Do Da Dirty Bird: Previewing Week Five, Falcons @ 49ers

John McCurdyCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2009

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers tries to break a tackle by Chris Houston #23 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on September 20, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

This edition of DDDB must open with an apology: It's been over a week since you Falcons fans have had a chance to hear my nonsensical ramblings, and that's just not OK. I want everyone to know that I'll be annoying you all season long. I signed up for this "Featured Columnist" thing with the intention of sticking with it.

Not to make excuses, but I faced a lot of time constraints last week with the new job. I'm overwhelmingly thankful to have such great work, but it does cut into B/R opportunities.

And besides that, the performance against New England in Week Three was so nondescript that I couldn't even bring myself to analyze it much beyond one Monday conversation with my pops. To think, I had just lauded the line by comparing them to the Giants, and they go and do that...

Anyway, it's time for a triumphant return of Falcon football (it will have been a whole two weeks!) and that which goes with it: John McCurdy's unabashedly biased game previews.

Let's talk about our trip to Candlestick.

San Francisco Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense

We get a bit of a break with Frank Gore being hurt. OK, it's a big bit of a break; dude went off against the Seahawks in Week Two, and he's been catching some passes beyond that, too.

But with his multiple foot injuries, it's Glen Coffee that we'll have to try to stop, and that's nowhere near the same challenge. The boy from 'Bama is a highly intelligent football player, but his more gangly frame has proved easy to take down when compared to Gore's cannonball of a body.

Case in point: The Niners have not managed 100 yards on the ground in either of the games that he's gotten the majority of the carries. He's going to have to get far more in-tune with the pro game before he can take his unusual (for a running back) build to high yardage totals.

Not that the Dirty Birds are so adept at stopping the run. A couple of weeks ago, I paid Fred Taylor some deserved compliments in my Week Three preview and then promptly began ignoring the New England ground game again. And you see what the "old man" did to us.

I think a lot of Taylor's success had to do with the Pats' offensive line just manhandling our defensive trenchmen. A pretty crappy (more bashing for them later) SF O-line isn't going to be able to do that, but we still will rely on Jonathan Babineaux in the middle and linebackers Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson on the edges a little too much.

Hey, Jamaal Anderson, is it too much to ask that you make an occasional stop?

Still, the 49ers' run is suffering without Gore to the point that even if we need the 'backers to make every tackle, we'll probably hold them under the century mark.

Atlanta Rush Offense v. San Francisco Rush Defense

It'll be good for Michael Turner—with his frustrating performance against the Patriots his most recent football memory—to let some of his anger out. The Niners are conveniently providing the punching bags in their defensive line.

Sorry, was that harsh?

But in all seriousness, these guys can't stop the Burner. Justin Smith is a rusher (though he hasn't been doing much, considering Willis leads the team in sacks); Demetric Evans, Kentwan Balmer, and Ray McDonald are amounting to a revolving door. Isaac Sopoaga is underrated, but he's in a situation similar to our own Babs: If he's the only guy on the line committed to stuffing, how can the unit be consistent?

But that's the line. I haven't gotten to the linebackers, who Turner will inevitably reach and unavoidably be stopped by.

I knew Patrick Willis was swallowing people whole, but who led Takeo Spikes to the fountain of youth? Their lesser-known compadres, Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson, are racking up tackles this season, too. Around the six or seven-yard mark is where you shall not pass, Michael.

Of course, if Turner picks up six or seven every time he touches the ball, then it's all good, but that's some "McCurdy syndrome" (repeating myself). I've said that before, and it didn't turn out just how I wanted it...

Bottom line is, this game will not require mixing it up with runs; it will require good, old-fashioned beatdown runs from our main back.

San Francisco Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense

The Falcons' secondary is bad, blah blah blah, I sure hope our young corners don't get in one-on-one situations, blah blah blah.

It's unnecessary to go through all of that again—if you haven't heard it from me, you've heard it from some other pundit at this point. But it's also not all that important to address considering these San Francisco wideouts.

Isaac Bruce, you are a modern marvel of a man; if you want to continue your career, more power to you. And Josh Morgan, you're, um, OK.

Michael Crabtree, you're not in the state of California just yet.

Yeah, those who are tuned in to the NFL know just how much the 49ers rely on tight end Vernon Davis to catch passes. He's the key for us to cover, and while we don't have anyone who matches up well with a 6'3" 250-pounder (who does?), when there's only one target to block up, things are simple.

Simple enough for our defensive backs? I think so.

Shaun Hill has been pretty efficient, passing at a 62.3 completion percentage and making me eat my words from one preseason article. But he's only getting more predictable as time goes on, and if we stop Coffee a few times, we'll really only need to deny Hill the two options of Davis and Bruce.

Then there's that "protection" he's been getting, to the tune of 13 sacks already this year. And against such impressive defenses as...Minnesota and...oh wait, that's it.

Besides, I'm really liking our acquisition of Brian Williams (seven solo tackles against NE), and Chris Houston is getting warmed up.

Why exactly is SF taking its time to sign its Red Raider darling?

Atlanta Pass Offense v. San Francisco Pass Defense

Strangely enough, Matt Ryan had his worst week yet against a secondary that everyone had questions about. Yes, "worst week" was 17-for-28 for nearly 200 yards, but two things jump out at me as negative: No TDs, and just one completion to Tony Gonzalez.

Looks like Gonzo is the key.

In the previous two games, he caught for over 70 yards, and that actually resulted in more yards for everyone else. It's pretty obvious: Defenses key in on him, sometimes employing a double-team, and Michael Jenkins and Roddy White capitalize on man (or better) coverage. Tony G had 16 yards last week, and that meant only Jenkins could break out.

Unfortunately, the Niners have a better chance of matching up with Gonzalez than the Dolphins and Panthers, and maybe even the Pats. Four athletic linebackers, all of whom except Spikes move well laterally, can take turns on our man.

I would say that will allow White, Jenkins, and Marty Booker to get in the middle ground, but the way won't be so clear if safeties Michael Lewis (who's off to a torrid start) and Dashon Goldson are called to move up sooner, as I'm sure they will be.

My solution would be to put Brian Finneran in as a second tight end (or tall receiver, however you want to look at him) and overwhelm the opponents on passing plays. Obviously, we're not going to line up two big guys on every set—that'd just be irresponsible, considering White and Jenkins both can beat Niners corner Nate Clements (even in his solid '09 form) in man.

But we've got to find a way to either get it to Tony or at least to someone in his range with part of his after-the-catch skills.

I'll go ahead and toss out there that Shawntae Spencer has surprised me so far this year. Pretty easy to do considering I didn't know the man's name before Week One, but he's another one of those smart ballplayers for sure.

Prediction: Falcons 31, 49ers 14

The San Fran air game is just too predictable that our guys will allow them in the end zone more than twice. I can admit we don't have a stellar run D, and it got thrashed in Week Three, but Coffee is no starting tailback.

The Burner will partially return to form, but I'm thinking that his overall 2009 form isn't going to be what last year's was. I know, "thank you, Captain Obvious," but I was holding out hope he was going to have 1,400 yards this season, and it's feeling much more like 1,100 at this point (not that that's bad, just saying).

I'm very much looking forward to seeing Willis in action, especially against "The Gonz." Too bad the opponents' O is going to be such a yawn.


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