas Eve. With these two facts in mind, it would be easy for the players to look ahead to the game vs a team with one the best records in the AFC. Here’s why they shouldn’t:

The Falcons are 6-7 & have won two out their last three games. They are also 5-2 on the road & have beaten the New Orleans Saints & Carolina Panthers – both teams that have very stout defenses. They also barely lost the Carolina Panthers & the Washington Football Team. All of these teams are currently in the playoffs mix, along the 49ers.

Falcons’ DT Grady Jarrett is absolute monster in the middle of their defensive line. He is a game-wrecker, just watch his performance in the last time the Falcons visited Levi’s Stadium in 2019. Luckily, the 49ers have veteran C Alex Mack now and not Ben Garland, but I expect Grady to still be a big problem for the 49ers’ interior offensive line. LBs Deion Jones & Foyesade Oluokun make a formidable tandem, which can be trouble for a QB like Jimmy Garoppolo, who loves to throw over the middle (often blind to any linebacker/safety lurking in the area). OLB/DE Dante Fowler leads the Falcons’ defense with 4.5 sacks. CB AJ Terrell has been on lockdown mode the last three games. The Falcons’ run defense is ranked 23rd in yards allowed (49ers’ run defense is ranked 18th), and their pass defense is ranked 20th (49ers’ pass defense is ranked 6th, but #1 in DPI yards, so it’s a bit misleading).

Offensively, the Falcons have a very formidable run game. Their previous rushing performances:

  • 128 rushing yards, almost 4 yards per carry vs the Carolina Panthers
  • 121 rushing yards, almost 5.3 yards per carry vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 149 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry vs the Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 103 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per carry vs the Dallas Cowboys
  • 108 rushing yards, 3.8 yards per carry vs the New York Jets
  • 99 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per carry vs the Washington Football Team
  • 124 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry vs the Philadelphia Eagles

Anything over 4.0 YPC is good, over 4.5 YPC is very good, over 5.0 YPC is amazing. That makes 7 games, out of 13, with 99+ rushing yards, including 3 of the last 3. RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson has 547 rushing yards & 5 rushing TDs, on 122 carries this season. RB (& former 49er) Mike Davis has 322 rushing yards & 2 rushing TDs, on 111 carries. The 49ers’ run defense has been pretty good lately, but this could strength on strength in this week’s matchup.


The Falcons’ passing game is led by veteran and former MVP, Matt Ryan, who has the most passing yards of any QB in their first 13 seasons (58,871 yards). This season he has totaled 68.1 %, 3,104 yards, 17 TDs, 11 INTs, 6.9 YPA, 90.1 passer rating & 49.2 QBR. Rookie TE Kyle Pitts was the #4 overall pick, selected just after the 49ers took Trey Lance at #3 overall. Not surprisingly, he is the Falcons’ leading receiver, with 770 yards & 1 TD. RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson is their second leading receiver with 519 yards & 5 TDs (a very impressive 1,066 yards & 10 TDs from scrimmage). WR Russell Gage is their third leading receiver with 464 yards & 2 TDs. WR Olamide Zaccheaus is their fourth leading receiver with 366 yards & 3 TDs. TE Hayden Hurst is a red zone threat, with 161 yards & 2 TDs. The Falcons are ranked 17th in passing yards (49ers are 15th).

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To say that this game has huge playoff implications, would be a massive understatement. If the 49ers win, then their chances of making the playoffs would rise to 88%. However if the 49ers lose, then their chances of making the playoffs would drop to 43%.

On paper, it looks like it should be a fairly easy win for the good guys. However, it looked that way the last time the Falcons came to Levi’s in 2019. Back then the 49ers’ secondary was banged up & the Falcons managed to pull off a big upset, scoring the game-winning TD with :02 left on the clock. That loss was brought to the 49ers by a career day from WR Julio Jones, who is now on the Tennessee Titans. A lot of things have changed since that game, but some things, like the 49ers’ defense being banged up, have stayed the same.

As of Wednesday 12/15, pass-rusher Dee Ford has been ruled out for the 2021 season. There are rumors he will be released shortly. The following 49ers did not practice: LB Fred Warner (ankle), LB Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow), LB Dre Greenlaw (groin), DT DJ Jones (knee), CB Dontae Johnson (personal), DT Maurice Hurst (calf), RB Elijah Mitchell (knee/concussion) & George Kittle the goaTE (knee). Limited participants included: CB Ambry Thomas (concussion) & S Jaquiski Tartt (glute). As of Thursday 12/16, here is the practice report:

Could this be a potential trap game for the 49ers? With a trip to Nashville to face the Titans next Thursday looming, this becomes a very losable game. Especially, if the team comes out flat at home (sound familiar?), or if some of those key players don’t recover as quickly as originally hoped for, or have setbacks.

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As of now, I would have to say that the 49ers won’t fall victim to a trap game this week, especially if they get their injured studs back. However, I do think that it will be a close game, which would favor the Falcons, since they are 6-2 in one-score games. As usual, I will make my formal prediction about an hour prior to kickoff, once we know exactly who will play & who won’t. Make sure you follow me on Twitter so you don’t miss it!

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