For those who remember the old NFC West days, the 49ers were the team to hate. For years they dominated the division, while the Rams, Saints and Falcons watched from a distance. These are not those same 49ers. This 1-12 squad is banged up and is just a very talent depleted team. They rank 29th in total offense and are dead last in total defense and rushing defense. Let’s see how a banged up Falcons offense matches up with this 49ers unit.
* Note: assessments are based on 2016 PFF scoring
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line is led by Alex Mack, one of the best centers in the league and easily the best free agent signing for Atlanta in many years. His play has helped elevate the play of Andy Levitre, who has had a very nice season. That hasn’t applied to Chris Chester, who is having a very poor year overall. On the outside, Ryan Schraeder is one of the better right tackles in the league while Jake Matthews has been average, but excels in pass protection. This is a very solid offensive line that has faced some stiff competition this year. Last week against the Rams, they mostly neutralized the best defensive player in the game in Aaron Donald. When they aren’t shooting themselves in the foot with dumb penalties, this unit can be very, very good. They’ve been instrumental in the Falcons having the league’s top-scoring offense this year.
The 49ers are in rough shape in the trenches. DeForest Buckner, their 1st round pick from this year, is developing nicely and has 5 sacks on the year. Former first round pick Glenn Dorsey has been a disappointment in the middle of the D, while Christopher D. Jones hasn’t been much better. Outside linebacker Eli Harold has not been good, while veteran Ahmad Brooks is clearly on the back-end of his career. In nickel sets, Ronald Blair rotates in, and he’s not an upgrade in any sense either. Inside linebacker Nick Bellore is bad in run support but average in coverage, while Gerald Hodges does well against the run but struggles against the pass. This team is clearly missing NaVorro Bowman.
This may be the worst defensive front the Falcons have faced this year. After what seemed like a relentless tour of some of the best in the league, Atlanta has finally hit a stretch where the competition isn’t top-10 every week. Sorry 49ers, but this match up just doesn’t look great for you.
The skill positions
The Falcons come in banged up, but still boast a pretty strong line-up. Matt Ryan is having an MVP caliber season and still managed over 200 yards and 3 TDs last week after playing only 3 quarters. Julio Jones is the definition of dominance, but there’s a good chance he doesn’t play again this week. The Falcons should get back Mohamed Sanu, who has been playing better lately but is no one’s definition of a dominant receiver. Taylor Gabriel is the wild-card here. He’s been a virtual touchdown machine the last 6 games and he has elite speed that can cause nightmares for a defensive secondary. Levine Toilolo at TE is serviceable, but doesn’t scare anybody, while Austin Hooper flashes promise but is still very raw. Ultimately, the Falcons will probably rely heavily on running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who are one of the best duos in the league. Given the fact that the 49ers are the worst defense against the run, don’t be surprised if both Freeman and Coleman have big games.
In the secondary, the 49ers aren’t quite as bad. As a whole, the 49ers are 14th in passing defense, so they aren’t the biggest liability on this D. Tramaine Brock is a quality corner, though he isn’t likely on anyone’s top-10 list. Jimmie Ward is also a decent corner in his third year in the league. Safety Antoine Bethea is on the back-end of his career, but is still playing at a league-average level. He’s better against the run than he is against the pass. The 49ers other safety, Jaquiski Tartt, is also playing about average, doing better in coverage than in run support. In nickel sets, CB Rashard Robinson also grades out as “average.” This isn’t an intimidating unit, but they are not a swiss cheese unit either.
The resounding endorsement for the 49ers secondary should tell you everything you need to know. Even without Julio Jones, the Falcons still have tremendous depth and talent. Without mentioning guys like Justin Hardy and Aldrick Robinson, who have contributed all season as well, this is a talent rich offensive unit for the Falcons.
There’s a reason the Falcons have the top offense in the league, and it starts with the depth they now have. Even if Julio is out, there’s enough offensive talent to give defensive coordinators fits. Whether it’s the speed of Gabriel and Coleman, or the quick-cut running of Devonta Freeman, this is still a unit capable of scoring points. The 49ers are banged up and talent depleted, and this match-up does not favor them in the least.