NFC Championship 2013: Biggest Questions Facing 49ers and Falcons

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 13:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates a third quarter touchdown pass against the Seattle Seahawks during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Georgia Dome on January 13, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Following two very different performances in the divisional round, the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons start with a clean slate heading into the NFC Championship Game. 

With a new week and new opponent come new questions that both teams have to ask themselves and figure out the answers to if they want to take that final step and make their way to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII. 

We, both fans and the media, are such an over-reactionary group when it comes to the NFL. We have to change our opinion of a team based on one game, so it is impossible to ever get a real read on where someone, be it a player or team, is at. 

Here are the questions the 49ers and Falcons will be asking themselves heading into Sunday. 


San Francisco 49ers


How will Colin Kaepernick perform on the road?

We all had to ask how Kaepernick would fare in his first playoff start last week against Green Bay. After 444 total yards and four touchdowns, it is safe to say that he answered that question in spectacular fashion. 

Now Kaepernick has to take his show on the road. He will not have to deal with any weather conditions in the Georgia Dome. The crowd is another story. 

Remember back in Week 16 when the 49ers went to Seattle? They were out of sorts on offense from the time that game started. Kaepernick looked uncomfortable and there were numerous times where they were called for a delay of game penalty or had to waste timeouts. 

Granted, there is a world of difference between Seattle and Atlanta defensively. But that crowd in the Georgia Dome will be going nuts, so it is on Kaepernick and the offense to take it out of the game early. 



Will the 49ers defense keep Matt Ryan in check?

Kaepernick and the 49ers offense got all the love after putting up 579 yards against Green Bay, but the defense made it possible for them to do all that damage by never allowing Aaron Rodgers to get in a comfortable rhythm. 

Rodgers had five completions in the first half of the game. Tarell Brown's interception in the second quarter, which he returned just beyond midfield, gave the 49ers great field position that allowed them to take a 21-14 lead. 

Now the 49ers get to take on Matt Ryan, who led the NFL in completion percentage during the regular season. He didn't play with enough consistency against Seattle, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions, to make you think he is going to run through this defense. 

One area the 49ers have struggled defending the pass is against slot receivers. New England's Wes Welker picked them apart in the second half of that Week 15 game.

St. Louis' Danny Amendola, while not always playing in that spot, is more of a slot receiver. He had 102 receiving yards against them in Week 10, a total that doesn't include an 80-yard catch he had in overtime that was called back due to a penalty for an illegal shift. 


Atlanta Falcons


Will the Falcons be able to run the ball again?

One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was Atlanta finding a running game against Seattle. After ranking 29th in the league in rushing yards during the regular season, the Falcons burned the 10th-ranked run defense for 167 yards. 

It was because of their ability to run the ball that the Falcons were able to open things up down the field with Roddy White and Julio Jones. They forced the Seahawks to respect the run, preventing Pete Carroll from dropping more guys into coverage. 

However, it is important to note that Seattle was playing without star defensive end Chris Clemons. He is the heart and soul of that front seven, so losing him was always going to hurt. 

The 49ers come into this game looking as healthy as they have in a long time. Justin Smith's arm didn't look like a problem against Green Bay, and you can see the difference that his presence makes for this defense. 

Trying to establish the run, which the Packers did last week, will be key for the Falcons to move the ball against this defense. 



Who are the real Atlanta Falcons?

After all the criticism that this team faced for being a soft No. 1 seed due to playing a schedule that included 12 games against teams that finished under .500, the Falcons looked like they were going to make a statement against Seattle after jumping out to a 20-0 lead at halftime. 

Then the second half started and the game completely changed. Russell Wilson had all day to throw because the Falcons had no pass rush. He threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. 

On the other side of the field, the Falcons started the third quarter in impressive fashion. They answered Seattle's first touchdown with a beautiful 14-play, 80-yard drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock. 

After that, the offense went into hibernation and the defense was not up to the challenge of making a stop when it had to. The Falcons gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead score with 31 seconds to play. 

The offense finally responded on that last drive, though you have to wonder if Atlanta will be able to get away with a similar performance against the 49ers.