Falcons vs. 49ers: Breaking Down Atlanta's Gameplan

Al BruceContributor IDecember 19, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20:  Matt Ryan (R) #2 of the Atlanta Falcons congratulates Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers after the 49ers won 28-24 in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons will be in the national spotlight on Monday night in a game against the San Francisco 49ers that looked much sexier in August than it does now.

Back then, many NFL observers thought that this game would be what Week 13's Monday night matchup between the Saints and Seahawks was. Four months later, the 49ers have held up their end of the bargain, and the Falcons haven't.

With Atlanta entering this game at 4-10, the only real storyline in this contest is the fact that this will probably be the last football game that San Francisco plays at Candlestick Park.

Even though the game isn't as relevant to the playoff picture as it was originally expected to be, it does present the Falcons with an opportunity to exact a small measure of revenge against the 49ers for last year's NFC Championship game loss. It also gives them a chance to earn a rare road victory against a quality opponent before hosting the Panthers next week.

Let's catch up on what's happened with the 49ers this season before discussing what needs to happen for the Falcons to steal this game on Monday night.



State of the 49ers

For the most part, the 49ers feature the same cast that beat Atlanta in the playoffs last year. Veteran receiver Anquan Boldin and rookie safety Eric Reid were the team's major offseason acquisitions, and neither player has disappointed. Still, this team will go as far as quarterback Colin Kaepernick takes it.

San Francisco started off the year 1-2 before winning five straight games to get to 6-2 at the halfway point of the season. 

After suffering consecutive defeats to the Panthers and Saints by a total of four points, the 49ers are heating up again, as they've won four straight games heading into Week 16.

San Francisco can clinch a playoff spot this week with a win over Atlanta or an Arizona loss to Seattle.

Although he 49ers are still mathematically alive in the NFC West race with the Seahawks, it's much more likely that they'll end up taking one of the NFC's two wild-card spots, since Seattle only needs to win one of its last two games to clinch the division title.



The Falcons Should Win if:

1.  They Win the Turnover Battle

San Francisco has a top-five rushing offense, and Atlanta has a bottom-five rushing defense. In order to win this game, the Falcons are going to have take some possessions away from the 49ers, because San Francisco is just going to run the ball down their throats otherwise.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15:  Desmond Trufant #21 of the Atlanta Falcons intercepts a pass intended for Pierre Garcon #88 of the Washington Redskins at Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Atlanta's defense fell into seven takeaways last week against a hapless Redskins squad, and the unit will probably need to get at least three turnovers to help the Falcons stay in the game this week.


2.  They Get a Touchdown from Their Special Teams Unit and/or Their Defense

Atlanta has scored more than 30 points just once in seven road games this season. 

Given that the Falcons have allowed their opponents to score an average of around 29 points per game in those seven road contest, it's safe to say that they'll need to find a way to hit the 30-point mark this week if they want to leave San Francisco with a win.

Since Atlanta's offense hasn't been able to create a lot of explosive plays, getting a touchdown from the their special teams unit or stealing a touchdown on defense would significantly improve Atlanta's chances this week.


3.  Steven Jackson Has at Least 25 Carries and Matt Ryan Has 30 or Fewer Pass Attempts

This point boils down to ball control and protecting Matt Ryan. The Falcons can't ask Matt Ryan to drop back 45-50 times against the 49ers front seven behind his fragile offensive line. If that happens, it's just going to be more of the same for the Falcons, because none of Atlanta's offensive linemen have favorable pass-protection matchups against San Francisco's front.

Matt Ryan has taken a beating this year, and Atlanta should do a better job of game-planning to protect its franchise player over these last two weeks.

In order to win this game, Atlanta must find a way to control the clock and manufacture a running game that's been largely absent this season. Steven Jackson is very familiar with this San Francisco defense from his days as a St. Louis Ram, and he's proven to be capable of matching their physicality in the past. 

If Atlanta's offensive line can create a few lanes for Jackson, the Falcons may be able to make things interesting.


4.  They Make Someone Other than Vernon Davis Beat Them in the Passing Game

49ers tight end Vernon Davis paced San Francisco's comeback win over Atlanta in the playoffs, and even though Anquan Boldin has been targeted more this season, Davis is still Colin Kaepernick's security blanket in the 49ers' passing game.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Vernon Davis #85 of the San Francisco 49ers leaps over would be tackler Rodney McLeod #23 of the St. Louis Rams during the first quarter at Candlestick Park on December 1, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by The
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Davis' 12 touchdown receptions lead the team, and he was also on the receiving end of San Francisco's longest pass play of the season. Atlanta can't allow San Francisco to net any explosive plays of 40 yards or more if they're going to have a shot at winning, and limiting Davis will be a big part of that.

Forcing Colin Kaepernick to extend drives and rely upon his wide receivers will give Atlanta's cornerbacks more opportunities to make plays and create the turnovers that the team is going to need to win.




The best hope for reasonable Falcons fans is that Atlanta takes this game into the fourth quarter and does enough to entertain a national audience that's always a little skeptical about the Falcons, even when they're winning.

That said, Atlanta will be playing with house money on Monday, because it doesn't have playoff implications on the line like San Francisco does. 

If some of these young Falcons players can leverage that lack of external pressure into a few plays on the field, Atlanta fans may have something to cheer about on Monday night.



All stats courtesy of NFL.com.