Right now a lot of folks are still sitting in doubt of the Atlanta Falcons and their chances of beating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. But if Atlanta just looks back at some of their earlier successes (and failures), they could easily upset the favored 49ers.
By now, the Falcons should be accustomed to the read-option offense and how to properly defend it. With victories over the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III, the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton, and most recently Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons should feel fairly comfortable game planning for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers.
Atlanta just faced the number one scoring defense in the NFL, who had been giving up only 15.3 points per game, and hung 30 points on them. The fact that Seattle came back from a 20-point deficit may have seemed like a collapse on the part of the Falcons to some, but in truth it wasn’t surprising, as Seattle also led the league in plays of over 20 yards. San Francisco brings in a very similar style to Seattle; a punishing defense, a mobile quarterback, and a potent running attack.
It’s victories like the playoff win against Seattle that Atlanta can look back on and pick out the things that went well. Aggressive play calling on offense kept the Seattle defense on their heels, and the resurgent legs of Michael Turner limited their ability to double up on the Falcons wide receivers.
Where the Falcons will have to be even more diligent against San Francisco is on the defensive line. Generating a better pass rush and keeping lane integrity on the line will be crucial to limiting the big runs from Kaepernick.
The Seahawks were also missing their top pass-rusher in Chris Clemons, which undoubtedly played into the Falcons favor. Atlanta won’t be so lucky against San Francisco, as their go-to defensive end Justin Smith returned to play against the Green Bay Packers last week. As good as the Falcons offensive line played against Seattle, they will need to take it up one more notch against the Niners.
Atlanta did have a lot of trouble with one particular read-option quarterback this season, and that was Cam Newton, who seemed to move the ball at will against the Atlanta defense, and even when defenders were able to break through and get a hand on him, he always seemed able to escape.
Newton is 6’5 and 245 pounds, Kaepernick is 6’5 and 230 pounds, so the similarities in style and speed will be something that Atlanta will need to do some film study on to figure out how to better stop Kaepernick. Giving up nearly 400 yards of offense to Kaepernick as they did Newton will bring quick end to Atlanta’s postseason.
The Falcons have had some success, and a little failure, against offenses like San Francisco will bring into the Georgia Dome, and if they learn from their past, then the next stop will be New Orleans.