Saturday, January 19, 2013

Can Falcons Stop 49ers' Kaepernick? No

Everything points to a San Francisco 49ers win in Sunday's NFC championship game against the Falcons in Atlanta. That's why the Niners are a four-point favorite.

The biggest reason to put money on the Niners is QB Colin Kaepernick, who torched the Green Bay Packers last week with his amazingly accurate passing and his mind-blowing rushing--a record (for a QB) 181 yards. The Pack had no idea how to stop him. The Falcons have been unimpressive against scrambling QBs, surrendering a whopping seven yards a scramble. In the second half against Seattle last week QB Russell Wilson ripped the Falcons with both his scrambling and passing. The Atlanta D looked as lost against Wilson in that second half as the Pack did against Kaepernick.

What's to stop Kaepernick from duplicating that superhuman effort?. The biggest weapon against Kaepernick and that lethal read option is a quick, swarming pass rush. But the Falcons best rusher, John Abraham, is hobbled. He'll play Sunday but won't be at full strength.

Kaepernick is an expert that the read option, which befuddles defenses since they don't see it that often. It works well against man-to-man defenses, like the one used by the Falcons. To throttle the read option, it helps to have a savvy, hard-hitting secondary, which the Falcons don't have. Thomas DeCoud and William Moore regularly blow assignments while Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel are lousy tacklers. To slow down the Niners' offense, top-notch secondary play is essential.

Home-field advantage isn't that big of a bonus in this one. The only place in the league that's a lion's den for an opponent is Seattle, where the Niners were destroyed. They won on two other tough home fields, New England and New Orleans, late in the season, so Atlanta shouldn't be a fearsome environment to them.

The Falcons' defense is one of the top five in league, but it could be neutralized by the wizardry of
Kaepernick. The Niners' D, which is superior, particularly against the run, only faltered twice, against Seattle's Wilson and New England's Tom Brady. Atlanta's QB Matt Ryan isn't in Brady's class as a passer and isn't a scrambling threat, so he doesn't scare the Niners. Also, being a home underdog, like Atlanta, isn't an enviable position. Since 1985, home dogs have only been successful twice in eight tries.

Here's what the Falcons need to win. First and foremost, a super, Brady-like passing performance is absolutely necessary.from Ryan, who's had big problems winning in the playoffs. If he plays like he did in the second half of the Seattle game, the Falcons are dead.

Second, the Falcons defense, which has no real stars aside from Abraham, must have its best game of the season and somehow find a way to stop Kaepernick. With a chance to look at the film of Kaepernick rolling over the Pack, maybe Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, a former Niner head coach, will find a way to shut him down. Or maybe Kaepernick may stop himself. After all, this is his first time in an NFL championship game and just his second year in the league. Quite possibly, he'll wilt under the pressure.

So, as usual, the game is in the hands of the QBs. Which one will soar? My money is on Kaepernick.