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What to know about the Falcons - 49ers matchup in Week 15

The Falcons have one final tough matchup in 2019, and it’s an absolute doozy.

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have beaten exactly one good team in 2019, and that was the division rival Saints. Those same Saints were just beaten 48-46 by the team Atlanta is about to play, the resurgent 49ers. It’s fair to say their odds of winning this one aren’t all that great.

The 49ers are one of the best teams in football, with only the Ravens really having a credible case as being better. San Francisco is limited only by their middle-of-the-road quarterback and a less than stellar run defense, plus an ever-growing list of injuries. Otherwise, they are as talented and well-coached a team as you’ll find in the NFL, and they should have no trouble dispatching this roller coaster Atlanta squad.

For the sake of discussion, though, let’s talk more about this matchup.

Falcons - 49ers comparisons

Hold your nose before consuming the following table.

Falcons - 49ers Matchup

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 4-9 14 7 3 30 26 21 24 15 26 21
49ers 11-2 2 4 13 2 3 2 1 22 3 18

The 49ers are great, full stop. They are an efficient scoring machine, they run the ball as well as anyone in the NFL not named the Ravens, and their stingy defense has been among the very best in the NFL. They’re more top half of the league when it comes to passing and their run defense is nothing special, but the addition of Emmanuel Sanders has done wonders for the passing game and the Falcons aren’t well-positioned to take advantage of their weaknesses up front.

In contrast, Atlanta is great virtually nowhere. They put up plenty of yards in general, especially through the air, but they’re a middle-of-the-road scoring offense and rushing defense, and below average in everything else. They are capable of stellar days—they’ve had two against Carolina and one against New Orleans in recent memory—but they have not quite faced a team this good to this point. With the roster pretty banged up and knowing the 49ers just put 48 points on a better defense, I don’t see how Atlanta wins unless San Francisco entirely falls apart.

This should be a bloodbath, and yet I don’t expect it to be. That might be the nicest thing I could say about this particular Falcons team. More on that shortly.

How have the 49ers changed in 2019?

The moves they made mostly felt small, but they added up to a greater whole.

The former Falcons should go first, right? Ben Garland was a valuable reserve for Atlanta and has played six games for San Francisco’s dinged up line in 2019, and former Falcons UDFA Daniel Brunskill joined up and has actually gotten starts along the way.

The biggest addition was Tevin Coleman, who Falcons fans hated losing. Coleman has the most carries out of any back on the roster and leads the team with six rushing touchdowns, but he’s been easily the least efficient back on the roster, too, averaging 3.7 yards per carry to Raheem Mostert’s 6.0 and Matt Breida’s 5.2. He’s been the most productive receiver among the back group, too, but Mostert has been much better on a per reception basis (13.3 yards per reception compared to 8.7 for Coleman, plus 2 receiving touchdowns to his one). Coleman is a very good back, but he’s always been boom or bust, and that’s continued behind one of the better run blocking lines in football.

They also added Levine Toilolo, who has been in 10 games as a special teamer and has two catches for 10 yards.

The team also added linebacker Kwon Alexander and made a blockbuster trade for Dee Ford to bolster an already interesting pass rush, and added Nick Bosa to that pass rush for good measure. Bosa and Ford have combined for 14.5 sacks in 2019, and second round pick Deebo Samuel has proven to be no slouch either, bringing in 47 catches for 640 yards and three touchdowns. The rest of their draft was nothing special—they got a punter in the fourth round!—but between the depth of the existing roster and the strength of those additions, they were pretty good.

The final piece was the trade for Emmanuel Sanders, who has taken this offense into hyperdrive. Jimmy G is not the league’s finest quarterback or close to it, but Kyle Shanahan has worked wonders with lesser arms in the past, and by upgrading his weapons he’s ensured there’s always someone to throw to.

The end result of multiple years of great drafting and savvy trades is one of the best rosters in football. It’s okay to be envious, because I know I am.

What to know about this week’s game

It’s going to be tough sledding. The 49ers have lost a lot of key players over time, but they’re still one of the toughest teams in the league by a wide margin.

Atlanta’s solid run defense will be sorely tested by the 49ers ground game, which is brilliantly run and features three capable backs. The Falcons scuffled a bit against Carolina and are likely to get ground to dust a bit by San Francisco, but if they can prevent Mostert or Coleman from breaking off huge runs, that may make it manageable.

Handling things through the air will be tougher. Jimmy G is not the best quarterback in football and the 49ers line is not the best unit in the NFL, either, but they’re both plenty capable and the Falcons have to contain Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and George Kittle without Desmond Trufant. De’Vondre Campbell is coming off another quality game where he did struggle a bit putting the clamps on Ian Thomas, and Kittle is a much tougher matchup, meaning the Falcons can’t just be content to let Campbell go on-on-one all day. Unless the Falcons pass rush is spun up, it’s likely the 49ers will hang 30-plus on Atlanta, and 40-plus is not out of the question at all.

That’ll be manageable if Atlanta can keep up on offense, but that’s questionable. Atlanta’s ground game was stellar against Carolina in part because the Panthers boast one of the NFL’s most hapless run defenses, and while getting Chris Lindstrom and Matt Gono out there at guard can only help, you shouldn’t expect them to be able to bludgeon the 49ers to death in the same way. That puts more pressure on the Falcons to throw, and Ryan could be without Calvin Ridley this week against a fearsome pass rush. There are the weapons here to make that work and the 49ers just got eaten alive by Drew Brees and his increasingly pop gun arm, but certainly there’s still enough talent on San Francisco’s D to give Atlanta fits.

A lot would have to go right for the Falcons to actually win this, then, and I have little confidence it will happen. Given that the Falcons can pass effectively and have a surprisingly game defense of late, though, it ought to not be an utter embarrassment.