NFC West: 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. QB matchup. The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick ranked third and the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan ranked fourth in Total QBR during the regular season. Ryan was sixth and Kaepernick eighth in NFL passer rating. Kaepernick's rushing ability makes him the more dangerous quarterback in this matchup. He doesn't scramble the way Russell Wilson did against the Falcons, but he is a scoring threat every time he finds a running lane. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had 202 yards rushing against the Falcons in two games during the regular season. Kaepernick had 181 yards rushing against Green Bay in the divisional round.

2. Traveling well. The 49ers own road victories against Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, Seattle, Green Bay, St. Louis, Arizona, the New York Jets, New Orleans and New England since Jim Harbaugh became head coach. Kaepernick had four touchdown passes and was the NFC's offensive player of the week after leading the 49ers to a 41-34 victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in December. Good teams can win anywhere. The 49ers have proven they can win, regardless of venue.

3. Unfamiliar opponent. San Francisco came close to playing this game against division-rival Seattle at Candlestick Park. Playing at home would have been great, but facing an opponent less familiar with the 49ers could have advantages, too. The Falcons' run defense was susceptible during the regular season. The 49ers' playbook features a higher volume of running plays than usual. That will put pressure on a Falcons team that hasn't faced the 49ers during the Harbaugh era. The Packers appeared unprepared.

4. Nolan revisited. Former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is the Falcons' defensive coordinator. He was last with the 49ers in 2008. Much has changed since then. Nolan's history with the 49ers isn't likely to affect the matchup. It's an aspect of interest to 49ers fans, however. Nolan posted an 18-37 record as coach for the team beginning in 2005. The Falcons' defense finished the regular season ranked fifth in points, 10th in Total QBR, 24th in yards, 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per rush, 23rd in passing yards, 21st in net pass yards per attempt, fourth in interceptions per attempt and fifth in the red zone.

5. Standard pressure key. Ryan made plays against the Seattle blitz once the Seahawks determined their standard pressure wouldn't suffice without injured defensive end Chris Clemons. Ryan threw a pick the first time Seattle rushed a defensive back, but he then completed seven of eight passes for 111 yards and a touchdown when the Seahawks used that tactic subsequently. The 49ers rarely blitz. They probably will not have to take chances if defensive end Justin Smith remains effective after returning from a triceps injury. That could be a key difference for the 49ers.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Falcons

January, 6, 2013
Five things to know about Sunday's Seattle Seahawks divisional-round playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome next week:

1. Beast mode: Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch has reached 100 yards rushing in 11 games this season, counting the playoffs. He faces a Falcons defense that allowed 100-plus yards to Tampa Bay's Doug Martin (142), Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling (127), Carolina's Cam Newton (116), Washington’s Alfred Morris (115) and Denver’s Willis McGahee (113). The Falcons never had a running back with more than 103 yards in a game. Michael Turner had 103 against Carolina in Week 4 and 102 against Dallas in Week 9.

2. QB options: The Seahawks have enjoyed great success with option runs featuring Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson. They had 110 yards on 11 such carries during their wild-card victory over Washington. The Panthers' Newton had a 72-yard touchdown run during a 30-20 victory over the Falcons this season. He had 202 yards rushing against Atlanta this season, more than any other player gained against the Falcons.

3. Opposites: These teams from the Southeast and Northwest have more than geography to differentiate them. The Seahawks have the second-youngest roster in the NFL, counting players on various reserve lists. The Falcons have the fifth-oldest roster. The Seahawks have the NFL’s best strength-of-victory percentage (.534), meaning the teams they defeated had a higher winning percentage than the teams anyone else defeated. The Falcons played the NFL’s easiest schedule. The Seahawks had the NFL's highest percentage of called running plays (49.8) this season. The Falcons had the seventh-lowest percentage of called runs (35.1).

4. Wilson cools off: Seattle's rookie quarterback led the NFL in Total QBR (84.1) from Week 10 through the conclusion of the regular season. The 36.7 QBR score he posted against Washington in the wild-card round was his lowest in a game since a Week 7 defeat at San Francisco. That included a 9.7 QBR number on 17 drop-backs when the Redskins pressured with five or more pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Falcons ranked fifth in QBR allowed (29.4) when rushing five or more defenders. They pressured on 29.3 percent of drop-backs, right near the league average.

5. Injury impact: The Seahawks lost starting defensive end and leading pass-rusher Chris Clemons to a potentially serious knee injury Sunday. Clemons played 86.4 percent of the Seahawks' defensive snaps on his way to 11.5 sacks during the regular season. No other defensive lineman or linebacker on the team has played more than 62 percent of the snaps this season. Losing Clemons likely would force rookie Bruce Irvin into an every-down role, a big adjustment with consequences against the run.

