NFC Championship 2013: How San Francisco Can Shut Down Atlanta's Aerial Attack

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 19:  Jason Campbell #2 of the Chicago Bears is sacked by   Aldon Smith #99 and Justin Smith #94 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quater of the game at Candlestick Park on November 19, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Getting after Matt Ryan is the best way to stop the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

It will be an admittedly tough task for the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons' offensive line ranked eighth in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

For a quarterback as talented as Ryan, you cannot afford to let him sit in the pocket and rip your apart.

That's exactly what the Seattle Seahawks did in the Divisional Round. They failed to sack Ryan once and only recorded one quarterback hit.

Their best pass-rusher, Chris Clemons, had torn his anterior-cruciate ligament in the Wild Card Round win over the Washington Redskins (h/t Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times).

A lot will hinge on Aldon Smith. He finished second in the NFL in sacks during the regular season but had a very quiet game against the Green Bay Packers.

Only twice all season has Ryan thrown for more than an interception during a game.

The first time was against the Oakland Raiders in Week 6. While the Raiders only recorded one sack, they hit Ryan nine times. He threw three interceptions in the Falcons' 23-20 win.

The second time came against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11. They intercepted Ryan five times while recording a sack and five QB hits. Atlanta barely edged out a 23-19 win.

In the playoffs, it's been the same story.

The New York Giants were able to get after Ryan in the Wild Card Round last year, and as a result, he only threw for 199 yards.

In the 2011 playoffs, the Packers sacked him five times en route to a 48-21 win.

Pass-rushers are becoming more and more vital. With the way the NFL is moving away from hitting, it's getting harder and harder for players in the secondary to be able to defend opposing receivers.

Illegal touching is a five-yard penalty and automatic first down, and then there's the hitting a defenseless receiver penalty, which will tack on 15 yards.

If you can hit the quarterback in the pocket, you can either prevent the ball from getting into the secondary or at the very least force the QB into making mistakes.

San Francisco only finished in a tie for 11th in sacks, with 38 during the regular season. With Aldon and Justin Smith, the 49ers have two players who can wreak havoc on Ryan in the pocket and ground the Falcons' air attack.