It goes without saying that the Falcons face a huge uphill battle when facing the San Francisco 49ers tomorrow in a rematch of last year's NFC championship game.
While much has changed for the Falcons between this year and last season, minus the passing game, the 49ers have been a model of consistency, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
San Francisco ranks 4th and 6th in passing and running defense, giving up 199 yards passing per game and only 99 yards running per game.
The 49ers have recorded 36 sacks, 34 tackles for loss, 75 pass deflections, 15 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries. They're a consistent, physical and absolutely punishing defense.
A huge part of that has been the 49ers dominating linebackers.
The Falcons offense on the other hand is not the juggernaut that was able to shred the 49ers defense in the first half of last year's NFC title game. The Falcons rank dead last in the NFL in running the ball per game at only 79 yards per game. With a depleted offensive line going up against a linebacker corps. Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Novorro Bowman, the Falcons are going to have a very difficult time getting their league worst running game going.
Those four players have combined for 18 tackles for loss and pose a threat in the passing game, combining for 23 sacks, making the 49ers front seven nearly impregnable.
Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers are going to have their work cut out for them. Jackson who has only averaged 3.5 yards rushing per game this season. In 10 games playe, he has only rushed for 70+ yards three times, and only one of those efforts was recorded against a top 10 run defense, and that was against Buffalo in which he rushed for 83 yards.
We all know what happened last year when the Falcons were too one dimensional against the 49ers. San Francisco eventually adjusted to the pass happy offense and held the Falcons to 0 points in the second half. If the Falcons can't find a way to establish the run against one of the NFL's best, it will be another long day at the office for Matt Ryan and company.
The other part of the 49ers defense is just as strong. While Matt Ryan and the passing offense still rank in the top 10 in the NFL, Ryan's stats have tapered off a bit since the loss of Julio Jones, and with that O-line that has allowed Ryan to be hit for a total of 115 times this year according to NFL.com stats, it doesn't bode well for the Falcons.
The Falcons have done a much better job of running the football since Joe Hawley moved to center to replace struggling second year C Peter Konz, but this will be Hawley's toughest challenge yet in leading a push against this physical linebacker corps.
"Both Ahmad Brooks and Smith are playing very well right now," Ryan said. "Aldon Smith since he's been back, has been playing really, really well. A very good rushing passer, both those guys are creating problems in the passing game. They're both physical against the run, and they do a really, really good job in their scheme."
The Falcons will need to put extra tight ends on the line to chip this aggressive linebacker crops., and they may need more than that to try and slow them down. If not, that 115 hit number against Ryan could go up to 125 before the night is over with.
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