NFC Conference Championship Matchups: 49ers Offensive Line vs. John Abraham And The Falcons Defensive Line
The Falcons pass rush will have a little less bite against the 49ers in the NFC Championship on Sunday. The Falcons only double-digit sack producer, John Abraham, is questionable, but expects to play.
The Atlanta Falcons struggled to create pressure all season, finishing 28th in the NFL with only 29 sacks, and with their primary pass rusher Abraham limited with an ankle injury, creating pressure against the 49ers outstanding offensive line may be a problem.
Against the Seahawks last week, the Falcons managed two sacks, both from defensive tackles. The Falcons defensive tackles face 49ers Pro-Bowl guard Mike Iupati and center Jonathan Goodwin, who has yet to give up a sack this post season. Even if Abraham plays at a high level, he faces another Pro-Bowler in left tackle Joe Staley. Staley gave up a sack to Clay Mathews last week, but was mostly dominating against Green Bay’s All-Pro pass rusher.
NFC Conference Championship: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White And Falcons Passing Attack vs. 49ers Secondary
Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez both got their first playoff win, in an emotional victory at home against the Seattle Seahawks last week. Hosting the San Francisco 49ers will provide similar difficulties. The 49ers play physical with their corners Carlos Rodgers, Tarell Brown, and Chris Culliver, and keep Pro-Bowl safeties Dashon Goldson and Dante Whitner deep to create turnovers, and make bit hits attacking the offense downhill.
Ryan was able to catch the Seahawks secondary off guard, and get an early lead on the a Seahawks team that seemed asleep early in the game, having traveled across the country and playing in Sunday’s early game. The 49ers are undefeated on early Sundays traveling east. The Falcons best chance to win is to get an early lead, as the 49ers have shown a weakness to coming back from a two-touchdown deficit. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White highlighted the NFL’s 6th best passing offense this season, and were a big part of the Falcons win last week. Jones, White, and Gonzalez caught 17 of Ryan’s 24 completions against the Seahawks, and caught 264 of Matt Ryan 422 completions for 62.5 percent of all passes this season.
NFC Conference Championship Matchups: Falcons Offensive Line vs. Justin And Aldon Smith-led 49ers Defensive Line
The Falcons offensive line against the 49ers defensive line is strength on strength match. The Falcons offensive line specializes in pass protection, and only allowed 28 sacks, 7th in the league, while the 49ers tied for 11th in sacks with 38.
Justin and Aldon Smith provide a combination pass rush that has allowed Aldon Smith to record 19.5 sacks, but none since Justin Smith initially went down in week 14. Falcons Left tackle Sam Baker and left guard Justin Blalock will face the two Smith’s most of the game, and working together will be important, if Justin Smith can play to usual levels, and tie up both the tackle and guard, Aldon Smith should return to the sack master we saw earlier in the season.
Falcons Right tackle Tyson Clabo will have to defend Aldon Smith at times, as the 49ers rush Smith from both sides, and Aldon Smith has actually had a higher percentage of success rushing from the right side. The Falcons running game showed improvement against the Seahawks last week, but will need further improvement to have success against possibly the NFL’s best front seven.
NFC Conference Championship Matchups: Michael Turner And The Falcons Rushing Attack vs. Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman And The 49ers Run Defense
The Atlanta Falcons win over the Seattle Seahawks featured a running attack more potent than it had been all year. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 162 yards on only 24 carries, and controlled the clock effectively against a tough Seattle run defense.
The Seahawks were able to come back on Atlanta though, as the Falcons were unable to run out the clock, and managed only six of 24 first downs by run. The Falcons use swing and screen passes as almost an expended handoff, and Rodgers has caught 53 passes for 402 yards, most on such plays.
The Falcons two-headed rushing attack faced the Buccaneers #1 rushing defense twice this year, and did not produce a 50 yard rusher in either game. Facing Pro-Bowlers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and the 49ers 4th ranked rushing defense, the Falcons will need to achieve some sort of success, or the 49ers will successfully make another top passing offense one dimensional, allowing for their defense to rush the passer.
AFC Conference Championship Matchups: Stevan Ridley And Patriots Rushing Attack vs. Ray Lewis, Suggs-Led Ravens Run Defense
After a decade of dominance, the Ravens stingy run defense lost a ton luster after finnishing 20th in the league this year. They lost their attacking fist of Terrell Suggs for most of the season, then losing their heart in Ray Lewis, and seeing the brain of Ed Reed off the field at times. The body of this Ravens defense has been in jeopardy reeling from the loss of its individual pieces. Suggs and Lewis are back, Reed is healthy, and the Ravens are playing with a conviction and passion we have not seen since the magical 2000 Super Bowl season.
The Patriots have a top 10 rushing attack for the first time in the Tom Brady era, and Stevan Ridley is the reason for it. Ridley’s 1263 and 12 touchdowns lead the way to the Patriots seventh ranked rushing attack, with Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Boldin all recording 250+ rushing yards as well. Ridley is a pure rusher, who comes off the field for passing downs, making way for Woodhead and Hernandez to catch passes out of the backfield.