If two games against Cam Newton and another against Russell Wilson are any indication, the Atlanta Falcons defense is going to struggle mightily in stopping San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Both Newton and Wilson—dual-threat quarterbacks who, at times, utilize the read-option offense—had their way with a defense that struggled against mobile quarterbacks in 2012.
In each meeting against Newton, the Falcons allowed over 300 yards in total offense and three touchdowns. Thanks to Newton's brilliance in both games, Atlanta was actually lucky to salvage a split in the season series.
The first crack at Newton came early this season. The results weren't pretty.
In Atlanta in Week 4, the Falcons allowed Newton to complete 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran nine times for 86 yards and a four-yard score.
Carolina led the game 28-27 late in the fourth quarter, but a Matt Ryan desperation heave from his own end zone helped set up the game-winning field goal. However, the Panthers were able to accumulate 404 total yards and 199 rushing yards in the contest.
Ten weeks later, the results were even more disastrous for the Falcons.
Facing Newton in Carolina in Week 14, Atlanta allowed Newton to complete 23 of 35 passes for 287 yards and two scores. On the ground, Newton thrashed the Falcons to the tune of 116 yards on nine carries, including one that went for a 72-yard score.
The Panthers ended up winning the rematch, 30-20. The second time around, Carolina racked up 475 yards, including 195 on the ground.
Overall, Newton was able to throw for 502 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, while also running for 202 yards and two more scores. The final tally? 704 total yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions for a Panthers offense that averaged 439.5 yards of total offense and 197 running the football against the Falcons defense.
Wilson continued that struggling trend for Atlanta in the Divisional Round this past Sunday.
After starting slow, Wilson ended up completing 24 of 36 passes for 385 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 60 yards and a score on seven attempts.
Once again, Ryan had to lead a last-minute drive to escape with a win, after the Seahawks scored late to go up a point. Behind Wilson, Seattle stormed back from 20 points down to shell-shock the Falcons defense and Georgia Dome crowd.
When you put the three games from Newton and Wilson side-by-side, a scary reality arises for the Falcons defense: Kaepernick, the quarterback headed Atlanta's way Sunday, might represent the most dangerous dual-threat option of the three.
Kaepernick ran for an NFL record (regular or postseason) 181 yards, including touchdown jaunts of 56 and 20 yards. The Packers simply had no answer to the 49ers' breakneck use of the read-option, a type of offense that gives Kaepernick the opportunity to hand off to the running back or manipulate the crashing defensive end and take off through a vacated area.
Kaepernick worked the read-option to perfection, and the 49ers ended the contest with a staggering 323 yards rushing.
But maybe the scariest part is that Kaepernick didn't only slash through Green Bay's defense on the ground. Save for his pick-six to Sam Shields on the 49ers' first series, Kaepernick was also mostly flawless throwing the football.
He ended up completing 17 of 31 passes for 263 yards and two scores, including a 20-yard tracer to a well-covered Michael Crabtree.
Kaepernick's combination of production running the option-read and exploiting matchups downfield in the passing game makes him one of the toughest quarterbacks in the game to game-plan for, especially in just one week.
While the Falcons' experience facing the look should help (the Packers were woefully unprepared to face the option-read), the past results this season give no indication that Atlanta will be able to stop Kaepernick's version in the NFC Championship Game.
Somehow, Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has to find a way to get his defense to play better against quarterbacks like Newton, Wilson and Kaepernick.
If not, Atlanta could get run over in its own building by a special athlete who is ready to build on his historic playoff beginning.