The San Francisco 49ers authored their most impressive win of the season on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. It was a shootout pure-and-simple. Quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Drew Brees traded shots for 60 minutes, the 49ers getting the better of the 48-46 exchange. Could Sunday’s contest against the Atlanta Falcons be more of the same? Despite a 4-9 record, Matt Ryan and the Falcons don’t lack firepower on offense, and several key defensive starters are expected to be on the sideline for the 49ers’ Week 15 matchup.
Here are five players that’ll go a long way in keeping the 49ers in the win column on Sunday:
C Ben Garland
The 49ers lost starting center Weston Richburg to a torn patella tendon against the Saints. It’s a season-ending injury at a crucial position of responsibility within Shanahan’s offense. Taking Richburg’s place is Garland, who has more experience at the spot than most backups. He was the team’s leading center throughout training camp while Richburg recovered from offseason leg surgery. With the 49ers fighting to hold on to the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the pressure is on Garland to quickly pick up the nuances of playing center within Shanahan’s offense.
CB Emmanuel Moseley
With Richard Sherman out with a hamstring injury, Moseley is expected to step in opposite Ahkello Witherspoon against the Falcons. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can feel good about putting Moseley into the starting lineup given how much experience the former undrafted free agent already has this season. Moseley started eight games from Week 5 to 12 while Witherspoon recovered from an ankle injury. He totaled 29 tackles, six pass breakups, and an interception returned for a touchdown in that span. Moseley will have his hands full on Sunday, with star Falcons wideout Julio Jones coming into town.
DL Nick Bosa
Bosa totaled six sacks in his first six games. In the last six, he’s only managed one, with defenses turning their focus towards the 49ers’ No. 2 overall pick. Saleh said on Thursday that he’d never seen a rookie garner as much attention from offensive coordinators as Bosa’s received lately. The 49ers will be counting on Bosa to find a way to get to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, especially without defensive Dee Ford rushing from the opposite end. Ford aggravated a hamstring injury as expected to miss the rest of the regular season. It’s time for Bosa to grow up some more.
WR Kendrick Bourne
Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle might get most of the credit for the 49ers’ success through the air, but when it comes to scoring six, Bourne has been one of Garoppolo’s top options. His two touchdowns against the Saints brought his season total to five, tied with Sanders for the lead among all other pass-catchers. Bourne also accounts for 27 catches and 318 yards, third among receivers behind Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel. The former undrafted free agent’s ability to create separation in short spaces has allowed Bourne and Garoppolo to build a red zone rapport that’ll be worth watching throughout the rest of the season.
S Marcell Harris
The 49ers defense felt the impact of losing Jaquiski Tartt against the Saints. The 49ers’ starting strong safety was unable to take the field after fracturing his ribs against the Ravens the week prior. Brees and the Saints offense took advantage of Harris’ inexperience early and often, targeting tight end Jared Cook down the seam for two scores. A missed tackle from Harris gave way to the first. Pro Football Focus tabbed the second-year safety with an abysmal 47.6 coverage grade, and Falcons tight end Austin Hooper may be the next to take advantage. Hooper ranks third in receiving among Atlanta’s pass catchers with 640 yards and six touchdowns.