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Falcons defense vs. 49ers offense: Dealing with the meticulous mind of Kyle Shanahan

Unleash the Grady on the interior of the 49ers.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This Falcons defense is just as gritty and tough as the offense. While they do give up yards in the passing game, the resilience of this group so has been so inspiring on so many levels.

This defense gave up over 350 yards of passing against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense, which is not ideal. However, they only gave up 21 points the entire game, including zero points in the 4th quarter. What’s so refreshing about this group is that even though they start out very slowly in the first half, adjustments are made in the second half and they really have shown that they can clamp down on offenses and give the Falcons offense a chance to get back into it.

Given that this is a very young and inexperienced group, how they’ve played up to this point is to be commended. This coming Sunday, they go against a Kyle Shanahan-led offensive attack that can certainly do damage to any defense.

How do the Falcons match up against this 49ers offense?

In the trenches

The 49ers offensive line is a group that’s under construction. While they do have the great Trent Williams at left tackle and Mike McGlinchey as a solid right tackle, the interior of that line is a bit of a sore spot.

After the retirement of center Alex Mack and losing Laken Tomlinson in free agency, Shanahan is trying to find the proper mix in the middle of the offensive line to field an effective unit. Shanahan currently has a shaky Jake Brendel as his starting center, so this is a matchup that the Falcons have a good chance to exploit.

Grady Jarrett has been an absolute menace for any offensive line this season. He’s seeing a few more one-on-one opportunities this season, and he simply isn’t missing out on making an impact when he’s given the opportunity. If he wasn’t robbed of that late game sack of Tom Brady due to that egregious call (don’t get me started), he would have 4.5 sacks on the season.

Ta’Quon Graham is also showing great improvement in his second season. It’s only a matter of time before the stats match his effort. I’m not entirely sure why Anthony Rush was cut when he started the first four games of the season, but after seeing Abdullah Anderson and Timmy Horne up front, the drop off isn’t all that drastic. In this particular case, the Falcons can make some serious noise as they have an edge inside to affect the run and the passing game.

Advantage: Push

The Skill Positions

When you think about the skilled positions of the 49ers, there’s one name that really stands out: Deebo Samuel. This guy is an absolute force, no matter where he is on the field. Coach Shanahan has also proven that he’ll use him in multiple ways. Of course, there’s no forgetting George Kittle, who is one of the best tight ends in the league. Add in capable players like fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and Coach Shanahan has all the weapons he needs to do serious damage to any defense.

The Falcons defense took a bit of a blow last week when Mykal Walker ended up leaving the game with an injury. However, when given the opportunity, Troy Andersen provided glimpses of what he could be in the second half against the Buccaneers. A.J. Terrell looks to be shadowing the team’s best receiver more and more as weeks go by, and he did about as well as any cornerback would do against Mike Evans, as some of the catches that Evans made were just phenomenal. Richie Grant is still providing good play at safety, as well.

Again though, there are some big weapons that the Falcons have to account for on the back end. George Kittle is a clear mismatch for any defensive player, and so is Deebo Samuel. The Falcons will have to try to contain those two be even remotely competitive in this game, and it’s not an easy task to do so.

Advantage: 49ers


Challenging matchups are just a theme this season for this Falcons defense. Against a Kyle Shanahan-led offense that employs the Zone Blocking Scheme and is heavy with play action and boots, gap integrity, discipline and physicality will be crucial.

I’ve certainly seen enough of this defense this season to know that they are indeed physical, and aren’t getting bullied up front as much as they were in previous years. However, you better believe that Shanahan will be ready and will have a very planned and detailed attack against this group. I expect heavy use of Kittle and Samuel in this game due to the weaknesses that have been exploited by teams in previous weeks.

The key? This defense will have to rattle Jimmy Garaoppolo early and often, and it’s certainly attainable to do that. I fully expect Pees to do a bit of the same this game and disguise some pressure packages and bring some A-gap blitzes to exploit the middle of this 49ers offensive line. The 49ers have the edge due to their playmakers and how they run their scheme.

However, based off of what I’ve seen from this defense up to this point, when they seem outmanned on paper, they prove that they’ll fight anyone. This team is certainly capable of winning this game at home.

Advantage: 49ers