And who may that be?
Drum roll please…
Let’s begin with a recap of the Falcons’ struggles against mobile, strong-armed quarterbacks in 2012.
Carolina’s Cam Newton, who still remains as one of the most prolific dual-threat talents, put up rather gaudy numbers against Atlanta. In two games, Newton threw for 502 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and completed 64 percent of his passes. He produced an efficiency rating of at least 110 in both contests.
Moreover, Newton was just as dangerous in the run game. He racked up 202 yards, two touchdowns and an eye-popping average of 11.2 yards per rush. That included a 32-yard scamper around left end and a 72-yard TD run behind his left guard.
In other words, he burned the Falcons both on the outside and through the heart of their defense.
First-year phenom Russell Wilson of the Seahawks was the latest on the list of defense-confounding quarterbacks tearing through Atlanta.
He lit up the Falcons for a rookie playoff-record 385 yards passing and two TDs. He connected on 67 percent of his passes, posted an average of 10.7 yards per throw and threw his only interception on a last-second Hail Mary.
His QBR of 86.4 and efficiency rating of 109.1 weren’t half bad either.
Wilson was equally impressive running the ball. He led Seattle with 60 yards, one TD and a clip of 8.6 yards per carry. He continually evaded the Falcons’ pass rush, suffering just two sacks all game (including zero after the first drive of the second half).
Perhaps the most significant play of the game for Seattle occurred when Wilson orchestrated one of his patented magical scrambles in the fourth quarter.
He dropped back, used a nifty spin move and escaped to his left before hitting Marshawn Lynch for a 24-yard gain. That nimble play set up what appeared at the time as the game-winning TD.
And just to round things out, Philadelphia’s Michael Vick had the least success against his former team, but still notched a passing TD without throwing a pick in Week 8. He ran effectively for 42 yards and six yards per carry.
(Note: The Redskins’ Robert Griffin III missed the last portion of the third quarter and the entirety of the fourth during his battle with Atlanta in Week 5. The Falcons held him for less than 100 total yards while he was on the field. They deserve some credit, but RGIII clearly wasn’t himself in that game.)
Overall, the Falcons were thoroughly susceptible to the big play by athletic gunslingers via the pass and rush in all of these matchups.
Newton helped combine for 11 plays of 20-plus yards, while Wilson and Vick added nine more.
Posting a "20 allowed" in that defensive category would make any coach squeamish at the mere sight of it.
Let's now return full circle to Kaepernick of the 49ers.
Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith midway through Week 10. In his limited 2012 action, he totaled just over 1,800 yards passing with 10 TDs, three interceptions, a 62.4 completion percentage and an efficiency rating of 98.3.
He also was the 49ers’ second-leading rusher with 63 carries for 415 yards (6.6-yard average) and five TDs. His five total turnovers in 281 touches on offense were highly impressive.
More captivating, however, were Kaepernick’s 38 plays of 20-plus yards on the season.
He set, and then tied, a 49ers’ franchise record with 50-yard runs against the Rams and Dolphins. He then one-upped his own mark by rushing for a 56-yard score and an NFL QB-record 181 yards and two TDs against the Packers in the divisional round.
Many of those 38 plays included passing gains of 40-plus yards as well, with two coming in the Green Bay matchup.
What does this all mean for the 49ers’ upcoming game with the Falcons?
For starters, Kaepernick piled up those 181 yards—not to mention the 49ers’ 323 in total—against the Packers’ No. 17-ranked run defense.
Atlanta held the No. 21 slot in 2012. It surrendered the third-most rushing gains of 20-plus yards (16) and no team allowed more runs of 40-plus yards than the Falcons’ eight.
Secondly, Kaepernick earned a tremendous 94.7 QBR and completed three passes of 20 or more yards against Green Bay’s solid No. 11 pass defense.
The Falcons’ poor performances, meanwhile, plummeted them into the bottom 10 (No. 23) with 242.3 passing yards allowed per game and 53 plays of 20-plus yards given up on the season.
Finally, Atlanta’s leading sacker John Abraham is nursing a sprained left ankle (via ESPN.com). Kaepernick will not experience much difficulty evading a pass-rushing contingent already with the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL (29).
Will Kaepernick produce better passing or rushing numbers against the Falcons?
He only went down once against a Packers’ unit with the league’s third-highest sack total of 47.
The always-astute Eric Branch of SFGate.com conveyed Atlanta’s diminished capacity without Abraham in this illuminating selection:
Without Abraham [on Sunday], Atlanta allowed 298 yards, 18 first downs and four touchdowns in the second half as [Russell] Wilson wiped out a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit. Wilson’s performance was similar to Saturday’s show by Kaepernick, who had one fewer total yard (444) and one more touchdown (4) than his dynamic peer this weekend.
We’ll go one step further than Branch’s suggestion of what Kaepernick might do on Sunday with a hobbled Abraham in the NFC Championship Game.
Kaepernick will produce another monster outing against a Falcons team that has not seen him in the flesh this year. They lack a dominant edge rusher to disrupt him in the passing game, as well as a linebacker with the speed to keep up with him on the outside.
It just remains to be seen if said outing materializes via an aerial or ground assault—or both.
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