The San Francisco 49ers (3-2) will make a short trip to Atlanta for their week six matchup against the Falcons.
Under Kyle Shanahan, the have made a habit of staying on the East Coast between road games. In 2019, the 49ers spent a week in Youngstown, Ohio, and another in Florida between road games to limit the toll of travel on players. Since 2020, The 49ers have stayed at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
The reduction in travel and distractions has paid off. San Francisco is 4-0 on the backend of their extended road trips.
Although the Falcons are a game below .500, they provide the 49ers with their toughest matchup to date. Not only has Atlanta scored more points over the first five weeks, but their style of offense has also already proven to be a thorn in the side of the San Francisco defense.
My five burning questions will spell it out and give you the keys on what will determine the outcome on Sunday:
1.) Will the 49ers run defense hold up?
On paper this may appear to be a silly question. After all, the 49ers have allowed the fewest yards per rush attempt in the NFL.
While the run defense has been very good, it faltered in losses to Chicago and Denver. The Bears and Broncos combined for 68 rushing attempts. In the 49ers three victories their opponents combined for only 51 attempts on the ground.
Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans understands the challenge his group faces on Sunday.
“One thing about the Falcons is they’re physical and they finish. They run the ball. They don’t try to hide it; they’re not disguising it. They want to play smashmouth football,” said Ryans. “They have done a great job of sticking to the run. Even when they’ve been down, they continue to run the ball and they’ve been successful at it, top three in the league. We have our hands full this week.”
Atlanta lost its leading rusher, Cordarrelle Patterson to injury in week four. The injury didn’t change their approach. Led by Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams and Marcus Mariota, Atlanta was able to run for over 150 yards on 31 attempts against Tampa Bay last week.
2.) Can Jimmy Garoppolo keep it going?
After a rough outing in his first start of the season at Denver, Garoppolo has shown improvement during victories over the Rams and Panthers.
The San Francisco quarterback has been very good on third down in particular. The veteran has completed 14 of 19 attempts for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the money down.
In addition to his strong performance on third down, Garoppolo has gone through the past two games without throwing an interception. He’s never done this three weeks straight.
Atlanta’s ability to shorten the game by sticking with the run makes it that much more important for Garoppolo to not be careless with the football.
3.) Can the 49ers pass defense overcome the loss of Emmanuel Moseley?
In Emmanuel Moseley and Charvarius Ward the 49ers defense had a pair of shutdown cornerbacks.
However, Moseley’s season ended late in the fourth quarter against Carolina leaving DeMeco Ryans in a situation like a season ago.
The signing of Jason Verrett seemed to be an insurance policy for situations like this. Although he isn’t fully recovered from a knee surgery of his own, the 49ers appear to be better equipped this time around.
Ambry Thomas and Dontae Johnson both played significant roles for San Francisco during the stretch and throughout the playoffs. Both will be options to start on Sunday.
Another option will be rookie Samuel Womack. Womack was an outside corner in college, a role general manager John Lynch said he envisioned for the rookie shortly after the draft.
Womack impressed his new coaches to the point they tabbed him as the starting nickelback for the beginning of the season. After being replaced by Deommodore Lenior he may find himself back in familiar surroundings.
4.) Wil Nick Bosa play? If he does, how effective will he be?
Bosa was pulled from the game against Carolina at halftime due to tightness in his groin. He did not participate in practice on Wednesday or Thursday before hitting the field Friday.
While Fridays are typically a lighter workload it could be a sign that we will see the defensive end against Atlanta.
The general consensus from outside the organization is Bosa should be held out this weekend to focus on next week’s game against Kansas City.
If Bosa is fully healthy and not at any additional risk to reinjure himself than normal, there are a couple reasons he should play.
For starters, Atlanta’s offense has scored more points than San Francisco. The idea this will be a cakewalk is off the mark.
In addition to being one of the best pass rushers in the game today, Bosa is solid against the run. With the Falcons commitment to the run game, the 49ers need all hands on deck.
The Atlanta game is also much more important than the game against Kansas City. When it comes to playoff tiebreakers, division and conference records are near the top of the list. San Francisco cannot afford to lose to another NFC opponent.
5.) Can Jeff Wilson Jr. and the 49ers run game repeat?
Heading into Sunday’s contest against Carolina the 49ers had averaged a measly 3.5 yards per rush attempt since Jimmy Garoppolo replaced Trey Lance.
Last Sunday Wilson exploded for 120 yards on 17 carries to lead a rushing attack which average 5.3 yards per attempt.
While impressive, it’s important to remember that performance came against a Panthers defense playing without both starting safeties and its leading tackler.
This week the 49ers offense faces an Atlanta defense which is in the bottom half of the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 4.6 yards per attempt.
The 49ers will get rookie Ty Davis-Price back this week to help carry the load behind Wilson along with Tevin Coleman.
49ers 22 Falcons 16