I think it's safe to say that this is a pretty good matchup for the Falcons. Coming off a bye week that hopefully allowed guys like Crumpler to heal up a little and let Trey Lewis get up to speed, they now get a reasonably weak team suffering from some key injuries. If there was ever a week to stand up and say "we're actually a football team, I swear"...this would definitely be it. So to put a spin on the much-neglected preview formula, here's a quick look at the 49ers.
QB: I recall scratching my head a little bit when Alex Smith was made the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. To me, the expectations of being the first overall pick were likely to catch up to Smith, who has decent-to-good tools but never struck me as a stellar prospect. Two years later, he's never really delivered on any of that promise. Injuries had played a big role in his development. He's probable against the Falcons and represents an upgrade over Trent Dilfer. The Falcons can definitely screw him up badly if they can actually get some consistent pressure. I'd expect something in the neighborhood of 15/30-210-1-2 from Smith on Sunday, and if he struggles the Falcons have a very good chance of winning.
RB: Frank Gore is the key here. It's looking less and less likely that he's going to be playing at full strength, though. The Falcons would be wise to play off the line a little bit on him, because if he can't cut he's going to run right into them about two yards out. If he doesn't get the call or is ineffective, Maurice Hicks will go. He's not a bad back, but it's still good news when you can take Gore out of the equation. Their fullback is Moran Norris, who will add negligible stats.
WR: This receiving corps is roughly as gruesome as the Falcons last year, which only Arnaz Battle and the chronically injured Darrell Jackson capable of providing much. They have an up-and-comer in Jason Hill, but they also have Bryan Gilmore (formerly a so-so receiver for the Cardinals) and Ashley Lelie (he needs no introduction). Battle probably represents the most consistent option. Of course, that's discounting monster tight end Vernon Davis. In the mold of a Crumpler or Shockey, he's an improving blocker who also happens to be able to catch very well. Oh, and he's an athletic freak. The safety tandem is going to have their work cut out against him, but Hall should lock down anyone he matches up against with no problem.
OL: The line has plenty of talent but isn't a consistent deliverer. Joe Staley is going to be--and is showing signs of being--a Gozilla-stomping-Tokyo type presence at tackle. Jonas Jennings and Larry Allen have had a lot of success in the past but don't appear to offer the same kind of pass-blocking on the left side that they were capable of in the past. Eric Heitman and Justin Smiley anchor an underrated middle and right of the line. The Falcons should definitely be looking to puss their pass rush left.
DL: Uninspiring. Bryant Young is, for lack of a better string of words, a complete geezer. I'd worry more about him getting his cane stuck in the turf than him getting a sack. Marques Douglas is alright at the other end spot, and Aubrayo Franklin is a good anchor for the 3-4, but let's face it. These guys are just there so the linebackers have something to stand behind. Probably the least threatening feature of the defense.
LB: This is where the Niners excel. Patrick Willis is going to be amazing, and he alone would make this a good linebacking corps. On top of that, they have Tully Banta-Cain, who has a spiffy name and is underrated, and Parys Haralson, who could be promising. Derek Smith is also perfectly capable of getting the job done. They'll help disguise the average defensive line and have a great chance of stuffing the running game. This is not a good thing.
CB&S: Nate Clements is overrated to some extent, but he's still one of the better corners in this league. Walt Harris is like what Lewis Sanders would be if he could start in this league; average to above average. Mark Roman and Michael Lewis present a solid safety tandem that won't have to exert themselves very much against Blakley and Milner, assuming Crumpler can't go. Clements versus Roddy promises to be a fun matchup.
K: Joe Nedney sees your booing and raises you one obscene gesture. Aside from that, he's done well this year for a low-scoring Niners offense. Good for him.
P: I don't even know who Andy Lee is, but a 49.9 yards per punt average is pretty damn impressive. I wish our punter would do that (hint, hint).
KR&PR: Michael Lewis, Arnaz Battle and Maurice Hicks. A solid return game with little chance of turning into explosive downfield returns. I may have just jinxed us.
So that's the 49ers in a nutshell. Thoughts?