- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
1. Same thing all over again? At least on paper, this matchup looks awfully similar to the one Atlanta won against Seattle on Sunday. Like the Seahawks, the 49ers have a young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can run out of the read option and a strong defense. The last time the Falcons and 49ers played, the game ended in a very similar way to the victory against the Seahawks -- with a decisive last minute field goal. In Week 4 of the 2010 season, San Francisco defensive back Nate Clements had a late interception of Matt Ryan. If Clements simply went down, the 49ers would have been able to run out the clock. But Clements attempted to return the interception and Atlanta receiver Roddy White made a great hustle play. White chased down Clements and stripped the ball. Guard Harvey Dahl recovered and Ryan led a quick drive that ended with Matt Bryant kicking a 43-yard field goal for the win.
2. New territory: The Falcons, who came into the league in 1966, are going to the NFC Championship Game for only the third time in franchise history. They won it in the 1998 season and lost it in the 2004 season. This will be the first time the Falcons have hosted an NFC Championship Game. That could weigh heavily in Atlanta’s favor. Since the arrival of coach Mike Smith in 2008, the Falcons are 34-8 in the Georgia Dome (regular season and postseason).
3. It's up to the O-line: One of the biggest keys to the game will be Atlanta’s offensive line. The Falcons did a great job protecting Ryan against the Seahawks. He wasn’t sacked while attempting 35 passes. But the 49ers thrive on their pass rush and it’s a big part of the reason why they’re in the NFC Championship Game. In their divisional round victory against Green Bay, the 49ers put Aaron Rodgers under duress or sacked him on 11 of his 43 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In those situations, Rodgers completed just two of nine passes for 13 yards.
4. Pounding on the ground: Atlanta’s running game, which struggled through most of the regular season, might be coming together at the right time. The Falcons rushed for 167 yards against the Seahawks, with Michael Turner leading the way with 98 yards on 14 carries. The Falcons had 88 rush yards after contact. The Falcons had 76 rush yards after contact in the first half, which is the most Atlanta has had in an opening half in the last four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
5. Opening the airways: The improved play from the running game might mean more play-action passing against San Francisco. Against Seattle, play action worked very well. Ryan was eight of 12 for 87 yards and three touchdowns when using play action.