49ers vs. Falcons: San Francisco's Pass Rush Will Be Crucial in NFC Championship

Tim KeeneyContributor IJanuary 15, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Brian Hoyer #6 of the Arizona Cardinals gets sacked by Ricky Jean Francois #95 and Aldon Smith #99 of the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Candlestick Park on December 30, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 27-13. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

While most of this San Francisco 49ers team continues to peak at the right time (I'm looking at you, Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree), the pass rush is faltering into obscurity. 

Against the Atlanta Falcons, it's going to have to reappear.

Considering the Niners boast the most dangerous pair of Smiths since Brad and Angelina, that shouldn't be too much to ask, right? 

Well, not so fast. 

During the regular season, San Francisco had a sack percentage of 6.3, which was just 13th highest in the league. Moreover, in their last four contests, the 49ers have tallied an atrocious four sacks.

It's worth noting, of course, that those numbers don't exactly tell the entire story. Because of the talented pass-rushing ability of Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio doesn't need to dial up many blitzes. He can drop six or seven players back in coverage and still know most quarterbacks won't have much time to make a decision.

That's a large reason why San Fran ranked second in the regular season in yards per pass attempt allowed at a minuscule 6.1.

As I'm sure you've figured out by now, there's a big ol' "but" coming. 

But, even though blitzing isn't their identity, the Niners absolutely, unequivocally must find a way to bring Matt Ryan to the ground more than the one time they've been averaging over the past four contests. 

The Falcons' quarterback is too good, and he has too many talented weapons, to get beat by excessive coverage if he has time in the pocket to move through his progressions. 

He proved that last week against the Seattle Seahawks. 

With Chris Clemons out of the lineup, the 'Hawks were unable to touch Ryan. As a result, he found Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez a combined 17 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns despite Seattle boasting arguably the most physical, imposing secondary in the league. 

The 49ers' secondary is equally as talented, but if Atlanta's receiving trio can torch Seattle's defensive backs in that fashion, it will move the ball this weekend, too. 

That's not a knack against San Francisco, either. DB's can only cover pass-catchers for so long on any given possession, and against Jones, White and company, that time will be significantly less.

Additionally, Atlanta's offense gets inherently more difficult to stop when Michael "My Thighs are Bigger Than Most Trees" Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are running the ball like they did last weekend. 

The encouraging part is that the 49ers are going to be able to score points. Kaepernick and Frank Gore are combining to put together an unstoppable option running game, and Michael Crabtree is finally playing like a No. 1 receiver and Atlanta can't stop anyone on defense. 

But if they want to avoid a shootout, Matt Ryan is going to have to hit the Georgia Dome turf on multiple occasions.