NFC Championship Game 2013: 49ers D vs. Falcons rushing game

USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a strong rushing performance in the divisional round. Can they maintain it against the 49ers?

One of the reasons the Atlanta Falcons were able to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round was their strong rushing performance. Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers added 64 yards. The two averaged a combined 6.75 yards per carry. The Falcons passing game and the Seahawks turnovers were an issue, but the run game was pretty huge.

If the Falcons are going to defeat the 49ers on Sunday, they will need another solid game from their running backs. The 49ers losses and tie this season have often featured the opposing rushing game putting together strong numbers. It dates back to Ahmad Bradshaw's big performance in the Giants easy win, and wrapped with Marshawn Lynch's big day in Week 16.

The Falcons performance against the Seahawks was 2.7 yards better than the season average of 3.7 yards per carry:

The left side of tackle Sam Baker and guard Justin Blalock helped turn Turner loose on one 33-yard gain. On the right side, tackle Tyson Clabo and guard Peter Konz sent Rodgers on the way to a 45-yard gain.

"It's something that we had to get going because they play eight men in the box," Baker said. "They were going to dare us to run it. We had some good schemes."

The Falcons used fullback Mike Cox more than usual in their "21" - two backs, one tight end - personnel package. Normally, they uses the "11" package - one back, one tight end - with three wide receivers.

49ers safety Donte Whitner spoke about the Falcons offense yesterday and had some comments related to the run game:

They've really improved. That's why they're in the NFC Championship game. Early in the season I know there were questions about their run game and if they could run the ball in crunch time. They've been doing a good job the last couple of weeks. Turner is a unique runner. He's very squatty, low center of gravity, really tough to bring down. Similar to Marshawn Lynch. So we're going to have to gang tackle him. We're going to have to know where he is and when he has the football and get him on the ground and not allow him to run and get those extra yards.

A bit more interesting were his comments related to Tony Gonzalez and his work in blocking:

Sometimes it can give things away for them. Mainly if they don't feel he can handle our defensive ends or outside linebackers, probably they'll just run away from him or slide the protection to him to help him pass block. If he's not inside the formation it's probably all pass. We get keys based on things like that. We'll watch the film and see.

This will be interesting to follow when Tony Gonzalez is on the field. We don't get these kind of tidbits from the coaches, so it's nice to hear interesting info like this from the players.

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