One Colin Kaepernick "saving face" en route to touchdown pay dirt.
For as dominant as the 49ers are against the run, they’re just as proficient in pass defense, at least in terms of statistical ranking. Vic Fangio’s unit finished the 2012 regular season at No. 4 in both rushing and passing defense, despite the fact their opponents were often trailing and tested the secondary, forced to air it out playing catchup.
In their 45-31 thrashing of Green Bay in the divisional round, the 49ers held Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s top-rated passer at 108.0, to less than 200 yards passing and one touchdown until the final garbage-time drive in the 4th quarter. They also limited the All-World quarterback to only three first downs via the pass on third down.
That included All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis’ sack of Rodgers for a nine-yard loss and cornerback Tarell Brown’s interception in the second quarter. Brown also had another interception negated by a controversial penalty on a late drive that resulted instead in a Green Bay touchdown.
San Francisco now moves on to the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons. It’s a matchup that will pose similar winnable battles for the 49ers on both sides of the ball, most notably with regards to Atlanta’s pass-first tendencies on offense.
Let’s analyze that matchup and the five overall reasons why the 49ers’ win over the Packers bodes well for their upcoming game against the pass-happy Falcons.
The 49ers do not condone disrespect for injuries, but Abraham's injured ankle bodes well for Sunday.
The Packers' 47 total sacks earned them a No. 4 ranking in the NFL. While certainly being an impressive number, it’s also a slightly dubious statistic.
Clay Matthews led Green Bay with 13 sacks. But outside of the four-time Pro-Bowler, only two Packers had more than four.
San Francisco showed its strength against that one-dimensional attack by holding the Packers to just one sack. Even then, Matthews’ takedown came against offensive lineman Joe Staley and his bruised left forearm. Staley and co. allowed just eight other QB pressures.
The ever-mobile Colin Kaepernick may have an even easier time getting into the open field against the Falcons.
John Abraham, who leads Atlanta with 10 sacks, injured his left ankle against the Seahawks. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Abraham could not push off that ankle following his aggravated injury (via Rotoworld).
And, like the Packers, Atlanta’s next leading sack-man has a total of four. Only four other teams accumulated fewer sacks than the Falcons’ 29.
Kaepernick, as such, will have free reign over the Falcons D with his arm and his legs come Sunday.
Kaepernick expects to do big things come Sunday.
Allow us to concede at the outset that Atlanta’s play against the NFC’s second-leading rusher and his formidable backup deserves ample tribute.
Holding Marshawn Lynch to 46 yards on 16 carries (2.9-yard average) and the Seahawks’ running backs to 64 total is commendable. The same goes for a pivotal stop on a first-half 4th and 1.
But that’s where the praise ends.
Quarterback Russell Wilson, of the same athletic and pistol-proficient ilk as Kaepernick, burned the Falcons for 60 yards, one touchdown and 8.6 yards per carry, leading the team in rushing.
On the season, Atlanta gave up the third-most rushing gains on the ground of 20-plus yards (16). The 49ers, meanwhile, accrued the second-most 20-plus-yard gains on said rushing plays (17).
Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore produced three such runs against the Packers, including two for TDs by the fleet-footed QB and three others of 16 or more yards, not to mention a new all-time record for yards rushing by a quarterback with 181.
The 49ers will enjoy more success against a rush defense that ranks four slots lower at No. 21 overall.
Crabtree hopes to be on the receiving end of a few scores in the NFCCG.
Take a gander at 20 interceptions, the fourth-highest total in the NFL, and please give it its rightful due.
Safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore grabbed 10 themselves, with hawk-happy cornerback Asante Samuel hauling in five.
But again, Atlanta’s susceptibility to the big play cannot be ignored. It’s 53 plays of 20-plus yards via the pass was one-upped by the 49ers’ 54 gained on offense.
Kaepernick manufactured multiple such plays against an equally ball-hawking Packers defense. Its 18 interceptions fell just two behind Atlanta in the standings.
Yet, the 49ers quarterback shook off an early pick-six and torched Green Bay for the rest of the game without turning the ball over again.
He’ll do the same sans the early INT against a high-risk, even lower-reward Falcons D.
Yes, the same defense that surrendered a record 385 yards and two TDs to another young scrambler last week.
Michael Turner has a nose for the end zone, but isn't very proficient otherwise.
Green Bay’s DuJuan Harris put up a productive 53 yards and one touchdown (4.8-yard average) against the 49ers’ No. 4-ranked run defense.
San Francisco was certainly complicit for his 18-yard TD in the first quarter.
On a similar note, Atlanta’s Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers racked up 160 yards on 24 carries against the Seahawks’ impressive No. 10 defense against the run.
Throw all that out the window.
The 49ers shut down all attempts the Packers made at running the ball for the majority of the game. Injured Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Justin Smith, the heart and soul of this defense, found his dominant groove after the early goings.
His presence will foster another smothering performance against a rushing offense that, in reality, is one of the least productive in the league at No. 29 overall.
More so, San Francisco’s front seven is stronger than Seattle’s quality albeit inferior counterpart. It’s nine total runs of 20-plus yards allowed rates out as the fourth-fewest, while Atlanta’s such gains on offense also ranks as the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
Count on Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman matching that productivity in the NFC Championship Game.
Tarell Brown will do it once, and he'll do it again—interception-wise.
Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are one of the league’s best tandems at receiver, no questions asked.
At 6’0’', 211 pounds and 6’3’', 220 pounds, respectively, they’re the most physically-imposing wideouts in the NFL. Receiving totals of 2,549 yards and 17 TDs serve as sufficient evidence.
We will also dole out the same recognition to future-Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. He was top-three in receptions, yards and touchdowns among tight ends at age 36, not to mention leading his team with 96 catches.
The Packers, similarly, feature a considerable receiving corps. In this case, though, Green Bay has a tight end and four receivers that routinely light up the stat sheet.
Dynamic slot wideout Randall Cobb led the team with 80 catches and 954 yards, while James Jones led the league with 14 TD grabs. Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley added nine TDs and 1,412 yards.
Also, Greg Jennings, who had missed eight regular season games, was yet another receiver who brings speed and No. 1 abilities to the table.
The 49ers, for their part, limited that prolific group to just one touchdown until a late fourth-quarter drive in the divisional round. Its 245 yards receiving was a mere byproduct of a bend, but not break defense.
Physical corner Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown, the underrated zero-touchdown allowed CB himself, can match up with those Falcons’ receivers. Willis and Bowman are the best cover linebackers and will mitigate the damage wrought by Gonzalez.
The Falcons are good, as Matt Ryan's 93.8 efficiency rating, three TDs and seventh game-winning drive of 2012 proved last week. But the 49ers are just that much better.
One flawed, one legitimate—qualify the 49ers as the stronger team in this matchup.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16