Many fans and professional prognosticators alike picked the Falcons to be 2-1 at this point and headed out favored to get past the 49ers. Falcon followers and media didn’t foresee the Falcons losing the way they did in Foxboro, complete with many three and outs, failure of backbone in playing and play-calling, and a feeling that the Falcons never had a real chance to win. The Birds are 2 and 1, but if there ever was an early must-win game, it’s this one. The 49ers have developed into one of the best defenses in the league and have shown that last year was no fluke, but the Falcons look to have a tough, hard road ahead with games coming up against the Bears (3-1), Cowboys (2-2), Saints (4-0), Giants (4-0), and Eagles (2-1). You have to wonder that if the Birds drop this one, how many more might they drop?
Falcons Defense (Rush – 25th, Pass – 27th, Total – 30th, Points – 8th)
49ers Offense (Rush – 15th, Pass – 28th, Total – 28th, Points – T-4th)
Falcons Bruised & Battered vs. 49ers O-Line
DE – John Abraham vs. LT – Joe Staley
DT – Jonathan Babineaux vs. LG – David Bass
DT – Trey Lewis/Thomas Johnson vs. C – Eric Heitmann/RG – Chilo Rachal
DE – Kroy Biermann/Jamaal Anderson vs. RT – Adam Snyder
Falcons Best D-Unit vs. 49ers RB’s and Vernon Davis
SLB – Stephen Nicholas/SS- Erik Coleman vs. TE – Vernon Davis
MLB – Curtis Lofton vs. FB – Moran Norris
WLB – Mike Peterson vs. RB – Glen Coffee
The linebackers are the heart and soul of the Falcons defense so far this year. Peterson, Nicholas, and particularly Lofton, have been making plays all over the field this year. It is fairly obvious to see the athletic upgrade at the positions. Curtis Lofton recorded a ridiculously high number of tackles with 19 and Peterson has been cleaning up a lot tackles that escapes the defensive line. Stephen Nicholas’ ability is obvious, but his pass rushing skill doesn’t seem to being used correctly. The linebackers are likely having to make too many plays, with the poor performances of the defensive line. If not making the tackle outright, the D-Line has to help their teammates out by at least getting penetration and getting some hits on the running backs and quarterback. Erik Coleman has had a solid start with his run support and above average cover of tight ends. The LB’s draw one of the best TE’s in Vernon Davis, who appears to have finally turned the corner. He is the best and most reliable of targets for efficient QB Shaun Hill. He has shown to be an innate threat in the red-zone. The loss of Frank Gore for the Niners is huge, and Peterson, Lofton, and Co. should put the pressure on Hill and the passing game. If Gore were healthy, this one might tip the other way. Edge – Birds
Falcons Most Porous Unit vs. 49ers Passing Attack
CB – Brian Williams vs. WR – Isaac Bruce
CB – Chris Houston/Tye Hill? vs. WR – Josh Morgan
Nickel – Brent Grimes? vs. WR – Arnaz Battle/Michael Crabtree?
SS – Erik Coleman vs. TE – Vernon Davis
FS – Thomas DeCoud vs. QB – Shaun Hill
Save some good performances by Thomas DeCoud and Brian Williams, the passing defense must improve. Some of it may be due to the play-calling, but this unit should be renamed “throw-it-whenever-and-wherever-you-want” instead of “bend-but-don’t-break”. The pass defense was great versus the Dolphins, but have spiraled down since. Steve Smith had his way in week 2, and Tom Brady had his way in week 3. They seem to hold fairly good until 3rd down, when their true lack of man-to-man coverage shows its vulnerability. As mentioned many times, Brian Williams becoming the number one CB off waivers seriously says something about the corners on our current roster. Chris Houston needs a really good game to get the critics off his back, and is this the week we finally see what Tye Hill’s got? Brent Grimes continue to keep Chevis Jackson and Chris Owens on the sideline. Vernon Davis is their biggest receiving threat and Shaun Hill has been efficient and managed the games enough to win. Michael Crabtree finally ended his prima-donna holdout and maybe we’ll see him in, but it’s doubtful. Time to see what we have in the likes of Tye Hill, and if Chevis Jackson and/or Chris Owens will be of any help to us this year. Due to Gore’s injury and lack of WR threat this one’s a tie. Otherwise, it would be a 49ers lock. Edge – Tie, Not Because of good Falcons Pass DEF
Falcons Offense (Rush – 25th, Pass – 20th, Total – 23rd, Points – 20th)
49ers Defense (Rush – 4th, Pass – 10th, Total – 6th, Points – 2nd)
Falcons Burn(ed) Unit vs. 49ers D-Line
LT – Sam Baker vs. DE – Justin Smith
LG – Justin Blalock vs. ILB – Takeo Spikes
C- Todd McClure vs. NT – Aubrayo Franklin
RG – Harvey Dahl vs. ILB – Patrick Willis
RT – Tyson Clabo vs. Isaac Sopoaga
