For the Atlanta Falcons to punch a ticket to Super Bowl XLVII, they must complete the daunting challenge of keeping Colin Kaepernick in check.
During his first postseason start, the 25-year-old led the San Francisco 49ers to a 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers. In addition to tallying 263 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air, Kaepernick set a quarterback record by running rampant for 183 rushing yards.
One week after failing to contain Russell Wilson, Atlanta will again be forced to stop a dynamic dual-threat quarterback from shredding its defense.
Even though the Seattle Seahawks failed to score in the first half, Wilson still moved the ball down the field. By the end of the contest, the rookie amassed 385 passing yards, 60 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
But just when we began to fasten our seat belts for an intriguing duel between Kaepernick and Wilson, the Falcons orchestrated a game-winning drive during the final 31 seconds.
So now their reward waits in another headache-inducing, playmaking quarterback.
Atlanta is presented with a catch-22 that causes such difficulty in stuffing the read option. When Wilson was afforded an eternity in the pocket, he shredded Atlanta's secondary with ease. When they pressured Wilson, he escaped and saved a dying play with his elusiveness.
The Packers enacted a much more aggressive approach against Kaepernick, and it backfired miserably. Their eagerness to rile Kaepernick in the pocket led to all-out blitzes that did not seal off the edges. This allowed him to reel off big runs, including a 56-yard touchdown, all game.
This is what creates such confounding problems in stopping these versatile signal-callers. You zig, they'll zag. You zag, they'll zig, Then before you know it, you've just allowed over 400 total yards.
It's all not hopeless, though. Kaepernick could not defeat the St. Louis Rams, so there's at least some precedent of handling him. Is stealing James Laurinaitis for the weekend an option?
The key to slowing Kaepernick down could rest in eliminating his key weapons.
One encouraging facet of Atlanta's victory over Seattle was its ability to shut down Marshawn Lynch. The usually unstoppable back managed just 46 rushing yards, which one would think should have aided its quest to impede Wilson.
Still, they'll need a similar effort against Frank Gore, whose presence made it impossible for Green Bay to decipher whom to stop since the defense couldn't bring either one down.
In regards to San Francisco's expanding passing attack, Atlanta must lock down Kaepernick's favorite target, Michael Crabtree.
Kaepernick's emergence as the starter has generated a fearsome tandem with the fourth-year wideout, who has gathered 657 receiving yards and six scores in the last six contests. The talented but previously underachieving receiver has taken full advantage of his new quarterback's ability to extend plays and connect on deep passes.
But the duo's rapport has bit into Vernon Davis' targets, and the squad has yet to establish a legitimate No. 2 receiver alongside Crabtree. Asante Samuel can put all the pressure on Kaepernick's legs by removing his partner in crime from the picture.
If they contain the passing attack, then they can at least devote more attention to cluttering the running lanes.
Or they can just count on Matt Ryan to bail them out again.
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