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Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

3 More 49ers Keys to Victory against the Falcons

Oct 15, 2022 at 7:51 PM--

The 49ers are set to face off against the Atlanta Falcons in the second leg of their East Coast road trip, having already defeated the Panthers 37-15. This marks the fourth year in a row that the Niners have taken an early two-game road trip to the East Coast, and the fourth year in a row they seek to sweep their cross-country competitors. But to do that, they'll need to overcome a feisty Atlanta team that's already exceeded expectations in 2022.

Key 1: Let Jeff Wilson Jr. Show Off His Burst

2021 was not a good year for Jeff Wilson Jr. Coming off a meniscus tear, he was a different player, buried in the 49ers' depth chart until breakout rookie Elijah Mitchell sustained a midseason injury. But now that he's had an offseason to recalibrate and rehabilitate, he's back.

Wilson Jr. has already surpassed his 2021 total, notching nearly 400 yards at a 5.1 yards/rush clip. But that's not all he's surpassed. Amazon's Next Gen Stats has him pegged for 20.82 MPH touchdown runs in consecutive weeks, putting him amongst the NFL elite in terms of pure foot speed. Those same calculations show that he's racking up nearly a yard and a half more than expected per run, which places him amongst top talent such as Chargers RB Austin Ekeler and Packers RB Aaron Jones.

Wilson Jr.'s explosiveness has already earned him three games with 100+ combined rushing and receiving yards, and he's 3-for-3 in the past three weeks in terms of pumping out a run of at least 30 yards. If the 49ers can keep him going, whether as an explosive runner or a sneaky outlet for quick passes, they'll be able to keep Atlanta's defensive line on the back foot. Pair him with recently returned RB Tevin Coleman, and San Francisco can hope for some vintage 2019 vibes against the Falcons - just, maybe not a repeat of that specific 2019 game.

Key 2: Find Balance on Defense

The 49ers enter the Week 6 contest with the best defense in the NFL, per DVOA (-26.5%), points per game allowed (12.2), and yards per game allowed (249.2). But with the losses of Emmanuel Moseley (torn ACL) and Jimmy Ward (broken hand), not to mention the potential absences of Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Javon Kinlaw, the 49ers defense will be undermanned in a way that it hasn't had to deal with so far this season.

It will be up to defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to organize a game plan that allows the defense's well-regarded depth players to play fast and physical, without asking too much of them or giving Atlanta weaknesses to prey on. Ryans has shown a tremendous ability to do so thus far. In the past two weeks, the 49ers have stifled some of the NFL's elite playmakers in Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey without being gashed for points and yards elsewhere.

This week, the challenge will be combating a surprisingly effective Falcons offensive line, which has paved the way for their running backs to average 5.1 yards per carry on the season. Even after falling to a 21-0 deficit against the Buccaneers last week, the Falcons committed to the run, rushing for 100 yards on 18 attempts after that point as they very nearly mounted an upset. This means that interior defensive line players like Hassan Ridgeway and Kevin Givens will have an opportunity to shine, while pass rushers Drake Jackson and Samson Ebukam will need to work hard to set the edge.

Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson, who racked up 340 yards before getting injured in Week 4, won't be available to help Atlanta out. But they do have another weapon in QB Marcus Mariota, who has 156 rushing yards this season. Mariota has been ultra-efficient when carrying the ball himself on third down, converting 66.7% of the time. If the 49ers' rotational defensive line players can keep the Falcons from consistently generating 3rd-and-short situations, they'll be able to set up their teammates for success.

And they'll need help in the box from star LB Fred Warner and S Talanoa Hufanga, as shutting down the run will expose a passing offense that ranks 30th in yards per game (166.8) and completion percentage (55.7%). Still, that accuracy may only be as low as it is because of the Falcons' tendency to take deep shots, which means whichever cornerback lines up opposite of DB Charvarius Ward will have to remain wary. But if the 49ers' secondary can avoid allowing explosive plays on deep balls, a battle in the trenches is one they should feel confident about winning.

Key 3: Make the Most of Offensive Opportunities

With an opponent so heavily geared towards running the football, this game could turn out to be a quick one. With the 49ers so heavily invested in executing an effective run game alongside YAC passes, this could turn into a game similar to the Week 4 contest against the Rams, with each team only getting 4-5 real drives per half.

With the Falcons scoring 23.6 points per game against a 49ers defense that allows over 10 points fewer, the magic number for the 49ers should fall somewhere around the 20 point mark. Avoiding game-changer defensive lineman Grady Jarrett, whose controversial Roughing the Passer penalty last week ended a Falcons' comeback bid, will be critical. But so far, the 49ers' young offensive line has allowed fewer than 2 sacks per game, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo has only thrown 1 interception in his four games this season. Keeping the line moving, avoiding critical mistakes on key passing plays, and putting up 13-14 points by halftime should be sufficient to overcoming a physical Atlanta team.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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