We’ve seen what happens when the Falcons offensive line plays well. Against Carolina, they kept Ryan clean and opened up solid running lanes and the offense was able to put up 40 points. However, that’s not something they’ve done terribly well all year. The 49ers also have an intimidating defensive front that could cause issues all day. Let’s see how this matchup plays out.
In the trenches
Jake Matthews has been Mr. Reliable all year. Chris Lindstrom and Matt Gono both looked really solid at right guard while the rotation of guys like Wes Schweitzer at left guard is still troubling. Kaleb McGary had his best game as a rookie against Carolina, so let’s hope he can build on that. These guys are going to be facing dynamic rookie Nick Bosa, Deforest Buckner, Arik Armstead and D.J. Jones. That is a scary defensive front.
To be honest, we need Atlanta’s OL to have their best game ever. Alex Mack has to return to form and the stink at left guard needs to get fixed. I’m just not sure there’s a fix currently on the roster, though I’m all for giving Matt Gono an opportunity there. As it is, the Falcons unit is not inspiring this season. Pray for Matt Ryan. He may need it.
The skill positions
Losing Calvin Ridley for the rest of the year hurts. Matt Ryan has grown to trust him. Guys like Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus will get a shot, but don’t expect them to replicate what Ridley can do. Of course, Ryan will always have Julio Jones to throw to, but you can bet that the 49ers will aim to double him early and often, especially with Richard Sherman likely to miss the game. Those other guys - along with Russell Gage - will face Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley, who are both very capable corners. Safeties Jimmie Ward and Marcell Harris will help, but aren’t game changers back there.
Atlanta’s running game is a disaster this year. Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill looked good last week, but that’s the first time that’s happened in a long while. The good news is the linebackers for the 49ers are their weak spot on defense. Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair are a constant reminder that they miss Kwon Alexander. This matchup also strongly favors Austin Hooper, who didn’t fare as well against the athletic and talented Panthers linebackers.
Without Ridley, Ryan will have to rely heavily on Julio and Hooper in the air. The Falcons really need the ground game to keep it’s momentum and the linebacker situation for the 49ers may make that a possibility. If one of Gage, Zaccheaus or Blake can have a solid day, Atlanta stands a chance of putting some points up.
This game will really hinge on the offensive line. Protect Ryan and open up lanes and the opportunity is there. That’s a tall order going up against this 49ers defensive front. It’s not impossible, but it’s not something I’m willing to bet on either.