The likes of Baker, Blalock, McClure, Dahl, and Clabo have been pretty good at protecting Matt Ryan and giving him time to throw, even though not look down field, but they have been pretty weak to say the least in the running game. It certainly hasn’t been all of their fault, with Michael Turner tip-toeing a little bit at the line of scrimmage, but they surely have under-performed compared to last year’s superb performance. Hopefully, they have taken the bye week and all the criticism personally. Coach Boudreau, Coach Mularkey, and Coach Smith used the week off to figure out their issues in the running attack, which paved the way for the second leading rusher in the NFL last year. Their first job back doesn’t get any easier with one of the best statistical defenses in the league. They better bring their lunch pail, because the guards and center will have their hands full with, arguably, the best defensive player in the league, LB Patrick Willis. Justin Smith is the typical working man player that Singletary loves. The new coach has helped Spikes, Franklin, and Sapoaga work into one of the best defenses in the league. Let’s really hope the bye week provided the spark we need, because on paper this one might get ugly. Edge – Gold Rushers
Falcons Second Most Criticized Unit & TG vs. 49ers Linebackers
RB – Michael Turner/Jerious Norwood vs. OLB – Parys Haralson
FB – Ovie Mughelli vs. ILB – Patrick Willis
TE – Tony Gonzalez vs. OLB – Manny Lawson/SS – Michael Lewis
Is this the game where the Falcons rushing attack gets back to last year’s form? Let’s certainly hope so. After having the second leading rushing offense in the league last year, the Pro-Bowl running back Turner has gained 65, 105, and 56 yards, respectively, in each of the first 3 games. The lone 100 yard performance was the most hard-earned century mark in some time against the Panthers, really only picking up steam in the second half. Although the O-Line hasn’t been up to par, Turner the Burner shares some of the blame with his lack of drive and urgency to hit the hole. Too many 1, 2, and 3 yard runs in the first three games, which is fine for the first half, but not the entire game. Norwood has been hurt pretty much the entire season to this point, and maybe that has been the issue, giving a threat to the outside and not allowing the defense to key the middle of the line. The Falcons have played some of the better defenses in the NFL, but they won’t get any easier, with the Bears, Giants, Jets, Eagles, and Saints on the horizon. Lawson and Haralson have surely benefited from the Hall of Fame Linebacker and are playing with fire. Michael Lewis has regained his swagger from his excellent days in Philly. Don’t bet on Coach Mularkey making the same mistake of not finding some way, any way, to get Gonzalez involved early and often. Expect TG to have a big game in this one. Until proven otherwise, can’t give this nod to the Falcons rushing attack. Edge – Gold Rushers
Falcons Aerial Assault vs. 49ers Secondary
WR – Roddy White vs. CB – Nate Clements
WR – Michael Jenkins vs. CB – Dre Bly
Slot – Marty Booker vs. Nickel – Shawntae Spencer
QB – Matt Ryan vs. FS – Dashon Goldson
The Falcons had their moments in the first two games with Matt Ryan looking sharp and connecting with receivers, backs, and Tony Gonzalez for many 3rd down conversions and driving the ball down the field. Ryan had a pretty good game going in the first half against the Patriots, but came back down to Earth in the second half, forcing many third and outs and being reduced to short and intermediate throws. Roddy White dropped two big passes and has not shown the elite performance and chemistry he and Ryan had last year. Time for White to start earning the dough as one of the top five receivers in the NFL. His life doesn’t get any easier, running up against one of the better corners in the league in Nate Clements. Franchise receivers find ways to make plays regardless of who’s covering them. Coach Mularkey’s play-calling hasn’t helped much either. Michael Jenkins has shown that he is a legit #2 receiver and can step up when White goes missing. Some think that the play-calling represented a desire to “protect” the defense, but that shouldn’t be the problem anymore. Booker has shown flashes in the slot, but has to fill HD’s shoes in opening up the middle with TG. Goldson has proven to be one of the better, young safeties in the NFC under Singletary’s tutelage. Time to open the vertical passing playbook and start taking chances downfield, even if they don’t connect, they must at least soften up the front. Birds get the edge because they have to. Edge – Birds.
-Who will win this one: Birds or Gold-Rushers?
-Is this a must-win game?
-Can the D-Line find a way to pull it together?
-Can Trey Lewis shake off the rust?
-Will the Birds LB’s contain Coffee and V.Davis?
-Is this Tye Hill’s big opportunity?
-Can our secondary rise up and play like week 1?
-The Burn Unit or the Burned Unit again?
-Turner’s “breakout” game?
-Finally see the vertical passing game and our offense open up?
-How many catches will TG get?