Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing 49ers Week 15 Matchup With Falcons Maven

Jose Luis Sanchez III

A potential trap game is on the San Francisco 49ers doorstep in week 15 when they play host to the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium. Considering the high-level opponents the 49ers have faced in the last few weeks - overlooking the Falcons could occur. Staying focused is key for the 49ers who need to keep stringing wins to clinch the NFC west for a first-round bye.

Entering Sunday, the 49ers will be without a plethora of key players. The Falcons could easily see that as a chance to play spoiler for the 49ers and rough them up going into the playoffs. To gain better insight on the Falcons, I went behind enemy lines with Dave Holcomb of Falcons Maven Sports Illustrated to fully preview this Sunday's matchup.

1.) Sunday’s matchup is going to be the third time this season that Kyle Shanahan has faced a former employer. When he reflected on his time in Atlanta this week, he had nothing but positive things to say. Is there a similar sense in Atlanta regarding Shanahan and maybe even the fans? 

DH: Yes, I would say so. With the way things are currently with Dan Quinn, a lot of the Falcon fan base wishes Shanahan was head coach here in Atlanta. I did a piece this week about how this Sunday, Falcons fans will get a taste for how their team could have looked if Shanahan would have stayed longer or been the head coach here instead of Quinn. So yes, the feelings in Atlanta around Shanahan are definitely positive.

2.) The Falcons season has been a relatively down year to say the least, yet they have managed to win three out of the last five games. What is it about them that, despite knowing the season is over, they have managed to become resurgent? 

DH: The team hasn't given up on Quinn, and that says a lot. I think that's why he's still head coach right now. Julio Jones gave a speech in the locker room after the loss to the Rams, and the team is 3-3 since then.Quinn also made some changes to the defensive staff. He's no longer calling defensive plays; Quinn has assigned that duty to linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. Actually, Morris coached the wide receivers in the first part of the season and has just switched back to coaching the secondary since the bye week. Moving Morris back to coaching defense and the change at playcaller has pay dividends.

3.) Losing teams tend to be the ones that can ruin a playoff teams goal. For the 49ers, their goal is a first-round bye. A loss to Atlanta would put them in a bit of a hole. Do you get the sense that the Falcons are motivated to play spoiler? And do you think they have a chance at doing so? 

DH: I'm not sure they are motivated by being a spoiler, but I do think they are motivated to play for their coach and finish the season on a strong note. Against the 49ers, though, I think they are severely outmatched. San Francisco's run defense is below average statistically, so maybe the Falcons can exploit that like they did (really for the first time this season) against Carolina last week, but I think Atlanta is going to struggle in the trenches on both sides of the ball versus San Francisco. 

4.) Carolina only got to Matt Ryan once last week. However, the last time the Falcons played a talented defense was against the Saints on Thanksgivings. Ryan was sacked nine times in that matchup. What’re the things that the Falcons can do to ensure that the Thanksgiving pounding Ryan received won’t be replicated on Sunday ? 

DH: The Falcons have benched their two free agent guards from this offseason -- James Carpenter and Jamon Brown -- and rookie first-round pick Chris Lindstrom has return. I would expect the Falcons to deploy the same strategy this Saturday, leaving Carpenter and Brown inactive and giving Lindstrom more playing time. But as you say, the 49ers front seven is going to be a much bigger challenge. Establishing a ground game would help ease some of the pressure and burden on Ryan, and the Falcons did that last week with a season-high 159 rushing yards.

5.) Jimmy Garoppolo has been on a tear in the last month. All of his receivers, including George Kittle are playing at such a high-level. Is Atlanta’s defense capable of slowing down this group? Or will it be on the offense to match them blow for blow since the 49ers are thin in their secondary?

DH: The key to the Falcons slowing down the 49ers will be generating pressure. When they've pressured the quarterback, Atlanta's defense has played well and helped the team win. It just hasn't happened very often. Generating pressure will be even more important with top cornerback Desmond Trufant injured again. The Falcons are 1-3 without Trufant this year.

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