49ers vs. Falcons: Can San Francisco Stop Atlanta's Passing Attack?
One thing we know Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff will be making themselves very familiar with throughout the week is Atlanta's explosive aerial attack.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was brilliant, but the Falcons responded with an equally impressive offensive performance of their own and pulled out the win in the final moments of the game.
So, let's say Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense dominates the Falcons defense as thoroughly as it did Green Bay's. Will it prove to be enough to advance to Super Bowl XLVII?
That'll be up to the 49ers defense to decide.
It would be unrealistic to expect San Fran to pile up another 579 yards of offense in Atlanta. Even if that was the case, it may not guarantee victory all on its own. The Seahawks accounted for 491 yards of offense and still managed to come up short.
The 49ers defense, however, has shown it is capable of shutting down passing attacks similar to Atlanta's time and time again. In the regular season alone this unit conquered Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, Matthew Stafford and the Lions, Drew Brees and the Saints and Tom Brady and the Patriots.
So, why not Ryan and the Falcons?
San Fran is currently a 3.5-point favorite (according to Bovada), so apparently Vegas believes the 49ers can get the job done. After seeing the way they dismantled the Packers in the second half of their divisional round bout, not many outside of Atlanta will be betting against them.
The Niners are known for their All-Pro laden front seven, but defensive backs coach Ed Donatell and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have quickly molded SF's secondary into one of the best in the NFL.
Free safety Dashon Goldson successfully built upon his Pro Bowl season of a year ago, earning first-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his six-year career.
Second-year corner Chris Culliver doubled his regular season interception and passes defensed totals from 2011 this year. One could make a case that he's already the best cornerback the 49ers have.
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Not bad for third-round pick.
And we can't forget about cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, who continuously make their presence known in both the running game and passing game. Same goes for safety Donte Whitner.
Even corner Perrish Cox, an offseason free-agent signing who spent time in Denver under Donatell's tutelage, is making a positive impact when his name is called upon.
In Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons possess two extremely talented receivers, each possessing a great deal of speed to compliment their great hands. Then you have Tony Gonzalez to deal with, the future Hall of Fame tight end fresh off his first-ever playoff win.
He's hungry for another, but Patrick Willis will have something to say about that.
Willis recently earned his fifth first-team All-Pro selection in six NFL seasons and has been sticking to tight ends like glue all year.
How No. 52 fares against one of the best tight ends the NFL has ever seen will have a great impact on the 49ers' success in this game, but one can only assume Willis will do just fine.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Willis hasn't allowed a passing touchdown since Week 2 against the Lions. He has since intercepted two passes and defended five. Including the postseason win over Green Bay, opposing quarterbacks have posted an unimpressive combined passer rating of 73.8 on throws sent Willis' way.
Do you expect the 49ers defense to shut down the Falcons air attack?
The 49ers allowed just 200 yards per game through the air in 2011, tops among all NFC squads. Their average of 6.1 passing yards per attempts was also No. 1 in the NFC and No. 2 in the NFL.
Of course, an enormous chunk of the credit should be doled out to the defensive line, namely Aldon and Justin Smith. Against Green Bay in the divisional win, SF even unleashed Willis up the middle on numerous occasions to effectively crash the pocket and thwart the Pack's downfield attack.
There's no doubting the Red and Gold will be prepared for an all-out brawl when they enter the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon. This is the shot at redemption they've been waiting for since that heartbreaking NFC Championship Game loss one year ago.
This is a 49ers team fully capable reaching Super Bowl XLVII if they play their best football for 60 minutes. But Harbaugh and the gang won't have two weeks to prepare for Atlanta like they did Green Bay.
The Niners will need to be aware of every little trick the Falcons might have up their sleeve, all the while coming up with a few more of their own.
Judging by what we've seen thus far, that's not going to be much of a problem.
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