I recently had the opportunity to discuss the NFC Championship game with Fansided’s Golden Gate Sports. Here’s the discussion:
Blogging Dirty- The 49ers have an outstanding defense, very adept at tackling, stopping the run, and rushing the passer. They cover reasonably well, but the real key is not allowing anything after the catch/contact. The Falcons have outstanding wide receivers who did a tremendous job getting open against the massive Seattle corners last week. Will Julio Jones and Roddy White be able to get open and be successful in the passing game?
Golden Gate Sports- I think that will be one of the biggest keys to games for both teams. If the Falcons can get Julio Jones and Roddy White going, then they will be very tough to beat. And on the other side, if the 49ers can somehow manage to contain those two, not shut down, just contain them to average or below average games, then the game is theirs. I believe the Falcons will have their way with the 49ers as Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers aren’t nearly on the same level as Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. However, Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are two exceptional safeties that will be lurking around, and it should be mentioned that they will have a big impact on the game. Both are hard-hitting and their veteran leadership will play a big role.
BD- San Fran isn’t just good at stopping the run; they can really get after the quarterback. However, with Justin Smith not at 100%, Aldon Smith isn’t quite effective. Facing an Atlanta team that has looked great at times, average at others, just how much can we expect the pass rush to get to Matt Ryan? Is Justin Smith’s injury actually a factor?
GGS- I believe Justin Smith’s injury is a factor, but it won’t matter too much. He came out and played against the Packers which was a good sign, but I think the real key will be Aldon Smith. After winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Year, it’s clear that he is becoming a household name. I think he’s going to have a huge game and pressure Matt Ryan a lot. After all, if the 49ers’ can get to Matt Ryan and put some pressure on him then it will have a huge impact on the game, as that way Jones and White won’t be able to excel as much if their quarterback can’t get them the ball. The 49ers coverage needs to hold up so that Matt Ryan will stay in the pocket and keep looking (he’s not really a mobile quarterback) which will allow the San Francisco pass rush to make their move.
BD- Tony Gonzalez will be matched up, in the middle of the field, with Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, two of the finest linebackers in the league. How successful will they be keeping the future Hall of Fame tight end in check?
GGS- I don’t want to sound biased but I believe that the 49ers linebackers will be able to stop Gonzalez. Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman just have that killer instict, and their football IQ is incredible. And with their athleticism, and the way this 49ers team has played all year long, I just believe that they will put it all on the line and get the job done. Seattle has a phenomenal secondary but their linebackers are not even close to the skill of Bowman and Willis. Gonzalez won’t know what’s coming and I think the 49ers will have their way with that match-up.
BD- Colin Kaepernick is an absolute phenomenon after his tremendous, record setting effort against the Green Bay Packers. However, in recent memory, the 49ers put up a poor performance against Seattle. What did Seattle do, or the 49ers not do, that put them in such a huge hole?
GGS- Yeah, that was a really bad performance by the 49ers. I think what really helped the Seahawks win that game was Wilson’s ability to buy time in the pocket and his ability to make plays with his legs. When San Francisco’s defensive line is bringing the heat and Wilson is able to just spin out of it all and make a perfect pass downfield, it’s always going to be a long night. And that happened a lot of times. With Atlanta, Matt Ryan is not really known as a mobile quarterback so I think the 49ers defensive line will actually be able to make things interesting. Also, after Kaepernick’s amazing game against Green Bay, I think it answered the biggest question that everybody had about him: Is he ready? He most certainly is.
BD- The offensive line of the 9ers is clearly their greatest strength offensively, and they are road graders as well as good in play-action pass protection. Is there any weak point on that line, or their protection schemes, that the Falcons could possibly take advantage of?
GGS- To be honest I don’t think that there are any problems on the line that the Falcons can take advantage of, however, somebody that can cause problems no matter what scenario is John Abraham. He was just given the OK to play on Sunday and I think that he will have a big impact. He left during their game against Seattle and I think that really hurt them.
BD- What is your prediction on the outcome of the game?
GGS- I think the 49ers will grind out the victory and get ready for the Super Bowl. After seeing Colin Kaepernick light it up on the national stage in his first playoff game, I believe that it was a sign of what is yet to come. I think he will have great success running the ball just like he did against Green Bay, and I think the 49ers will be able to get open downfield and make the right plays. Establishing a nice run game will also be important, and with Frank Gore leading the way, they should be fine. Lamichael James has also been playing great in the absence of Kendall Hunter. I just don’t believe that Matt Ryan will be able to make enough of the big, game-changing moments. I’m not really sold on him as an elite quarterback just yet, as he just won his first playoff game last week. I do think it will be very close though, as Atlanta has a lot of weapons and is playing at home in the Georgia Dome, a place that they are very dangerous.