Atlanta was lucky to escape with a last-second win over Seattle last week, but they aren’t going to get away with a second half collapse against the 49ers.
After going up 20-0 over the Seahawks, Atlanta managed to blow their comfortable lead with under a minute to play. Matt Ryan and the Falcons did what they had to do at the end, but they need to know just how fortunate they were.
Seattle is a well-rounded team, but their primary strengths were rushing the ball and stopping the pass. Seattle ranked 6th against the run and 10th against the pass during the regular season, establishing themselves as one of the NFL’s better defenses. Regular season statistics don’t mean diddly-squat in the postseason, but in this case they represent what the Falcons need to be concerned about. San Francisco ranked 4th against both running and passing, and this is exactly what Atlanta needs to be ready for: a better defense.
Seattle may have gotten the best of the 49ers at the end of the regular season, and the Seahawks were the hottest team in the NFC, but San Francisco just brings more to the table. Their ferocious front 7 neutralizes the running attack and gets to the quarterback, and with more consistency than Seattle’s. The Falcons hot start in last week’s game enabled them to choke away a lead and still win, but that approach is more than likely to fail this week.
The problem for Atlanta is that this isn’t a new issue. The Falcons caught a lot of flak despite their 13-3 record because they failed to win convincingly, and this was often due to inconsistent games. Close contests with the hapless Raiders and Cardinals are only two examples, and poor stretches capped with heroic endings have almost become a weekly occurrence for Falcons fans.
Last Sunday’s thriller was merely a continuation of Atlanta’s mode of victory, but that needs to change. Their defense has played well all season, but they have managed to keep poor teams closer than they should. Atlanta’s offense has been unstoppable at times, but goes stagnant enough for other teams to catch up.
When they are at the top of their game, Atlanta is as good as anyone. The Falcons haven’t been at the top of their game throughout every game, though, and their in-game consistency will decide whether or not they play in 2 weeks.