49ers vs. Falcons preview: Atlanta not the same team San Francisco faced last season, but why?

Kevin C. Cox

So ... what's happened to the Atlanta Falcons?

Some called it a luxury when the Atlanta Falcons gave an arm and a leg to acquire wide receiver Julio Jones, given that they already had Roddy White, and a passing attack that wasn't lacking by any means. Those are probably the same people who said the San Francisco 49ers didn't need to sign NaVorro Bowman to an extension because they already had Patrick Willis.

White was injured to start this season, and made the idiotic decision to try and play through it to keep his streak of consecutive games started alive. Well that backfired, and when Jones went down for the season with an injury as well, the Falcons were in trouble.

It's one of the biggest reasons the team has struggled this season, but there's obviously more to it than offensive issues. After all, quarterback Matt Ryan is having himself a strong season, all things considered. He's completed 374 of 563 passes for 3,887 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Now, he's well short of his yardage mark from last season, and 10 touchdowns short of that mark as well, but given what he's had to work with, it's still impressive. His 14 interceptions matches a career single-season high for him though, so if things are to go the 49ers' way on Sunday, then he should be setting a new high.

Other issues on offense stem from attempting to depend on an old and clearly broken down Steven Jackson at the running back position and injuries along the offensive line.

Defensively, they're not exactly solid, either. The Falcons have the No. 25 pass defense and No. 29 rush defense in the NFL. Both Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant, cornerbacks taken early in the 2013 NFL Draft, have struggled even more than the players they replaced. The rookies might have a solid career ahead of them, but technically solid NFL corners they are not. Not yet.

Asante Samuel, Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann were all injured to some extent this season, as well. Injuries have played a big part of the discussion for Atlanta, combined with underwhelming play from young players. It's easy to see what went wrong for the Falcons this year, but the overall message is clear: this is not the same team that bested the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs this season, and it's not the same team that went blow-to-blow with the NFC Champion 49ers, either.

Should they be overlooked? No, not by a longshot. But they're far less threatening this time around, it should be noted.

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