NFL

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR PREVIEW Sun: San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons

Contrary to a lot of opinions at the start of the season the Atlanta Falcons have had a better start to the season than many predicted and while a 2-3 record isn’t anything to shout about they are the only team in the NFL who have covered the spread each week. Only two teams in the last decade have started 6-0 or better ATS (2021 Dallas, 2018 Kansas City).

Starting the season 0-2 it looked as though they could be heading in the direction of the No1 overall draft pick but narrow wins over Seattle and Cleveland got them back to 2-2 until they were beaten 21-15 by Tampa Bay last week. That game hinged on a late roughing the passer call which was one of the worst I’ve seen with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady milking the situation for all it was worth.

San Francisco head the NFC West at 3-2 having won their last two games putting 24 points on the Rams and 37 last week on the hapless Panthers who reacted immediately by firing their head coach Matt Rhule. The 49ers face another cross-country trip here to Atlanta for their second road trip in a row and that always makes life tough.

A large majority of this game will revolve around who can run the ball better in a matchup where something has to give in that department of the game. The Falcons have rushed for more than 150 yards in every game but one this season no matter who the running back is and here their third-ranked rushing offence meets the top-ranked rushing defence. Swapping things around in that sphere the 49ers have been able to boast a strong ground game this year and the Falcons have been middle of the road against the run.

It’s likely that the 49ers will seek to control the game and quell the crowd with their ground game as even with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo running the offence their strength lies within the ground game. That augurs well for the main running back Jeff Wilson who has touch counts over the past weeks of 20, 15, 18 and 18 and can be expected to see plenty of the ball. Over the last four games Wilson has rushed for a total of 353 yards and torched the Panthers for 120 yards and a touchdown last week on 17 carries. I like Wilson’s chances of continuing his successful spell against a defence that is surrendering 4.64 yards per carry and 134 total yards to opposition RB’s per game.

I doubt we’ll see any great volume of passing from Jimmy G but when he does throw the ever-versatile Deebo Samuel will be his main target. Samuel leads the team in just about every receiving category and is an elusive runner who can provide plenty of yards after the catch. Tight end George Kittle has had a quiet start to the season but gradually looks to be coming alive and Atlanta have been vulnerable to the tight end position. Already this year they have conceded the NFL’s second-most receptions (34) and third-most yards (355) to tight ends and can be attacked over the middle of the field; this could be a breakout game for Kittle.

The 49ers have allowed the third-fewest passing yards in the league while the Falcons have thrown for the third-fewest passing yards in the NFL (834). That statistic basically sums up the Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota who completed just seven passes when Atlanta beat Cleveland and the situation wasn’t much better last week when he completed just 14 passes. Mariota has only thrown for over 200 yards on two occasions this year (229 yards a high against the porous Seattle defence) and although he’ll have tight end Kyle Pitts and talented rookie wide receiver Drake London back in tandem for this contest it’s hard to see Mariota lighting up the 49ers through the air. Although it should be pointed out that the 49ers are missing some important pieces of their secondary and potentially star edge rusher Nick Bosa who has a groin injury.

The Falcons ground game has been shorn of the adaptable Cordarrelle Patterson who is now on injured reserve due to a knee injury and will look to a trio of running backs to carry the ground game. Tyler Allgeier operated as the main back last week in the loss to Tampa Bay with Caleb Huntley and Avery Williams mixing in; that triumvirate all have two years or less experience in the NFL.

The game script if the pattern of play of the two sides this season is repeated looks to be one of a slow-paced struggle. San Francisco allow the fewest points on a per-play basis and their games feature the fourth-fewest total points (33.8) and the eighth-lowest combined plays average (122).

The balance of power and skill looks to favour the 49ers but this is a second cross-country trip in as many weeks against a side who look up for a scrap and that could make life tough. A low-scoring 49ers win seems the most probable outcome as they project to be the side to move the ball the best.

ANDY RICHMOND


ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.


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