NFC Championship 2013: Stopping Run Is Key to Falcons Victory

Marques EversollAnalyst IJanuary 14, 2013

Both Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick went over 100 rushing yards against the Packers. What will they do against the Falcons?
Both Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick went over 100 rushing yards against the Packers. What will they do against the Falcons?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In his first career start in the postseason, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick outshined Packers quarterback and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Kaepernick accounted for 444 total yards and four total touchdowns in the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers. Running back Frank Gore added 119 yards on 23 carries, giving the 49ers 323 net rushing yards in the game.

And this weekend in the NFC Championship Game, the Atlanta Falcons face the daunting task of stopping the 49ers' dominant running game.

In the regular season, Atlanta's run defense ranked 21st in the NFL, allowing 123.2 yards per game on the ground. The Falcons prevented Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks' running game from taking over the game in the divisional round, but Seattle still managed to gain 123 rushing yards.

But on Sunday afternoon, Atlanta's front seven will face perhaps the best running team in football.

Time after time in the game between Green Bay and San Francisco, the 49ers used a read-option look to attack a vulnerable Packers run defense. Kaepernick put pressure on the Packers' outside linebackers to stay home and stay in their individual zones.

Erik Walden was victimized by the 49ers. Kaepernick's ability to pick up 181 rushing yards speaks for itself. But much of what Kaepernick was able to do against Green Bay was simply the result of pulling the ball down and running when the Packers took away his No. 1 receiver.

Michael Crabtree was terrific once again in the divisional round. Kaepernick often keyed on Crabtree, but when Packers cornerback Tramon Williams had solid coverage, the first-year starting quarterback was quick to tuck the ball and pick up the first down with his legs.

Atlanta will need to have a detailed plan in place to prevent Kaepernick from scrambling on Sunday. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers opted to use primarily man coverage against the 49ers, often without a spy on the quarterback.

Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will be key when it comes to defending the 49ers with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

Weatherspoon is often asked to do something most linebackers in the present-day NFL are not—cover opposing tight ends. As the Falcons' most athletic linebacker, Weatherspoon is a logical candidate to spy Kaepernick on third-and-long situations.

The Packers found some success on first and second down defensively, but when third-and-long situations arose, they had no answer for Kaepernick running the football. A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are solid players, but neither is the athlete that Weatherspoon is.

Whether or not the Falcons are able to slow down this 49ers running game will depend heavily on Weatherspoon and these Atlanta linebackers.

Typically against elite running teams, defenses will stack the box and stress tackling in practice. But the 49ers aren't just any running team.

Their running back, Gore, may be the most consistent runner in football. And their quarterback just ran for 181 yards in a playoff game.

If the Falcons want to punch their ticket to Super Bowl XLVII, stopping the run will be the most important task they must accomplish in the NFC Championship.