THE BRANCH – The Falcons head coach Mike Smith stops by the blog this week to shed some insights into the game with the San Francisco 49ers.
The reigning Coach of the Year and the rest of team will leave for San Francisco on Friday around 5 p.m. They’ll land around 10 p.m. and have dinner.
He’s impressed with how they are playing under Coach Mike Singletary. Check on this NFL.Com clip from the 49ers 35-0 pasting of the St. Louis Rams last week. They clearly are not the most talented team, but have played well this season. They are a Brett Favre heave away from being 4-0.
Coach Smith is anticipating a brutally physical matchup.
“Coach Singletary, I know that he preaches physicality and I don’t think that those guys have any doubt that they are going to be ready to play and make it a physical football game,” Smith said.
WILLIS COULD HAVE BEEN A FALCON: The tone-setter for the 49ers is inside linebacker Patrick Willis. The Falcons passed on him in 2007 with the 8th pick and selected defensive end Jamaal Anderson. Willis went three picks later to the 49ers and appears to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
“Patrick Willis has been in the league two years and has gone to two Pro Bowls,” Smith said. ”He had a gigantic game last week against St. Louis with the two and half sacks, two tackles for loss, interception returned for a touchdown. For some guys, that’s a season. He had that production in one game.”
FALCONS DON’T WANT TO GET OUT-HIT: The normally quiet John Abraham sent out the call for the defensive line to “Man Up” against the 49ers.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Smith said. “Not only are they physical on defense, but they are big up front. Their offensive line has some really big guys.”
NOT A ONE-MAN BAND: Willis has plenty of help. Former Auburn star and Augusta native Takeo Spikes plays inside linebacker on running downs. He comes out when the 49ers go to their nickel package.
Outside linebackers Manny Lawson (N.C. State) and Parys Haralson (Tennessee) will go to defensive end in passing situations.
“Both of those guys are very good pass rushers,” Smith said. “They were defensive ends in college in a 4-3 scheme. There is not a whole lot of substitution. Those guys can put their hand in the dirt and rush the passer.”
STOUT AGAINST THE RUN: The 49ers are ranked 4th against the run (73.8 per game) in the league and have
already slowed down Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.
“They have been very efficient in stopping the run,” Smith said. “One of the teams they played is the Vikings. . . They have done a very good job through the first few games. It will be a very big challenge for us.”
SHAUN HILL IS A GAME MANAGER: The 49ers want to run the ball, but will be without their No. 1 running back Frank Gore. Running back Glen Coffee, a third round pick from Alabama, has tried to fill his shoes.
Quarterback Shaun Hill has taken care of the ball in the passing game and has five touchdown passes.
“He has distributed the ball, especially there in the red zone,” Smith said. “Isaac Bruce has had a good season through the first four games and so has Josh Morgan.”
Morgan, a second-year man from Virginia Tech, is a promising young receiver.
“He’s a very physical receiver,” Smith said. “He has good speed, but he’s also a guy who can body defensive backs. He’s a factor in their run game in terms of mixing it up on their perimeter blocking.”
TURNOVERS WILL BE KEY: The 49ers have scored touchdowns off an interception and a fumble return. They also have two special teams’ touchdowns.
Against the Rams, linebacker Scott McKillop recovered a muffed punt for a touchdown. Against Minnesota, defensive tackle Ray McDonald blocked a field goal and Nate Clements returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.
“Ball security is going to important,” Smith said. “They are a very physical team. When you have a physical team that’s running to the football, good things happen. That’s what happened to them over these first four games.”
FALCON CONNECTIONS: Former Falcon Allen Rossum (2002-2006) plays for the 49ers. He needs just 13 yards to reach 15,000 return yards. He could become the second player in NFL history to surpass 15,000 return yards, joining Brian Mitchell (19,013).
–San Francisco’s offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had two stints with the Falcons as receivers coach from 1980-82 and 1987-89.
–San Francisco’s quarterback coach Mike Johnson was with the Falcons from 2002 to 2005 as wide receiver coach for one season and then quarterback coach.
–Atlanta quarterback coach Bill Musgrave played quarterback for the 49ers from 1991-94.
Well, how do you see the game?
Will the Falcons be able to run the ball against Willis and the 49er defense?
Can the defensive line get some sacks on Hill?
Happy to see Rossum closing in on 15,000 return yards?
Like the hats?