49ers-Falcons: Did the 49ers defense choke?

There has been a lot of discussion about the 49ers offensive woes and Alex Smith's uneven (if that) performance against the Atlanta Falcons. As we've moved along this week the issues of the 49ers defense have also been raised. Primarily the fact that the defense bent a bit too far last week and cost the team by the end of the game.

In looking back at the 49ers defensive performance, I'm curious about something. Some folks argue that Alex Smith had a solid performance outside of the two interceptions. Other folks responded that Smith's performance was not solid because of those two interceptions no matter how he performed otherwise because of how big the INTs were. At the end of the day we can't discount any of the performance.

In looking at the 49ers defensive performance against the Falcons, are folks looking at it the same way? After all, aside from the fact that the defense gave up the game winning field goal late, they seemed to do a generally good job containing a Falcons offense that has been fairly explosive at times. As a whole they held the Falcons to one touchdown and three field goals. More specifically, the Falcons rushing attack was held to 3.4 yards per carry, and while Matt Ryan finished with 273 yards, it took 43 attempts. Of course, 67 of those yards came on the final drive of the game so that certainly has to be considered.

I took a look back at the tape of the final drive in that game because at the end of the day that's all that matters. They flashed one interesting stat early in the drive: on 3rd downs up until the final 3 minutes of the game, Matt Ryan was 2 for 8 with 11 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Not exactly good numbers.

On the closing drive, the 49ers brought at least four men (including one OLB) if not five on every passing play. The problem seemed to be in leaving the middle of the field open and providing too much of a cushion at that second level for the Falcons receivers to haul in 10-20 yard receptions. There were also a couple solid sideline catches by Falcons WRs (Roddy White over Tarell Brown being one of them).

Would this be a schematic change that needs to be made, or something more in the execution? Is it a matter of choking under the pressure of that final drive? I ask because obviously they were doing things right earlier given that the Falcons weren't exactly lighting up the score board. Is this something that can be overcome?

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