The 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFL. The Falcons are one of the best teams at beating the Carolina Panthers. Against anyone else? Not so much. Does the inconsistent Dan Quinn defense stand any chance of slowing down the Kyle Shanahan juggernaut? Read on to find out.
In the trenches
The Falcons will see two familiar faces on Sunday, as Ben Garland and Mike Person will be at center and right guard, respectively. Starting center Weston Richburg was placed on IR last week, so Garland will get the start. This is a potential opportunity for the Falcons - and specifically Grady Jarrett - to do some damage. Keep an eye on Adrian Clayborn here as well. He has shown an ability to generate interior pressure in recent weeks.
On the edges, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey will face off against Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. Staley is still good, but maybe not what he once was. McGlinchey is a good starter on the right side. These are not the kind of guys that Takk and Vic have beaten up on as of late. Plus, Beasley and McKinley have not proven to be consistent enough to believe in.
If Atlanta’s defense is going to stand a chance, it starts here. Garland and Person are two guys the Falcons should pick on early and often. If they can win this matchup, they can at least keep things even here.
The skill positions
Is Jimmy Garoppolo a top-5 QB? Probably not. In Shanahan’s system, he’s still plenty good enough. He won’t be putting up Matt Ryan 2016 numbers, but this team doesn’t need him to. If the Falcons can pressure him, they’ll have a shot of keeping the score from going over 40. Otherwise, it could be a blood bath.
His receivers are pretty good, too. Emmanuel Sanders was a great mid-season trade and Deebo Samuel has been coming along nicely as a rookie. Without Desmond Trufant, can Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield match up well with these guys? I’m not terribly optimistic. Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen will have to help a good bit here.
The running back rotation for the 49ers is incredibly deep. Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert are all capable of doing damage. Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun and De’Vondre Campbell will all have their work cut out for them. When you factor in the best receiving tight end in the league right now - George Kittle - our linebackers have an insanely hard matchup.
I like how the Falcons secondary and linebackers have improved lately, but the 49ers offense is in a different class. While they are missing some guys, Shanahan has the backups playing just as well. Of course.
It’s not hopeless for the Falcons, but it’s close. Their ability to stop the 49ers will come down to winning up the middle. We need Grady Jarrett to have a career day in San Francisco. Short of that, don’t be surprised if Kyle puts up 50 for the fun of it.