49ers vs. Falcons: Keys to Victory in NFC Championship Game

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers in actions against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After a week of analyzing stats, performances and everything else that can be dissected, it is time to determine what the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons must do to claim the NFC Championship. 

These two teams took different paths to get to this spot, but they aren't complete opposites. Both have quarterbacks who had to answer questions in the divisional round. Both were believed to be going against superior teams last week. 

Now, here they are getting ready to battle it out for the right to play for the Super Bowl. So what do the 49ers and Falcons need to do in order to hold up the George Halas Trophy?


San Francisco 49ers

Establish the pass early; Make the Falcons one-dimensional

With Colin Kaepernick as the 49ers starting quarterback, the team has averaged 28.6 points per game (including the postseason). He adds more dimensions to the offense, which is why Jim Harbaugh made the switch from Alex Smith. 

However, one area where Kaepernick has had problems is throwing the ball on the road. He is lights out at home, with 941 yards, six passing touchdowns and just one interception in four games. 

Take him away from his comfort zone, and the numbers drop off quite a bit. He did throw for 904 yards and six touchdowns (four came in one game against New England), but also had three of his four interceptions on the road. 

Plus, in the game at Seattle, Kaepernick was frustrated early by the crowd noise. He was all out of sorts, taking delay-of-game penalties and taking timeouts early in the first quarter. 

We all know that Kaepernick will be able to run wherever he is. He kept the 49ers in the game at St. Louis thanks to a 50-yard run that set up a go-ahead field goal late. 

It is crucial for the 49ers and Kaepernick to come out of the gate and establish the passing game early just to prove that he won't be overwhelmed by the situation or the hostile environment that he is in. 

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defense has to make the Falcons one-dimensional. After struggling to run the ball all season, the Falcons burned Seattle for 167 yards. Michael Turner ran for 98 yards, his best total since Week 9 against Dallas.

But the key is when the yards came. The Falcons ran for 132 of those yards in the first half when they were up 20-0. After that, they had just 35 yards on the ground the rest of the game and struggled to keep the offense on the field. 


Atlanta Falcons

Get pressure on Kaepernick; Create big plays

The biggest problem Green Bay had against the 49ers last week was actually creating pressure up front on Kaepernick. A lot of his rushing yards came on designed runs, but he did turn broken plays into first downs more often than not. 

The Falcons have issues up front heading into this game. For starters, they finished just 28th in the league with 29 sacks. John Abraham led the team with 10 sacks, but he is dealing with an ankle injury suffered last week that could hinder his performance. 

If Kaepernick has the same amount of time to move around the pocket that Russell Wilson did last week, this game is going to get ugly in a hurry. 

One problem with just getting pressure on Kaepernick is keeping him in front of you to make a tackle. He is so big and long that it is hard to contain him even when you have a direct line to him. 

When Kaepernick reaches that second gear, it's over. He is going to run past defensive linemen and linebackers, and he is too big for cornerbacks to bring down one-on-one. 

When the Falcons have the ball, they need to find ways to do exactly what they did against the Seahawks: Take chances down the field. 

They had five plays of at least 20 yards in the divisional round. Roddy White had the biggest play of the game, a 47-yard touchdown catch down the middle of the field in the second quarter that put them up 20-0. 

However, there is a difference between the Seahawks and 49ers in the way they run their defensive schemes. The Seahawks were forced to blitz more with Chris Clemons out of the game, creating opportunities for the Falcons to move the ball down the field. 

The 49ers don't like to send extra pass-rushers, nor do they usually have to. When Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are at the top of their games, they are matchup nightmares for any offensive line to handle. 

It is imperative that the Falcons offensive line is containing the Smiths and forcing the 49ers to send an extra pass-rusher or two in order to open up the field for White and Julio Jones.