NFL Nation: 2013 49ers-Falcons Quick Take

Quick Take: 49ers at Falcons

January, 13, 2013
1/13/13
7:10
PM ET
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: 49ers at Falcons

January, 13, 2013
1/13/13
6:01
PM ET
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 7-of-8 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.

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