The Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers take to the national stage and spotlight tonight as they face-off on Monday Night Football. While the stakes for this game are clearly different from the past, there is still plenty to watch and plenty to be excited about in this game.
Going into this game, the 49ers are playing at Candlestick Park for the last time, so there is bound to be plenty of emotion throughout the stadium from both the fans and players. However, the 49ers must still remain focus in this emotional moment since this game also controls the possibility of the 49ers making the playoffs this season or not. Although the Falcons are out of contention for this year’s playoffs, there is no doubt that they would like to spoil the 49ers chances of making the playoffs and make the 49ers last game at Candlestick Park a bad one to remember.
Falcons Steps to Victory
When it comes the Falcons steps to victory, it all starts with the offense playing balance, starting with the run game. The Falcons must consistently use running back Steven Jackson to balance out the offense because the Falcons can’t afford to keep putting pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan to lead this entire offense. So the Falcons must run the ball early and effectively if they have any chance of winning this game. It all starts with the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage and opening holes, once that happens it’s up to Jackson to hit the hole and make a play. Remember that the running game doesn’t need to dominate but running the ball helps to take pressure off the passing game and keep the offense balance but it also helps the Falcons to control the clock and keep the 49ers offense off the field.
The next step for this Falcon offense is for the offensive line to give quarterback Matt Ryan time in the pocket. The offensive line has done an inconsistent job of protecting Ryan and they can’t afford to do that in this game. After that, Ryan must his play his part starting with the turnovers. Ryan can’t afford to turn the ball over if he plans to lead his team to a victory, he must take what the defense gives him and spread the ball around. I know they may be without Roddy White and Julio Jones but don’t forget that the Falcons are still ranked 8th in the NFL when it comes their passing attack. So Ryan must spread the ball around but he must also take care of the ball. As always, the receiving core has to do their part as well, Ryan is more than capable of putting the ball where it needs to be but the receivers must be willing to make the play and catch the ball.
As far as the defense goes, let’s just say they could have their hands full if they don’t come in prepared. Honestly, it all starts with containing the run game. By now everyone knows that the Falcons have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and when you think about the fact that the 49ers have the 5th best rushing attack in the NFL, you have to be concerned. Nonetheless, it will be up to this defense to step up and limit Frank Gore and that starts with the defensive line controlling the line of scrimmage and making plays in the backfield. While it’s not their main concern, the Falcons must also make a point to contain quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he is capable of making plays on the ground as well. Ultimately, if I’m the Falcons my goal is to force quarterback Colin Kaepernick to beat me through the air.
When it comes to containing the 49ers passing game, it begins with creating pressure on Kaepernick, because just like the Falcons, the 49ers offensive line has done an inconsistent job of protecting Kaerpenick and the Falcons need to challenge that. Kaepernick is obviously a talented quarterback but he is also known to panic and force passes when pressure which is what the Falcons want. The Falcons secondary also needs to be prepared to force Kaepernick to beat them without tight end Vernon Davis. The 49ers offense has clearly struggled this season when Davis is unable to be to used consistently and the Falcons must make a point to exploit that.
Lastly the Falcons defense must do their best to win the turnover battle, which means the Falcons must first take care of the ball offensively but the defense must do their best to force turnovers on the other side.
49ers Steps to Victory
When it comes to 49ers winning this game, it begins with the 49ers running the ball effectively and consistently. Mainly because the 49ers have played their best football of the season when they are playing balance football and leaning on the run game and that’s what they need to do in this game. Falcons have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and Frank Gore must exploit that doing what he does best which is run hard and gain big yardage. Doing that will help take pressure off of quarterback Colin Kaepernick but it will also help to control the clock.
For the passing game to succeed, the 49ers offensive line must give Kaepernick time in the pocket which allows time for the receivers to get open. If they do that there is no reason for Kaepernick to not have a good game. The Falcons pass defenses has been extremely inconsistent but they can bet that the Falcons will force Kaepernick to beat them without his safety net, tight end Vernon Davis, so he must be prepared to spread the ball around and take what the Falcons defense gives him. Falcons are young at the cornerback position so the 49ers would be smart to challenge that and take their deep shots down field when they can. However, the receivers must do their part as well because dropped passes and mis-communication on routes are unacceptable. If the 49ers follow those offensive steps there is no reason for them not to succeed.
Defensively, the 49ers need to continue playing well, starting with making the Falcons one-dimensional. The way to make the Falcons one-dimensional is to contain the run game. Now the 49ers have done a good job this season of containing the run but they have been exploited at times this season. Going into this game, they can’t allow Steven Jackson physicality to defeat them, the defensive line must control the line of scrimmage which will allow the opportunity for plays to be made in the backfield but they must also wrap up and finish tackles. If the 49ers can do that, they will slow down the Falcons offensive attack but more importantly they will stop the Falcons from controlling the clock.
However, the game will be won by slowing down the passing game and to do that the 49ers must pressure quarterback Matt Ryan and make him feel uncomfortable. I mentioned earlier that Ryan has tied a career high for interceptions tossing 14 interceptions this season and the 49ers must exploit that. Ryan is known to force passes when pressured which is plus for a 49er secondary who has shown the ability to make plays on the ball. Nonetheless, the secondary must still be prepared to play their part and contain the passing game. The Falcons offense has struggled but they have also had success, so the I expect the 49ers cornerbacks to play very physical but the safeties need to be prepared to contain big plays over the top.
With all of that being said, I have the 49ers winning this game. They are playing their final game at Candlestick Park, a stadium that has been full of exhilarating plays and history and I believe the 49ers want to make a few more memories and win big in their final game at Candlestick Park. While I’m sure the Falcons will make a point to compete and make the game close, I still worry about the consistent struggles of this Falcon offense and defense, so again I have the 49ers winning tonight for Monday Night Football.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com