After a historic performance last week against Green Bay, the Colin Kaepernick led Niners have the look of an unstoppable juggernaut that are destined to be the NFC’s representative in Super Bowl XLVII. Standing in San Francisco’s way is an Atlanta squad that few pundits thought were legitimate contenders until their dramatic last minute win against Seattle seven days ago. Overnight the Falcons have change people’s perception and giving rise to a belief that the team is capable of upsetting the Niners at home on Sunday. While it’s great for fans to believe and media to debate, statistically it seems unlikely that Atlanta can emerge victorious and the following are a few points for your consideration as to why.
Falcons Competition in 2012
It’s not an unknown that like the Broncos this season, the Falcons cruised to a 13-3 record largely because of a soft schedule. Atlanta’s competition in 2012 had an average winning percentage of .418, while they faced defenses with an average ranking of 19th in the league. Compare that to San Francisco’s competition that had an average winning percentage of .514, along with defenses that averaged a 14th overall ranking and the Falcons record doesn’t seem all that impressive. That said the Dirty Birds were 3-1 during regular season against teams with Top Ten defenses, averaging 26 ppg in those games.
The Niners Speed is a Killer
If you listened to Browns new VP of operations Mike Lombardi this season you heard him talk about how impossible it is for teams to prepare for the speed at which the Niners play at, particularly on defense. It’s a primary reason why teams that haven’t played San Francisco tend to struggle against them early on in games and why teams in the NFC West that are familiar with their style of play tend to fair better. To this point the only team to defeat the Niners this season that wasn’t familiar with their style of play was Minnesota in Week 3. In that game San Francisco’s offense was lead by Alex Smith, turned the ball over on 3 occasions, and failed to rush the ball for more than 89 yards.
However, it would seem unlikely that the Falcons could repeat the Vikings success. In five games this season against Top Ten rushing attacks (Niners rank 4th), Atlanta has failed to allow few than 123 yards on the ground (over 159 rushing ypg) and since Jim Harbaugh became head coach San Francisco is an impressive 18-2-1 when the offense has rushed the ball for 123 yards or more.
Even worse for the Falcons is that teams facing Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick for the first time are surrendering over 32 ppg with this number jumping to 36 ppg when the Bay Area boys are on the road. Can Atlanta keep pace with this type of offensive production?
Again it seems unlikely. At home this season the Falcon’s offense averaged 25 ppg, scoring more than 30 points only once in Week 15 against a New York Giants defense that was ranked 31st in the league.
Can Mike Nolan’s Defense Stop the Kap Attack?
During the regular and postseason the Falcons faced a mobile/running quarterback four times* allowing over 345 total yards per game with 10 touchdowns to only 1 interception. These quarterbacks (Newton, Vick, and Wilson) combined for an average passer rating of 104.6. So although some have argued that Atlanta has a chance to contain Kaepernick on Sunday because the team is familiar with the style of play employed by these quarterbacks, Nolan’s record in 2012 says that he hasn’t had success in scheming against them. If Nolan can’t find a way to successfully gameplan against the Kap Attack, then the probability of the Falcons winning decreases dramatically. Not too many teams win games when allowing opposing quarterbacks to average a passer rating of over 100.
*The Redskins game was not included as RGIII was injured and didn’t play a complete game
Home Sweet Home??
Matt Ryan has traditionally been the Ice Man in the Georgia Dome racking up an impressive 33-5 record with an average QB rating of 95.2, nearly 8 points better than his road rating. However, this season the quarterback has been anything but special at home. Ryan is averaging only 269 ypg with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions for a 86.2 QB rating…a full 25 points lower than his road rating of 111.3. It’s little wonder that the Falcons offense averaged less points and yards during the regular season at home than on the road. Additionally, neither Ryan or offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have ever faced a Vic Fangio defense. Given the Niners defense’s portfolio of success during the past two seasons under Fangio the edge must to go to San Francisco.
The Battle of the Tight Ends
As our writer Tim Solis so aptly pointed out in his article last week, ever since Kaepernick became the Niners starting quarterback Michael Crabtree has emerged as a playmaker at the wide receiver position giving San Francisco its first legitimate outside threat in nearly a decade. Crabtree’s play has allowed some to forget that Kaepernick also has at his disposal one of the game’s top threats at the tight end position in Vernon Davis.
In reviewing the game tape from the Seahawks/Falcons last week, I’m sure that it’s not lost on Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman that Seattle tight end Zach Miller racked up 142 yards on 8 receptions and 1 touchdown. Allowing tight ends to have big games is nothing new for a Falcons’ defense which gave up 14 ypc to top ranked players in the league at the position. So look for Davis to play a key role in the Niners’ gameplan, especially given the fact San Francisco is 8-0 over the past two years when Davis has multiple receptions and averages at least 14 yards in a game.
And what of the Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez? Just like Oil of Olay, Gonzalez continues to defy age averaging nearly 6 receptions and 60 ypg with 8 touchdowns in 2012. However, the future Hall of Famer will be facing a Niners’ defense that is allowing only 45 ypg to opposing tight ends and only once this season gave up more than 48 yards and 5 receptions in a game. It will be interesting to see if Gonzalez will be a factor or just contributor on Sunday.
There is Always Hope
Though I’ve outlined many a reason to doubt the Falcons chances of upsetting the Niners and moving onto Super Bowl XLVII there is always one thing the people of the ATL can hope for…turnovers. San Francisco has only achieved victory once in five games this season where they lost the turnover battle. A key fumble here, a timely interception of Kaepenick there, and an offense that refuses to give up the rock might just help the Falcons over come the odds to pull off the upset. Because without winning the turnover battle the numbers point to a close but clear victory by the Niners.
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