When the San Francisco 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game this Sunday, it will mark the first time since 1998 that the two teams have met in the playoffs. With the Falcons running a high-octane offense, and the 49ers built on a strong, stingy, defense, the game will be the ultimate chess match.
On one hand, you have arguably the best wide-receiver tandem in the NFL in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both players command the ultimate respect, and have the ability to stretch the field, on any given play. They are big, fast, and physical. Collectively, they finished the regular season boasting the most receiving yards of any wide-receiver tandem with 2,549 yards, while combining for 17 touchdowns, which ranked tied for fourth best among wide receiver tandems.
To counter the Falcons passing attack, the 49ers have two studs of their own, with inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Unlike Jones and White, they are undeniably the best tandem at their respective positions. Willis is by far the heart and soul of the defense. He is fast, rangy, and very physical. Simply put, he runs like a cheetah and hits like a freight train. Bowman, also, is no slouch by any means. His ability to complement Willis with his combination of punishing hits and closing speed makes him a valuable commodity, and one of the best inside linebackers in the game.
The game will be a classic offense versus defense struggle. As all eyes will be on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s offense and 49ers Patrick Willis’ defense. To put things in perspective, the Falcons finished the regular season with the 6th ranked passing attack, while the 49ers defense ranked 4th in pass defense. More importantly, the Falcons ranked 7th in points per game and the 49ers defense ranked 2nd in scoring defense.
So with all these stats, what does this all mean? The answer lies in the run game.
The 49ers known for their smash-mouth running style, ranked fourth in the NFL with 155.7 rushing yards per game, while the Falcons defense ranked near the bottom in rush yards allowed giving up 123.2 rush yards per game, which is good for 21st in the NFL.
The 49ers offense, built around the run game, should be able to chew up valuable clock time, all while keeping Ryan’s offense off the field. A huge part of a Super Bowl team’s success is the ability to stop the run, and if the Falcons are unable to accomplish that on Sunday, then it is already game-over.
The run game doesn’t just affect the Falcons on defense but offense as well. The 49ers have the fourth ranked rushing defense, giving up a stingy 94.2 yards per game. The Niners’ front seven does an exceptional job of hitting their gaps and making open-field tackles. Their ability to stop the run, and make teams one-dimensional, is a thing of beauty, and should help give them an advantage on Sunday, considering the Falcons have one of the worst rushing attacks in the league ranking 29th in the NFL.
This match-up is one that plays in the Niners favor because they are an all-around better football team. They can beat you in multiple ways, and while the Falcons may have a better offense, their defense is suspect, making them very vulnerable. I’m a true believer in the “defense wins championships” philosophy and with the Falcons not being a very good one, I expect an easy victory for San Francisco, as the 49ers win a blowout 34-23.