As always, the Scouts, Inc previews over at ESPN are Insider protected, so here's a snapshot of the 49ers-Falcons preview.
They actually managed to come up with some decent reasons to watch. Although those reasons are only important to 49ers and Falcons fans, so take it for what it's worth:
The 49ers continue to struggle to run the football this season. Starting RB Frank Gore still has not hit the 100-yard mark this season and was held to only 41 yards on 12 carries last season. Part of the issue has been that the offensive line has underachieved this season, but more importantly, Gore just does not appear to be getting enough touches in the offense.
The one area San Francisco should have an advantage in run game this week is between the tackles. Atlanta sent some shockwaves through the locker room last week when it abruptly released DT Grady Jackson. Jackson is a mammoth DT who can gobble up blocks and was leading all its defensive linemen in tackles and tackles for loss. Atlanta is expected to move rookie Trey Lewis into the starting lineup, where his lack of experience will be a factor. Look for Gore to go over the 100-yard mark this week, if the 49ers can sustain drives on offense.
Does anybody else see this as the week Frank Gore busts out? We've been waiting and waiting and hopefully we'll be rewarded. While a great performance against the Falcons must be taken with a grain of salt, a great performance against anybody is better than nothing.
Defensively, the Saints played with eight defenders in the box for much of the game. Atlanta will take a similar approach if the 49ers don't come out in this game and prove they can stretch the field over the top. With no legitimate No.1 receiver, Atlanta will be able to leave corner Deangelo Hall on an island in man coverage all day long and get an extra safety into the box.
Atlanta has had some issues containing the TE in the passing game because SS Lawyer Milloy is limited in coverage at this point in his career.
The Niners must make some offensive changes if they are going to get anything going. One of the reasons they are struggling to convert on third down is because they are in too many third-and-long situations. Look for them to come out throwing more on early downs to try to get themselves in more favorable down and distance situations.
I think we need a 100+ yard receiving day with a touchdown or two for The Disease. As with Gore, if he's going to break out against somebody (last week notwithstanding), this is the week it has to happen. Let's see him abuse Lawyer Milloy.
This is a team that runs better on the perimeter, but that has been an issue with inexperience the past few weeks at both tackle positions. The Falcons have not shown the ability to run it consistently between the tackles because they just are not very physical up front.
They should find it a little better going this week with their inside run game. San Francisco came into last week ranked 23rd in run defense. Even though the Niners are better this season in the front seven and rookie Patrick Willis has piled up some impressive tackle numbers, they have not been as disciplined.
Willis can get out of position at times and will need to be aware of the cut-back run, especially with Norwood in the lineup and with his ability to come up with big plays. Despite the 49ers pass defense woes last week, look for the Falcons to rely heavily on the run game this week in their quest to take pressure off QB Joey Harrington.
Atlanta is finally starting to get some consistent play from WR Roddy White and will see some areas where it can exploit this San Francisco defense. After playing better vs. the pass early in the season, San Francisco safety Michael Lewis is having some issues in coverage. He was out of position a few times this past week, and can be exploited if he gets matched up in the middle of the field.
Atlanta is not going to be able to throw it all over the field with Harrington at QB, but if the Falcons can run the ball effectively, they should have opportunities to at least try to make some plays down the field in the passing game this week.
As I mentioned with Gore potentially breaking out, while the Falcons are pretty bad, a win is a win is a win. The 49ers need a win, and even if it comes against one of the worst teams in the league, it's better than nothing. Confidence is so important, that a solid performance against the Falcons could carry over to future games. And I'm not talking about eeking out a 10-7 win or some other ugly victory. The 49ers need to make a statement in this game. I'll take a win any way I can get it, but the only way I leave this game with confidence going forward is if they put the hurtin on the Falcons.