3 Keys to Victory for the 49ers in Week 15 Against the Falcons
After a thrilling victory in New Orleans, the San Francisco 49ers hold the one seed NFC playoff picture and control their own destiny. Before the 49ers can start thinking about the postseason, the team needs to take care of business against the Atlanta Falcons. Beyond a chase for the Lombardi trophy, this game has a few storylines attached, including a little bit of revenge.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan served as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator for two seasons and was a part of the infamous Super Bowl collapse a few years ago. Granted, the coach did get to leave on his own terms and there is nothing to imply that either side holds any sort of resentment, but it’s human nature to crave that feeling of getting the upper-hand after a split. Also, running back Tevin Coleman was on that same team so he is in a similar boat as Shanahan.
While their record doesn’t show it, the Falcons have a lot of talent on the roster and are capable of playing spoiler down the road. This matchup could be a trap game for San Francisco but if the team can accomplish these three keys, they should have no problem getting one step closer to locking up home-field advantage.
Don’t let Julio beat you
In the last few years, wide receiver Julio Jones has established himself as arguably the best in the league. This season is no different as the wideout as he’s racked up 69 catches for 1,016 yards and four touchdowns. Stopping him is a full team effort and luckily, the situation should allow the 49ers to deploy the majority of their resources towards Jones.
With wide receiver Calvin Ridley on injured reserve and running back Devonta Freeman still struggling to get back to his 2017 form, San Francisco’s defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can focus on Jones. This means double, triple and maybe even putting all 11 guys on the dynamic play-maker. Especially with cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Wuan Williams out, the Red and Gold need to play the numbers game.
Players like Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper could end up hurting the defense, but if that’s the case, you pretty much have to just tip your cap if you’re Saleh. At the end of the day, Jones’ numbers are likely going to correlate with how many points the Falcons put on the board, so if the 49ers can shut him down, it will be another impressive performance from their defense.
One of Atlanta’s many flaws on defense is pass coverage. The team allows 258.4 passing yards per game which ranks in the bottom 10 of the league and Pro Football Focus grades them as the seventh-worst in coverage. The Dirty Birds placed their best cornerback, Desmond Trufant, on injured reserve earlier this week and Isaiah Oliver, the team’s next best option, is listed as questionable for the game.
The combination of a shorthanded secondary and the Falcons’ struggles to defend the pass, should make 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppalo extremely excited for Sunday’s matchup. Handsome Jim has been of fire as of late and put together an impressive 349-yard four-touchdown performance in New Orleans, so Shanahan should have full confidence in the gunslinger and let him lose this week.
If the quarterback can put together another game with a completion percentage above 70 and passer rating above 110, he’ll join Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes as the only players in NFL history to meet those marks five weeks in a row. With the situation at hand, there is a good chance Jimmy G etches his name in the record books this weekend.
Get some style points
Technically this key is geared more towards the future than the actual game by itself. Obviously, whether the team wins by one or 100, it’s all the same in regards to playoff seeding. However, the 49ers need to continue building momentum towards a Super Bowl run and simple victory over a 4-9 team won’t do that.
Due to the difficult opponents, San Francisco has been forced to grind out its last few contests. Outside of a drubbing against the Packers and a late score during the Cardinals’ end of game desperation, the 49ers have played in one-score games for the better part of the last month and a half. Dismantling an opponent could give the Red and Gold some extra confidence and momentum heading into the postseason. With the Rams and Seahawks to close out the year, Sunday might be San Francisco’s last opportunity for a blowout.