As the Atlanta Falcons prepare face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, one of the big matchups to watch will be the Falcons ability to limit San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis. Davis' combination of size and speed make him a match-up nightmare for any defense, but especially one like the Falcons which has struggled against tight ends recently.
Seattle tight end Zach Miller didn't have more than 59 receiving yards in any game during the regular season, but he shredded the Falcon defense for 142 yards and a touchdown last week. Miller was targeted nine times, catching eight passes. Sunday wasn't the first time the Falcons' defense struggled to contain an opposing tight end this season. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham caught seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons in Week 10.
In Atlanta's 13 wins during the regular season, opposing tight ends averaged 49.6 receiving yards per game. In the Falcons' three losses, tight ends averaged 85.7 receiving yards per game. Davis has had big games before, topping the 100-yard mark eight times during his career.
While Davis has been one of the top receiving threats during his career, he's struggled since Colin Kaepernick took over as the starting quarterback. Davis caught just 13 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown in Kaepernick's eight starts. Those numbers drop to just seven receptions for 105 yards and no touchdowns in the last seven games. Despite the low receiving totals, Davis has proven to still be a downfield threat at times. He caught a 44-yard pass against the Packers last week and has just missed on a number of other big plays recently.
Tony Gonzalez will get most of the attention leading up to the game, and rightfully so, future Hall of Famer and all, but if the Falcons don't shore up the holes Seattle exploited last week it could be Davis, not Gonzalez, who has the bigger impact on the game.