3TFO: Falcons @ 49ers, Week 16
The last Monday night game of the season is a matchup between the 4-10 Atlanta Falcons and the 10-4 San Francisco 49ers. This will be the last regular season game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers, after playing at The Stick since 1971, will head south to play in Santa Clara next season.
The (10-4) 49ers are just trying to finish the season strong. They remain a game ahead of Arizona in the division. If the 49ers win out, they can secure the No. 5 seed. While the 49ers don’t have the dominant run blocking they displayed last year, they still rank third overall in our cumulative grading this year. With Frank Gore’s steady running and the offense getting a few weapons back, the offense is in good shape. Couple that offense with the fourth overall defense (including second in pass coverage), and the 49ers will be a tough out in the playoffs.
There are a few culprits involved in the (4-10) Falcons (tougher than expected) season. The biggest problem has been up front. The Falcons struggle to run and pass block. In our cumulative grades they rank 29th in pass blocking and 19th in run blocking. Another problem has been their inability to rush the passer, as they rank last in the league in this regard. Atlanta thought Osi Umenyiora would be an adequate replacement for the departed John Abraham. While Abraham has thrived in Arizona, Osi has had little impact on the Falcons’ defense. Injuries can be blamed as well, but even having all of their players healthy wouldn’t solve either of these two issues. While Atlanta struggles rushing the passer, the 49ers have gotten a big boost from one of the catalysts in my first matchup below.
Aldon Smith vs. Lamar Holmes
Since coming back from his leave of absence, Aldon Smith has been dominant. His 16.0 Pass Rush Productivity rating leads all 3-4 OLBs and his 43 pressures ranks 16th. He has half as many pass rush snaps as some of the players ahead of him, making the 43 pressures even more impressive. Smith has been solid in the run game as well, as his Run Stop Percentage of 8.2% ranks seventh.
The Falcons seem content to let second-year left tackle Lamar Holmes work through his growing pains. His -30.1 grade is 77th out of 78 tackles. He struggles equally with run and pass blocking (ranking 75th or worse in both categories). He has allowed 44 hurries, 12 hits, and nine sacks. This ranks him in the Bottom 10 in the league in all three areas. The Falcons shouldn’t be able to find too much success in the running game. This will lead to plenty of Matt Ryan dropbacks. We could be looking at a huge day for Aldon Smith and the 49ers’ pass rush.
Adam Snyder vs. Jonathan Babineaux
Adam Snyder stepped in for the injured Mike Iupati in the Saints game. He has given the Niners a nice push in the run game, while struggling a bit in the passing game. This is pretty similar to Iupati’s production pre-injury. His +4.5 run blocking grade is already approaching the +5.5 grade that Iupati posted and the pass blocking for Snyder and Iupati is about identical. Now granted, this isn’t the dominant run blocking Iupati from 2012, but Snyder has been a solid replacement thus far.
Snyder will get a great match-up this Monday from Jonathan Babineaux. Babineaux has shown the ability to be dominant this season. His monster games against Seattle and Arizona (12 run stops combined) display that talent. While there have been performances like that, there have also been quite a few average performances. With a nationally televised game and his impending free agency, I expect to see the top-level Babineaux on display.
Vernon Davis vs. the Atlanta Safeties
Vernon Davis is the best all-around tight end in the game right now. Rob Gronkowski (when healthy) is the only tight end that has an arguement. Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez may make more of an impact in the passing game, but they can be complete liabilities in the running game. Davis is an every-down tight end. He’s not a dominant run blocker but he can hold his own, and his ability to stretch the field is second to none for the position. His wide receiver-like 16.4 yards per catch is evidence of that field-stretching ability. He leads all tight ends with 20 deep targets (20 yards or more). Only Desean Jackson has more deep touchdowns than Davis’ six.
It will be up to the Atlanta safeties to prevent any of these big plays from Davis. With Thomas DeCoud most likely out with a concussion, the Falcons will counter Vernon Davis with William Moore and rookie Zeke Motta. Moore has had a steady season, grading right around zero currently. You would have to think the Falcons expected more of an impact from Moore. Last year, he finished with a +6.7 grade including a positive grade against the run and the pass. This led Atlanta to give him a five-year contract extension. Motta, on the other hand, will be making his second career start. In his snaps so far he has struggled a bit against the run and played around average pass defense. The last two teams the Falcons played didn’t have much for tight end threats (Jermichael Finley and Jordan Reed were both out injured). Motta and Moore will get a real test from Vernon Davis this week.
You can follow Chris on Twitter: @PFF_CPhillips