The Atlanta Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game with a Super Bowl trip on the line. The road-favorite 49ers will be looking to avenge last year's disappointing result in the NFC Championship, while the Falcons will be looking to erase two years of recent playoff embarrassment.
With contrasting styles of football, each team will try to implement their brand. The 49ers offer a smash-mouth, physical style, while the Falcons use a finesse offense to put up points. Outside of those factors, there are certain keys to winning for each team.
San Francisco 49ers
Unleash Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick showed fantastic poise in responding to an early interception against the Green Bay Packers; the interception was returned for a touchdown. The 49ers coaching staff deserves a ton of credit for fully believing in Kaepernick and putting the game in his hands after that play.
They need to allow Kaepernick to make mistakes in order to gain the big plays he delivered last week. He needs to be given opportunities to scramble and freestyle, as well as be trusted to make big-time throws from the pocket.
Pressure Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan was able to carve up the Seattle Seahawks defense when he had time to pass, but completely lost his composure when the Seahawks generated pressure. During the Seahawks' comeback, Ryan looked skittish in the pocket and loose with the football.
As the 49ers have a talented secondary, getting pressure on Ryan will force him to take risks in the passing game, or get sacked. The 49ers should have a more comfortable Justin Smith, playing his second game with a brace to protect his torn triceps muscle.
Run the Ball
The Falcons ran the ball surprisingly well against the Seahawks. Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner combined for 162 yards on 24 carries for an average of 6.75 yards per carry. Against the 49ers, they need to continue to run effectively in order to open up the defense.
The more success they have running the football, the less pressure it puts on Ryan. It should slow down the pass rush, which would give Julio Jones and Roddy White time to get open against the 49ers cornerbacks.
The Falcons had no trouble getting off to a fast start against the Seahawks; they will need to replicate that success against the 49ers. In the Divisional Round, the 49ers showed how dangerous they can be when they are able to dictate the flow of the game. They can run or pass on any down, putting incredible pressure on the defense.
The Falcons need to jump out to an early lead and force the 49ers to play catch up.
Colin Kaepernick was at his best last week because of the Green Bay defense having to worry about the run. If the 49ers are put in a situation where they're forced to pass, the Falcons can take advantage of some Kaepernick mistakes.