The 49ers' defense has been rolling this season, allowing an NFL-best 12.2 points per game and four yards per play. They will face a different challenge in a Falcons offense that struggles to throw the ball but is a top-three offense in the run game. In addition, the 49ers defense is dealing with a significant amount of injuries that could see up to half of their usual starters out, so that could be a cause for potential issues on Sunday.
With some big names potentially out, here are the five names to watch on the 49ers' defense as they take on the Falcons:
DC DeMeco Ryans
I might be bending the rules a bit by selecting Ryans over a player, but Sunday could be a challenging game for the 49ers' defensive coordinator. The 49ers' defense could be without their entire Week 1 starting defensive line, will be without Emmanuel Moseley and Jimmie Ward, and Jason Verrett won’t entirely be ready as well. In addition, while Atlanta’s offense isn’t the best at gaining yards, 25th in the league, they have shown the ability to score, ranking 10th in the league with 118 total points.
Thankfully for Ryans, the 49ers defense has plenty of depth, but it will be something to watch to see how Ryans adapts to the number of key names that might miss Sunday’s game.
DT Kevin Givens
Givens has been one of those depth pieces that has come up big early through the season. Givens has stepped in over the last three weeks for Javon Kinlaw with 11 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a sack. He’ll get plenty of chances to stop the Atlanta run game as they run the ball 20 percent of the time between the guards and tackles, where Givens lines up most of the time. With Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead both potentially out, Givens will be given more opportunities to shine against Cordarelle Patterson and the Falcons' top-three rushing attack.
DE Charles Omenihu
After seeing increasing snaps every week this season, Omenihu could either be the 49ers' first or second option on the end, with both Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam potentially missing Sunday. Omenihu is second on the 49ers in pressures, behind only Bosa, with 18 pressures, and has recorded a sack in back-to-back weeks. Atlanta’s two tackles, Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary have combined to allow only 12 pressures through five weeks, so Omenihu will have a solid test on Sunday either way.
DE Drake Jackson
The 49ers have been able to pick and choose their spots where they’ve wanted to use Jackson, but Sunday will be an important step in the progression of the second-round pick. Jackson will likely see the biggest uptick of snaps in Atlanta after seeing a season-high of 31 snaps against the Panthers with three pressures and a sack. The rookie has only played a little more than a third of the 49ers' 325 plays on defense, but he’s been productive with eight pressures on 81 pass rush snaps with two sacks.
CB Mooney Ward
Atlanta’s passing game has been abysmal in 2022, ranking 30th in total passing yards through the first five games of the season. Ward is coming off his best performance with the 49ers, breaking up four passes on seven targets and allowing just two receptions for 34 yards. While Atlanta has struggled, rookie Drake London has been productive, averaging 53.2 receiving yards per game, and has quickly become Marus Mariota’s favorite target with a team-high 22 receptions on a team-high 39 targets. With Kyle Pitts’ status up in the air, London will be the Falcons' primary weapon in the passing game, but Ward will offer his toughest test of his young career.