The Atlanta Falcons come off their biggest win in the Mike Smith era after a victory against the defending Super Bowl Champs in the New Orleans Saints. Although most will say that it's just one win, and an early win at that, I would counter that the confidence that win produces goes a long way toward the Falcons goals this year.
Matt Ryan has done an exceptional job looking more like the 08 version than the one that took a step sideways in 09. He is averaging 235 yards a game passing with five touchdown passes and one interception.
More telling is how impressive the Falcon offense has been thus far, and that there is still room for improvement so far.
Michael Turner has not yet hit his stride, and Roddy White is slowly but surely losing his under the radar status as an elite receiver with 25 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns through three games.
A term that's thrown around quite a bit when talking about offense and football, is exactly what is most impressive part of this offense so far is their ability to "stay on schedule" Winning on first and second down is exactly what this team has brought to the table and delivering in spades.
The Falcon defense has been impressive despite the 339 yards allowed per game, they have allowed only 15.7 points a game and without a handful of big plays, this team's defense is a unit on the rise. The pass rush, which appeared to be an issue in the offseason has seven sacks thus far and numerous QB pressures.
This game shouldn't be a pushover, as this 49ers team is down but not out. They are a talented group and always seems to rise to the occasion. Last year they played the Colts and Vikings very close, and faced the Saints in a MNF game the week before the Falcons beat them.
Here now are 5 vital keys to a Falcon Victory and continuing the march toward the playoffs in 2010.
By now the 49ers disarray in well documented, from their week one implosion in Seattle, a "rat" within the building, a disappointing loss against the Saints, and a horrible game in KC where defenders were calling out plays before the snap.
Two days later, the 49er offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was thrown under the bus for the team's failures thus far in the season. While he was not the sole reason for their ineptitude he was most certainly the most predictable playcaller I have seen in quite some time.
Mike Singletary promoted QB coach Michael Johnson to the position of offensive coordinator, who had performed the same duties for a couple of games in 03 for the Falcons.
While the playbook or plays will not change, you can almost assuredly bank on the fact that their personnel groupings will look different, how they use their players will actually resemble a gameplan.
The most telling stat about Raye's tenure in 2010 is the amount of touches All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook has had this year. I may be wrong, but I think it's a grand total of 2. How a offensive coordinator fails to include a player as dynamic as Westbrook for a struggling QB and offense is incomprehensible.
There are high school kids who play Madden that could display more imagination than the Niner offense thus far. Their offensive line has not helped them much this year, allowing Smith to be sacked 6 times last week against the Chiefs.
This is the very same offensive line was dominated at home a year ago against the Falcons without Peria Jerry and Corey Peters. Chilo Rachal still on the roster, and two rookies in Iupati and Davis who struggled in KC with crowd noise, Johnson is sure to make adjustments to the game plan.
The Falcons must be ready for the spread attack and play tight to the receivers as there are bound to be some quick passes to help the offensive line in protection.
When one is talking about their favorite NFL team and the hopes of the team, the term "answering the call" will apply to many games, many situations, many players.
Last year's Atlanta Falcon team too frequently could not answer the call, whether it be the early season trip to Foxborough or the two near wins against the Saints.
This year has proven otherwise thus far, with the convincing dismantling of the Arizona Cardinals and the stunning victory on the road against the Super Bowl Champions. After a blown coverage by Decoud and a long TD pass from Brees, after the special teams gaffe, after the Saints converted a 3rd and long with a screen play late in the fourth quarter.
After every big play, or play against the Falcons, they stood up and answered right back at every turn.
Leadership and confidence is growing from this team, and it starts with Matt Ryan as he collected the troops late in the 4th quarter and the extra session against the Saints. Displaying fire and intensity, Ryan rallied his troops to gut out the win in the Big Easy, and can only continue to build the franchise QB for the Dirty Birds.
These 49ers are hurt and down, and playing for their season at this stage. A 0-3 hole may be a deficit that allows them to still make the playoffs in the weak NFC West.
