Matt Ryan had a great game, Matt Bryant came up big and the Falcons receivers were who we thought they were. The real surprise though was the Falcons rushing attack which amassed 162 yards on the ground. It was the Atlanta’s first game with over 100 yards rushing since week 13 when the racked up 126 against the New Orleans Saints in a 23-13 win. The running game made a difference in that game and in this game as well. More than the win, this was a big victory for the Atlanta Falcons after being scrutinized all season for a lackluster running game after boasting one of the NFL’s best for the last few seasons.
Michael Turner, who rushed for 98 yards, was heavily criticized all year for being “a step slow”, not “hitting the hole” like he used to and was even called old at times. Nevertheless, Turner came up big for the Falcons on Sunday, just as head coach Mike Smith intended when he and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter decided to limit his carries during the regular season. Jacquizz Rodgers had a solid game as well, carrying the pill 10 times for 64 yards. Many fans clamored for him to have a bigger role in the offense and replace Turner throughout the season when the Falcons struggled running the ball. Either way, the Falcons were able to effectively move the ball against the league’s 10th best rushing defense.
On Sunday, they will face a different beast in the San Francisco 49ers; a team who will be even more physical than the Seahawks and is better against the run. The 49ers finished the season with the 4th best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing a stingy 94.2 yards on the ground. Turner and Rodgers must “rise up” to the occasion once again and take pressure off Atlanta’s passing game if they are to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1999. It’s a tall order, but it must be done.
San Francisco will bring pressure and it will be relentless and Ryan will feel the heat. If Turner and Rodgers can run the ball effectively it could possibly free up some play-action to the best wide receiver corp in the league. It could also eliminate Colin Kaepernick’s time on the field. The Atlanta defense showed against Seattle they could contain a mobile quarterback for a little while but not the whole game. To compensate for that, Atlanta must be able to run on San Fran so that San Fran doesn’t run all over them.