The more I think about this game, the more I think that I think there will be a poor ending for Atlanta, and it will become very clear, very quickly.
The Falcons were kind enough to play a quarter of their regular-season schedule this year against highly mobile quarterbacks, and generally those meetings ended badly. Earlier this week I looked back on the carnage that was the Atlanta defense during those games, and although there was a glaring exception (holding Robert Griffin III to just seven rushing yards), the read-option offense used by Carolina led to repeatedly watching Cam Newton go for delightful Sunday jogs into wide open green grass. Over those two games, Newton had 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with one of those scores coming on a career long 72-yard run.
Then even if we ignore the success of Newton and to a lesser extent Michael Vick this year against a Falcons front seven that struggled to maintain gap discipline, there’s the matter of John Abraham’s ankle injury, the significance of which can’t be repeated enough during the buildup to this game. A week ago it was the 49ers with a potentially crippling injury in their front four, as Justin Smith was playing through a partially torn triceps (yeah, that still hasn’t healed). Abraham was a limited participant in practice yesterday, and he’ll surely receive minimal work throughout the week before inevitably being slapped with the ol’ questionable/game-time decision tag, and playing a reduced role Sunday.
For the Falcons, that’s downright petrifying, because much of containing — or at least limiting — the damage done by a mobile quarterback in a read-option scheme is done by having a defensive end who can counter with the proper reads, and then react using his quick-footed acceleration, and raw speed. A healthy Abraham can do that, but Abraham won’t really be Abraham at all Sunday. And in truth, Kaepernick has made fools out of some elite edge rushers recently, with Clay Matthews looking like a drunken sailor a week ago when the 49ers QB set the single-game quarterback rushing record.
Now that I’ve ensured no Falcons fan is reading the rest of this post (REMAIN CALM), let’s look at some surface-y numbers, and then do some more ranting and deeper numerical opining.