By Gabe Schapiro
This Monday at 5:40pm the San Francisco 49ers (10-4) will be taking on the Atlanta Falcons (4-10), in Candlestick Park’s swan song. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, two games behind the Seattle Seahawks and one game up on the Arizona Cardinals. The Atlanta Falcons are in the basement of the NFC South, tied for last place with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have long been out of the playoff hunt.
Last weekend San Francisco throttled the Buccaneers, 33-14, winning their fourth straight. The 49ers jumped out to an early 17-0 lead. Tampa Bay put up a bit of a fight, getting within six points to open the fourth quarter, but San Francisco quickly squashed their momentum with two field goals and a touchdown. Colin Kaepernick had a strong performance, completing 19-of-29 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Frank Gore ran for a tough 86 yards on 22 carries, and as a team they ran for 86 yards. Vernon Davis caught his 12th touchdown of the season, and Michael Crabtree also hauled in his first score since returning from injury. Crabtree becomes just the third 49ers receiver to catch a touchdown pass. Eric Reid grabbed his fourth interception and Aldon Smith had two sacks.
This week marks the second consecutive matchup against an NFC South bottom feeder. As they did last week with the Bucs, they shouldn’t run into too much trouble with the Falcons.
Atlanta has become synonymous with playoff contender in recent years, but they have struggled mightily this season. They have dealt with major injures to many of their best skill players. They lost star receiver Julio Jones for the season, and Roddy White and Steven Jackson have also both missed time and been ineffective when trying to play through ailments.
QB Matt Ryan has been one of their few constants. He is still very talented, but hasn’t had a lot to work with, and it has shown. He’s not having a bad year, but is certainly having a down season. His favorite targets in the passing game have been Harry Douglas and veteran Tony Gonzalez. As a unit they have been very middle of the road. They are 22nd in points per game, and 16th in total yards.
Their biggest downfall, however, has been their porous defense. In nearly every facet they have been bad. They are the fourth worst in yards allowed, sixth worst in points allowed per game, fourth worst against the run, and eighth worst against the pass. They have some strong solid rushers in Osi Umenyiora and Corey Peters, but that has been one of the few bright spots.
As they have been excellent at in recent weeks, the 49ers should be able to find a nice balance to their offense against a weak defense. Gore is always reliable, and Kaepernick seems to be benefitting from the addition of Michael Crabtree to the lineup.
San Francisco got some bad news this week, when it was announced that FB Bruce Miller was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, ending his season. The fullback position is not one that many teams utilize, but Miller has gotten a heavy workload this season. He is Gore’s lead blocker, and is used often in the passing game. He is the teams third leading receiver in receptions and yards. The 49ers re-signed FB Will Tukuafu to try and soften the blow.