The 49ers face an all-around awesome offensive attack when they head into the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons. They bring a highly talented passing attack and a powerful running game to set up that passing attack. Football Outsiders ranks the Falcons 8th overall, with a 9th ranked passing attack and 14th ranked rushing attack. In traditional counting stats, the Falcons are 6th overall, with a 16th ranked passing attack and 2nd ranked rushing attack. In looking over the stats and performance thus far I'd argue FO is a little more accurate, but feel free to look at it however you want.
The Falcons rushing attack is certainly potent. Michael Turner can be a work-horse for them and Jason Snelling has proven to be no slouch when called on to replace Turner. And yet, I think the 49ers can actually handle the Falcons rushing attack. While the Falcons are second in total rushing yards, they're 15th in yards per attempt. The Chiefs certainly had some success last week in the running game, but I think a duo like Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones works against the strength the 49ers have up the gut. The Falcons will run some stretch plays to get Turner outside, but the Falcons employ a more traditional rushing attack. The 49ers can defend that.
However, things get a little more interesting when we start talking about the Atlanta Falcons passing attack. The Falcons are led by QB Matt Ryan. He had a bit of a sophomore slump last season and has bounced back with a fairly solid start to 2010. The 49ers will have their work cut out for them thanks to two primary weapons: WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez.
Shawntae Spencer has generally been the number one cornerback for the 49ers over the past year and thus would be expected to draw the #1 WR matchup. One argument for putting Nate Clements on White is that Clements has shown an ability to step up in big games against big receivers in the past. I'd imagine Spencer will remain the guy covering White, but you never know.
That leaves Tony Gonzalez roaming the middle of the field likely covered by Manny Lawson. The 49ers seem intent on sticking with Michael Lewis at strong safety for now (barring injury issues) and I would think he really wouldn't stand a chance against Tony Gonzalez over the middle. I'm curious to see if the 49ers decide to let Reggie Smith take some of the coverage in nickel or dime situations.
Thus far, while Tony Gonzalez is certainly an important weapon for Matt Ryan, Roddy White has been the big play threat. Of the Falcons 67 receptions, White has 25 of them and after Gonzalez' 12 receptions, the next closest are Jaosn Snelling with 7 and Harry Douglas with 6. One interesting note is that Gonzalez has been targeted 17 times while Douglas has been targeted 16 times. If Nate Clements is covering Douglas on Sunday, he can expect a decent number of passes his way.
Am I crazy to think the 49ers might be able to handle this matchup? I'd like to think most general football fans would be looking forward to the Shawntae Spencer-Roddy White battle and really it could prove to be key. The 49ers need to make sure they get some kind of pass rush, but if Spencer can handle Roddy White it might be enough to give the much maligned 49ers offense a chance to get ahead.