They will have everything to play for, nothing to lose, and this is just another call to arms for the Atlanta Falcons.
Get up early, get the Niners out of their gameplan and make them one-dimensional is the call, question is will the Falcons answer?
They say that the team takes on the persona of their head coach, and this Niner team is no exception to the rule. This is a very physical defense who thrived on turnovers from a year ago, and the Falcons have done an excellent job thus far in winning the turnover battle.
This Niner team is allowing 29 points a game so far, and has given up several big plays through breakdown or miscues on defense. Even with that horrible stat, this team can generate turnovers through pressure and their excellent front seven.
Of course this is the same team that was demolished in their own house by the Falcons last year.
Having played a similarly opportunistic defense a week before in the Saints, the Falcons simply must stay the course.
Do not turn the ball over
Despite the Falcons defense showing vast improvement from it's 2009 version which ranked 28th and allowed a whopping 55 plays of 20 yards or more, there still have been some early season miscues by the young secondary.
Thomas Decoud, Christopher Owens and William Moore have made their share of youthful mistakes and must shore up their discipline and mental processes this week.
Although some may point at these mistakes as weaknesses, in reality it is valuable experience and building blocks for a young promising up and coming defense.
Dunta Robinson is bound to see more action this game as the Niners are undoubtedly planning on incorporating more of their receivers into the game. Michael Crabtree has been a very quiet receiver thus far and the Falcons secondary will be ready.
The 49ers also have a dangerous weapon in Vernon Davis, as he poses a matchup problem for just about any team. Problem is they just have not been able to utilize him correctly up until this point.
The Falcons secondary is young, fast, deep and talented and will make their mark this week against the 49ers. Outside of Davis, none of the 49er receivers should scare the Falcons, it will be up to their newly appointed offensive coordinator to find some mismatches and exploit them.
Question is, will they be foolish enough to test smallish cornerback Brent Grimes who has been just a filthy ballhawk early this season.
Many questions lingered in the offseason about this defense, and I previewed the entire unit here.
The Falcons finished in the top ten against the rush a year ago, and may actually improve that standing if they could just stop allowing the big run.
They have been quietly efficient against the run, but Sean Weatherspoon may not be 100% for the game. The impressive rookie has settled down into a nice groove, tied for the team lead in tackles with none other than Curtis Lofton.
Lofton will have a huge say in what Frank Gore does this upcoming Sunday.
Despite Gore's horrible YPC average, he is still a dangerous back both running the rock and out of the backfield. The Falcons have given up 4 big plays this year, and 2 long runs both to the right side of the defensive line.
Limiting Gore to his YPC average will mean nothing if he springs two or three long runs.
The San Francisco 49ers look like they are teetering on the brink of self-implosion as they travel to the Georgia Dome. The Falcons just got done gutting out a emotional win against the Saints.
Every single conceivable stat or argument all point to a Falcon victory.
1. The Niners are allowing a horrid 48 percent of opponents 3rd downs to be completed while the Falcons are at 30.3 percent.
2. The Niners are allowing 29 points a game compared to 15.3 for the Falcons.
3. The best part of the Niners offense, their running game has not performed this year, and has flat out disappeared on the road. Averaging a subpar 78 yards per game, the Falcons counter with a respectable 101 yards a game allowed and without 2 long runs a solid 3.2 yards per carry average.
4. The Niners are converting only 24 percent of their third downs, while Matt Ryan has his offense on schedule converting 51 percent of their third downs.
5. The Falcons rushing attack is a robust 160 yards per game, countering are the 49ers at 111.3 yards per game rushing allowed.
What many years of watching sports has taught me is that there is no such thing as a sure bet, that the very "sure-fire" and "cant-miss" victories often find a way to become "sure-losses" and "cant-hits"
Mike Singletary will have his troops ready to play, Johnson can't be any more of a failure game planning as Raye was, these Niners are still pros and couldn't possibly lay another egg..... could they?
As much as it would be a feel good story for the Niners to eek out a win, I just don't think that Mike Smith allows his troops to fall into the "trap-game" category.
Falcons win 27-13