The 49ers are playing better than ever this season, and they have to keep it up for their playoff push. San Francisco beat a formidable Cinncinati Bengals football team last week and now move on to the Atlanta Falcons. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan looks to get his revenge against the Falcons after being heartbroken by them in 2019.
We look at four reasons the Niners cannot overlook the Falcons below.
The Falcons are fighting for playoff livelihood
The playoff race is open in both conferences. According to FiveThirtyEight, Atlanta has a 12% chance of making the playoffs. They currently sit at the tenth spot in the NFC and are tied with five bubble teams at 6-7.
San Francisco opening as 8.5 point favorites (according to DraftKings Sportsbook) worries me as a gambler. I’d stay away from expecting the Niners to cover as they are 2-4 against the spread at Levis Stadium, and this feels like a trap game.
This game gives me the same feeling I had going into the Seattle game. The Falcons look like a team with nothing to lose on paper but a win Sunday will catapult their playoff outlook. San Francisco’s offense was bailed out with two muffed punts last week. Shanahan’s offense needs a strong performance against this encouraged Falcons team to strengthen their own playoff picture.
Matt Ryan gives them a chance
Matt Ryan always gives Atlanta a fighting chance. Unfortunately, his number one target (Calvin Ridley) stepped away from football to focus on his mental health, which impeded Atlanta’s offense trajectory and left Ryan to carry the load.
Ryan's future as a Falcon is similar to Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s situation. It won’t be long before Atlanta moves on from Ryan. Therefore you can expect Ryan to bring his A-game, knowing his future depends on it. The Falcons are desperate for a win, and Ryans’ willingness to throw downfield could be bad news for this 49er secondary.
Have to limit Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson
Atlanta’s offense is dependent on three players Ryan, Kyle Pitts, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Pitts was selected fourth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and has lived up to all expectations. The rookie tight end leads the Falcons in catches and receiving yards. However, Pitts has not scored a touchdown in his last eight games. San Francisco should keep their ears peeled back for him when Atlanta nears the red zone.
Patterson has gone from a special team's ace to a key member of an offense. Falcons head coach and offensive play-caller Arthur Smith feature Patterson out of the backfield and as a receiver. The veteran receiver is having a career year in his ninth season in the NFL. Limiting these two players will be key for a Niners victory.
The pressure will be on the defensive line to get home, with Ryan being the most hit quarterback in the league. Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas constantly got beat deep last week, and the Falcons could look to target him early. San Francisco’s secondary can help its defense out the most by avoiding penalties. I’d expect Smith to challenge this secondary deep early and often as the Niners have tended to give up a big play or be penalized.
Garoppolo vs Dean Pees
Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has over 40 years of coaching experience under his belt. Pees has had his work cut out with a talent-deficient roster this year. According to Pro Football Reference, the Falcons allow 27 points per game and are ranked dead last in pressure rate (17%). Those stats shouldn't leave Niners fans comfortable with Garoppolo’s inconsistent tendencies.
Pees is known to show different looks to confuse quarterbacks. We have seen Garoppolo struggle against simple coverages for weeks. Avoiding sacks is my main concern for Garoppolo despite the Falcons pass-rushing struggles. Garoppolo also looks to break the streak of no touchdowns in the second half in the last two games. The weight of the offense will remain on Garoppolo’s shoulders with the running game hobbled. It’s up to Garoppolo to be safe with the ball while being able to attack this horrible defense.