49ers Should Have Little Difficulty In Grounding The Falcons
Now that the Michael Crabtree hysteria has calmed down a bit — at least until he suits up in two weeks at Houston — the San Francisco 49ers and their fans can shift their attention to the trivial matter of Sunday's game versus the 2-1 Atlanta Falcons.
On the surface this looks like a trap game for the local boys.
For one thing, while it's true that the Falcons were NFC West basement-dwellers during the Joe Montana glory days, they no longer reside in our humble little division, and that can't be good.
Last year the 49ers went .500 in the division, but just .400 outside of it, and considering that 10 of 16 are against intra-division foes, that's not where you want to be.
So far this season that trend has played out even more dramatically. 3-0 in the division, 0-1 outside of it, albeit in heartbreaking, last-second fashion at Minnesota.
For another, the Falcons are considered to be pretty good, having gone 11-5 last year with a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan and a "bowling ball" as 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis described him, in running back Michael Turner.
Then there's the always-thoughtful sportswriter angle; that the distraction of Crabtree's signing will cause the team to lose its focus and not take the Falcons as seriously as they otherwise would have.
Finally, there's the pragmatic school of thought, that in the long run a loss in this game would be far more beneficial than a win.
With the "Bye" coming up on the schedule, a potentially 4-1 team would spend the off week sitting on their fannies and listening to folks tell them how good they are, while a 3-2 team would spend the break frothing at the mouth to avenge themselves.
Or so that theory goes.
49ers coach Mike Singletary dismissed this last notion as patently absurd.
"Our guys understand where we are and that we're not where we want to be," he said.
"We don't even have time to listen to anyone say how great we are, and really I can't even imagine having that conversation with them."
Which sounds all fine and dandy, but let's get to 4-1 first and find out afterward what happens with the team's attitude, just for kicks.
It says here that the 49ers will indeed pull the game out, and not because there is anything so inherently wonderful about them.
Rather, it will be because the Falcons are a comically overrated outfit that doesn't do anything all that well.
Only two teams in the NFL rank no better than 20th in any of the six major team statistical categories: Run, Pass, and Total Offense, and Run, Pass, and Total Defense.
One of them is the Cleveland Browns, and that's perfectly sensible, as the Browns might have less talent on their roster than the University of Florida.
The other such team, however, is Atlanta, who come into the game ranked 23rd in offense (25th rushing, 20th passing), and a ghastly 30th on defense (25th rushing, 27th passing).
San Francisco's offense is an eye sore, but at least they can stop people (4th rushing, 10th passing, and 6th overall).
Atlanta was terrible defensively last year too, so Coach Mike Smith overhauled that unit in the off-season. So far the changes haven't taken. They drafted defensive tackle Peria Jerry from Ole Miss in the first round with the hope that the young man would help them stiffen up against the run, but Jerry tore up his knee and is out for the season.
The acquisition of tight end Tony Gonzalez — a future Hall-of-Famer — was supposed to be a boon for their offense, as he was supposed to be a security blanket in the middle that would loosen the coverage on young wideouts Roddy White and Michael Jenkins.
What has happened, though, is that Ryan has looked almost exclusively for the newcomer, and while that's good for Gonzalez, it's been bad for White and Jenkins who had little problem in loosening up coverage all by themselves last year.
Consequently, the big plays haven't been there for the Falcons offense. Their two receivers have combined for one touchdown, and their longest reception has been for just 26 yards.
Even the 49ers duo of Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan can top those numbers.
Turner, meanwhile, was abused to the tune of 376 carries last season, a workload designed to drive the bowling ball's career right into the gutter. To no one's surprise (except maybe his fantasy owners'), he's averaging just 3.5 yards per carry this year and has already lost two fumbles.
It's true that the Falcons have won two of their first three — they had a bye last week — but the first was aided greatly by Miami tight end Anthony Fasano putting the ball on the ground twice, and the second was against winless Carolina and quarterback Jake Delhomme, who is either color blind or suffering from shell-shock.
Both of those wins came in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome. When Atlanta went on the road to New England, they were thumped soundly, 26-10.
The 49ers have been maddeningly consistent through four games of their 2009 campaign. Their level of play has been good enough to win three games and nearly a fourth, and as long as they keep on keeping on, they should grind out another "W" in this one as well.
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