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49ers-Falcons: A Red Zone Nightmare?

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The 49ers enter this week's matchup with the Atlanta Falcons hoping to figure out some way to defeat them. The 49ers were destroyed by the Falcons last season and now they find themselves entering their matchup with the Falcons firing on very few cylinders.

We'll have plenty of preview material but I wanted to open up the discussion with the Red Zone as it relates to this year and last year's bloodbath at Candlestick Park. Last season, the 49ers lost 45-10 to the Falcons. The Falcons hit some huge plays against the 49ers, but they also decimated the 49ers in the red zone. Roddy White had his 90-yard and 31-yard touchdowns, which certainly helped the Falcons.

However, on top of that the Falcons managed four separate touchdown runs inside the 10 yard line. Michael Turner had rushing touchdowns of 7, 3, and 1 yards, while Matt Ryan had a 1 yard touchdown run of his own. The 49ers defense had red zone success prior to that but the Falcons blew that facade up fairly easily.

This year, the Falcons are continuing to have red zone success. Football Outsiders puts together DVOA rankings by team in different zones, including the red zone. On offense, the Falcons rank third overall in red zone offense. They rank second in red zone passing and sixth in red zone rushing. When you look at the Falcons, you can see why they're finding such success. Tony Gonzalez is still a beast at tight end, while the combination of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling provides quite the punch.

On defense, the 49ers rank 24th overall in the red zone, 31st against the pass and 9th against the run. The 49ers bend but don't break defense could very well end up with several opportunities to stop the Falcons in the red zone. If Reggie Smith ends up in the starting lineup over Michael Lewis, would that make a sufficient difference in the red zone pass defense?