Quick Take: Packers at 49ers

January, 5, 2013
Five things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' divisional-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park next week:

1. Full circle. The 49ers opened their regular season with a 30-22 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field. They jumped to leads of 10-0 and 23-7 before the Packers made the game close with Randall Cobb's disputed 75-yard punt return for a touchdown. Alex Smith completed 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers, a 125.6 NFL passer rating and an 83.5 Total QBR score. Smith completed 15 of 16 passes when targeting wide receivers. That's a high bar to clear for Smith's replacement, Colin Kaepernick.

2. The Kaepernick dynamic. The Packers faced option plays and zone-read plays only twice during the regular season, the lowest figure in the NFL. They allowed minus-1 yard on these two plays. The 31 other teams faced an average of 14 such plays for 87.5 yards during the regular season. Green Bay's inexperience defending these plays could work to the 49ers' advantage if they unleash an option or zone-read package. Kaepernick had a 50-yard gain in the fourth quarter on a designed run against Miami. He had a 50-yard scramble against St. Louis, also in the fourth quarter. The Packers allowed 187 yards on 24 scrambles this season.

3. Don't forget Gore. Frank Gore carried 16 times for 112 yards against the Packers in Week 1. Gore and Adrian Peterson were the only running backs to top 100 yards rushing against the Packers in a game this season. Marshawn Lynch had 98 yards on 25 carries for Seattle against the Packers in Week 3. No one else had more than 84 yards against Green Bay. Gore had six rushes for 72 yards and a touchdown running outside the tackles.

4. Fatigue factor. The 49ers needed the bye week to rest. They rely upon a smaller number of defensive players to log a higher percentage of the snaps, putting them at risk for fatigue. That was a problem for the 49ers when New England had 90-plus offensive plays against San Francisco in Week 15. Green Bay had 61 plays against San Francisco in Week 1, a typical number. The Packers possessed the ball for 70 or more plays in games against Tennessee (76), Minnesota (73), Chicago (71), Arizona (70) and Houston (70). For the 49ers, nine players participated in at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps this season. The figure would have been 10 if Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith hadn't missed the final two-plus games.

5. Kicking games in focus. The 49ers and Packers have the three kickers with the lowest field goal percentages for the 2012 regular season. Billy Cundiff, signed by the 49ers as insurance amid David Akers' struggles from 40-plus yards, made a league-low 58.3 percent of his field goal tries this season (7 of 12). Green Bay's Mason Crosby was at 63.6 percent, the second-worst rate. Akers made 69 percent. Those three were the only qualifying kickers below 70 percent for the 2012 season. Akers' 63-yard field goal at Lambeau in the opener was a highlight for the 49ers that day. Seems like five years ago.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Redskins

December, 31, 2012
Five things to know about next Sunday's Seattle Seahawks-Washington Redskins wild-card playoff game at FedEx Field:

1. Rookie QB battle. Seattle's Russell Wilson and Washington's Robert Griffin III are leading candidates for offensive rookie of the year. Wilson is healthier than Griffin. He has been hotter late in the season. Both start fresh in the playoffs. Both benefit from running backs with more than 1,500 yards for the regular season. The big question is to what degree Griffin can challenge the Seahawks' defense after suffering a knee injury late in the season and taking hits from Dallas in Week 17.

2. On the road again. Seattle finished its regular season with an 8-0 record at home. The team was 3-5 on the road. Three of those defeats came against NFC West opponents in the first seven weeks of the season. The Seahawks have won their last two road games largely because zone-read plays have pushed their offense into another gear. Wilson leads the NFL in Total QBR on the road since Week 8. His 107.2 NFL passer rating on the road over that span ranks third behind Matt Ryan (113.9) and Aaron Rodgers (112.5).

3. Restored secondary. Seattle welcomes back starting cornerback Brandon Browner from a four-game suspension this week. No one knows how well Browner will acclimate. He's eligible to rejoin the team Monday. Browner had three interceptions and three forced fumbles before serving his suspension. He was a Pro Bowl choice last season. At the very least, Browner restores welcome depth to the secondary. He and cornerback Richard Sherman (eight picks) form a formidable tandem at their best.

4. What a rush. The Seahawks and Redskins both ranked among the NFL's top five in rushing yards this season. Redskins rookie Alfred Morris broke Clinton Portis' franchise single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards. He overtook Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (1,590) for second in rushing yards this season behind Adrian Peterson.

5. Big-play threats. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice have not been prolific wide receivers, but they have been big-play threats in critical situations. Rice caught the 46-yard game-winner against New England. Tate's disputed game-winner against Green Bay covered 24 yards. Tate set up the winning touchdown Sunday with a 44-yard reception in the final four minutes. The Seahawks finished the regular season with 11 receptions of at least 40 yards, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. That includes seven since Week 11, tied with Indianapolis for most in the NFL. The Redskins are close behind with five over that span.