NFC South: 2013 Quick Takes NFC

Quick Take: 49ers at Falcons

January, 13, 2013
Five things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in the Georgia Dome:

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.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Falcons

January, 6, 2013
Five things to know about Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome:

1. Red-hot Seahawks: For the third straight season, the Falcons could be facing an opponent that’s peaking at the right time. Last season, Atlanta lost to the New York Giants in the wild-card round. The year before that, the Falcons lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. Both the Giants and the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. Even before Sunday’s 24-14 victory against the Washington Redskins in the wild-card round, the Seahawks had won their previous five regular-season games and seven of their past eight.

2. Strength on strength: Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez, an offense that ranked in the top 10 all season is Atlanta’s biggest strength. But the Falcons are going to be facing a defense that allowed a league-low 245 points (15.3 points a game). The Seahawks haven’t given up more than 17 points in a game since Week 12 and allowed more than 20 points only once in the second half of the regular season.

3. Triple trouble: Atlanta’s defense could have its hands full with this matchup. We’ve heard a lot about the brilliant rookie season by Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He can pass, although he doesn’t have big-time playmakers at wide receiver. Wilson also can run out of the read option and the Falcons have some experience with that after facing Carolina’s Cam Newton (twice) and Washington’s Robert Griffin III during the regular season. But Seattle also often uses a traditional running game with Marshawn Lynch and that could be the biggest concern of all. The Falcons had trouble with power running games much of the season and ranked No. 21 against the run. They used their nickel package a lot in the regular season, but I think you might see them switch to a heavy dose of their 4-3 base defense, with middle linebacker Akeem Dent getting a lot of playing time to try to counter Lynch.

4. Home in the dome: The whole world knows the Falcons are 0-3 in the postseason in the Ryan-Mike Smith era. But two of those losses came on the road. Since Ryan arrived in 2008, he’s 33-5 at home in the regular season. Prior to a meaningless loss to Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale, the Falcons had won 11 straight home games. Despite their impressive win Sunday at Washington, the Seahawks aren't a great road team, going 3-5 in the regular season.

5. Getting healthy: While the Seahawks will come out of the wild-card round with some bumps and bruises, the Falcons look to be about as healthy as possible. The bye week gave defensive end John Abraham time to rest an ankle injury and cornerback Dunta Robinson time to get over a concussion. Strong safety William Moore, who missed the final four games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Saturday and should be at full strength for Sunday.