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49ers - Falcons preview: The Niners must make Atlanta one-dimensional on offense

Can Jimmy make it 3 games in a row?

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The 49ers conclude their two-week east coast road trip by taking on another NFC south opponent in the 2-3 Atlanta Falcons. DraftKings Sportsbook currently has San Francisco as a five-point road favorite, with the 49ers eyeing a third straight win. Here are three things to keep an eye on in this matchup.

Unstoppable force meets the immovable object

Atlanta’s offense presents a tough challenge for this 49ers defense, ranking third in the league at 164.4 rushing yards per game. The Falcons are top five in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns while ranking seventh in the league in yards per carry (5.1).

Even with leading rusher Cordarelle Patterson on injured reserve, Atlanta managed to run for 151 yards in Tampa Bay last weekend. However, as good as the Falcons have been on the ground this season, they have not faced a rushing defense like San Francisco’s yet.

The 49ers come into this game with the number one rushing defense in the entire NFL, ranking first in both yards per carry allowed (3.0) and yards allowed per game (71.4). San Francisco has only allowed one team to eclipse 100 yards on the ground over their last 16 games, and the only team to do so barely cracked the century mark with 101 yards at a paltry 3.1 yards per carry average.

Even in the absence of Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, the 49ers' defense has been able to effectively shut down their opponents on the ground. This feels like it will be the most compelling matchup in this game and likely will play a major role in who ultimately comes out on top in this one.

No Bosa, No problem

Nick Bosa is an early front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year, tied for the league lead in sacks with six while leading the league in pressures with 30. Bosa is generating pressure at a 24 percent rate, which also leads the NFL this season.

After not practicing Wednesday and Thursday due to a groin injury suffered in last Sunday’s win over the Panthers, it would appear there is a good chance that the 49ers will be without their star edge rusher when they take on the Falcons this week. So how do the 49ers account for a loss like that? By relying on the depth that has proven to be invaluable early on this season.

The defensive line is arguably the deepest position group they have on the team and still poses a matchup nightmare for opposing offenses, even without foundational pieces like Bosa and Arik Armstead.

Charles Omenihu has been on an absolute tear as of late, recording three or more pressures in each of the last four games, including five in each of the last two. Omenihu has been particularly valuable rushing from the interior, where he has wreaked havoc on opposing guards and centers. Like this rep from last Sunday in Carolina.

Samson Ebukam has recorded three-plus pressures in each of the last three games, including a two-sack performance in the 49ers' primetime win over the Los Angeles Rams. Ebukam has 17 pressures on the season, and his 14 percent pressure rate over 121 snaps has played a major role in the 49ers' success up front this season.

Drake Jackson is in line for a bigger role should Bosa sit this one out, and the rookie second-round pick has impressed with the limited reps he has gotten to this point this season. Jackson currently ranks second among all rookies in sacks this season, trailing only Aidan Hutchinson, who has recorded nearly 100 more pass-rushing snaps than Jackson.

Atlanta throws the ball less than almost every team in the league, ranking 30th in pass attempts. The Falcons have allowed a 33.6% pressure rate on their limited dropbacks, so if the 49ers' defense can succeed in slowing down Atlanta’s ground attack, they’ll be in an excellent spot to limit the damage this way Falcons' offense can do through the air.

Jimmy G needs to be Jimmy consistency

The 49ers have gotten a perfect version of Jimmy Garoppolo over the last couple of weeks. Garoppolo has been attacking the intermediate area of the field with newfound confidence, posting an 11.1 percent big-time throw rate between 10-19 yards, which is the third highest in the league among quarterbacks with at least ten such throws this season.

On top of pushing the ball downfield effectively, Garoppolo has also kept the ball out of harm's way at the lowest rate since his first season in San Francisco back in 2017. Garoppolo is currently posting a 2.4 percent turnover-worthy play rate, which is a drastic improvement over the 5.1 percent he posted last season.

For perspective, when the 49ers went to the super bowl in 2019, Garoppolo had a turnover-worthy play rate of 3.5 percent.

Another area where Garoppolo has been red hot recently has been on third down. Over the last two weeks, the 49ers have converted 60 percent of their third down attempts when Garoppolo drops back to pass.

Atlanta’s defense has struggled to get off the field on third down this season, allowing opponents to convert 47.1 percent of the time in those situations, which puts them in the bottom five in the NFL in that category.

If Garoppolo is smart with the football and continues to make plays on third down, the 49ers should win this game handily. San Francisco is simply the better team and has shown they are among the class of the league when they are able to stay out of their own way.