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Know Thy Enemy 2010: Atlanta Falcons

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It's been several days since our last installment in the Know Thy Enemy series, but you can expect to see more activity on this front in the coming days. To quickly recap what we've already covered, the San Francisco 49ers should beat the Chiefs and the Buccaneers. Easy.

However, this next match-up will likely be anything but easy. Come Week 4, the 49ers will make the long flight out to Atlanta, Georgia to face-off with a resurgent Falcons squad.

If you need a little refresher on what the Falcons have been up to this off-season, check out my free agency preview and the corresponding update dealing with Atlanta's roster moves.

The last time these two teams met, the Falcons embarrassed the 49ers' defense on their home field. QB Matt Ryan threw for 329 passing yards, while Michael Turner rushed for three scores. The end result was a 45-10 beat down of the 49ers in San Francisco. Perhaps the tables will be turned in 2010, or will Atlanta be able to dominate San Francisco yet again?

More after the jump...

Additions

The Falcons made a big addition to their secondary when they signed free-agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to a 6-year contract worth up to $57 Million. This was a huge need for Atlanta, and Robinson should be a nice upgrade for them.

Other notable additions to the defense include first round pick Sean Witherspoon. Witherspoon is a three down linebacker with great range and play making ability. He is capable of lining up at any of the three linebacker positions, but will most likely get the bulk of his playing time on the weak-side.

Atlanta also upgraded the interior of their offensive line by drafting Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley in the 3rd and 4th round respectively. Both players are expected to eventually challenge for a starting position on the Falcons offensive line.

Subtractions

The team sent CB Chris Houston to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a 6th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and a conditional 7th round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Houston is a very talented player, but his performance on the field has been maddeningly inconsistent. However, his skills may be better suited to Detroit's style of defense.

2010 Questions and Answers

Will the Falcon's running game return to 2008 form?

Atlanta went from the 2nd ranked rushing attack in 2008, to the 15th in 2009. Part of this decline can be chalked up to Michael Turner missing five games due to injury. Another contributing factor was the poor play from the Falcon's guards down the stretch. Harvey Dahl was hampered by injury, while Justin Blalock lacked effectiveness in the running game.

Who will be the number two wide receiver?

Roddy White continues to excel at the number one spot, amassing 1,153 receiving yards in 2009. But the team has yet to acquire a suitable partner for him. While they do have one of the league's top receiving tight ends in Tony Gonzalez, they could stand to upgrade over Michael Jenkins at the wide-out spot. Jenkins is a solid blocker, but he lacks playmaking ability. Atlanta's problem is exacerbated by Harry Douglas' off-season ACL surgery. Douglas is currently third on the depth chart, but he could cut into Jenkins' playing time as the season wears on. Will the Falcons make a move to bring in a Terrell Owens, or will they stand pat with what they have?

Match-Up

As much as I think the 49ers will be better in 2010, this is a game that I would expect them to lose. There are several reasons why, not the least of which is the fact that they were completely outclassed by Atlanta on their home field. Add to this the fact that San Francisco has to travel across the country for this game, and it's easy to see how they could struggle with this match-up.

Last season the Falcons went 6-2 at home, losing to the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles. While the 49ers certainly have the makings of a very good team, I think that most people would agree they are a notch or two below the Eagles and Saints.

By the time Week 4 rolls around injuries and other changes to the respective rosters may turn this scenario completely on it's head, but as of right now Atlanta has to be the favorite in this game.