We’ve touched on some of the mistakes the 49ers made in their loss to the Falcons, now let’s look at what happened by the numbers. Even though San Francisco lost, there were still plenty of plays and performances that were good. Unfortunately, there were too many mishaps, and each one contributed to the loss.
The number of net yards passing the 49ers offense had. Atlanta did what every other team has done to San Francisco, load up the box and force you to beat them through the air and outside of the numbers. We saw short throws outside of the numbers, and two back-to-back throws down the field to Kittle, but that was it.
The level of trust for wide receivers not named Kittle remains inconsistent. Kittle had 17 targets. The next closest was Emmanuel Sanders, with four. That can’t happen. Balance is distributing the ball to every part of the field to multiple receivers. San Francisco finished with 22 receptions, and Kittle was the only one with more than two catches. Puzzling, to say the least.
The number of yards Julio Jones had. Thirteen receptions for 134 yards. Were the 49ers missing a handful of key defenders? They were. Does that excuse them from allowing the Falcons only perimeter threat to have a big day? It doesn’t, and it starts at the top. It took until the final drive of the game for San Francisco to double Julio, and even then, they did it wrong.
Austin Hooper is a competent tight end that is having a successful year. He is nowhere near the threat of Jones. Robert Saleh’s bunch was also facing a short-handed Falcons receiving squad. The one thing they couldn’t do was let Jones have a big day. If you go down swinging because Hooper has a career day, then so be it. The one thing you couldn’t do is let the other team’s best player beat you.
Jones and Kittle having the same stat line are pretty mind-blowing.
The difference for the 49ers in penalties and turnovers. The defensive pass interference call on Jimmie Ward was site decorum. The 49ers had their fair share of favorable calls as well. There was a “low hit” on Jimmy Garoppolo that gave the 49ers a first down. It felt like for the first time in ages; the referees were on the Niners side. Even the ball bounced their way on Ross Dwelley’s forced fumble. More plays went to San Francisco’s way, which may make the loss even tougher to swallow.
The number of yards per play by the Falcons. Saleh could have been more aggressive on the final drive in general and in taking away Jones throughout the game, but I thought the defense played well. Anytime you hold an offense with a good quarterback under 300 yards and five yards per play; you did a good job. Jones’ longest reception was 28-yards, which was contested. The defense only allowed two rushes over ten yards. The scoreboard looks bad with 29 sitting there staring you in the face, but we know that’s not how the game went. Through seven drives, the Falcons had punted on five of them.
This has been a defense that has come up with stops at key moments all season. They needed to twice in the fourth quarter and didn’t. That was the difference in the game.
We covered one red-zone possession where the 49ers made a mistake on three straight plays. For the game, the offense went 2-3 in the red zone, which is 66%. San Francisco has been very good as of late in the red zone and all season at home, which is why home field is critical. The 49ers are converting 60% of their red zone drives to touchdowns at home, compared to only 42% on the road. That’s a significant difference, and I’m not sure why it’s that drastic. I don’t know about everyone else, but I am still confident the offense plays like they’re capable of when it matters. Their recent red zone success is a big reason for that.
Red zone offense and third-down defense are what has made San Francisco so great these last couple of months. Injuries caught up to the defense on the down it mattered the most against Atlanta; third. The Falcons converted seven of their 13 third downs. On the season, the 49ers have allowed a 30% conversion rate. So instead of 7-13, a healthy Niners squad allows 4-13. Those three plays make all the difference.
Atlanta converted a third-down because D.J. Reed held Julio. The long 28-yarder to Jones also came on a third-down where Moseley was right with him; Jones simply made a play. The next third down? You guessed it, a crossing route to Julio where Witherspoon had to chase him across the field. The following third down? Come collect your prize, it was a slant to Jones. Jones converted the next third down on the same shallow crossing route because why would you guard the other team’s best player on the down where teams throw it to their best player. Jones’s final two catches of the game came on third down as well. All isolation routes, which is an issue.
I don’t think the 49ers will see a receiver of this caliber; if they do, they’ll have Sherman and a pass rush, which helps. I don’t want to discount what the Falcons did, because they certainly made plays. This wasn’t the Niner’s third-down defense for numerous reasons. I expect them to rebound on third down, which will impact the scoreboard.