Falcons must contain 49ers option game

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
11:08
AM ET

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Falcons defense will be tested by the option-running game of the 49ers.
With a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line, the Atlanta Falcons will have to find a way to stop a San Francisco 49ers team that set several offensive records in the Divisional Playoffs, including a franchise-record 579 yards of offense, and a single-game quarterback record 181 rush yards by Colin Kaepernick.

The Falcons pass defense may be up to the test -- including the playoffs, they’ve allowed 16 passing touchdowns this season, tied with the Rams and Bengals for the fewest in the league. Their opponents have the second-lowest touchdown percentage in the NFL and the lowest in the red zone.

Atlanta allowed a Total QBR of 51.7, 10th-best in the NFL and lower than the league average (54.8).

But the rush defense has struggled.

Excluding kneel downs, the Falcons allowed 4.9 yards per rush in the regular season, (fourth-worst). There was improvement last week -- they held the Seahawks to 4.4 yards per rush.

The big trouble area for Atlanta’s rush defense has been quarterbacks. The Falcons have allowed 339 yards on 38 rushes this season to quarterbacks (excluding kneel downs). The 8.9 yards per rush allowed on those plays is last in the NFL.

Option plays sparked the 49ers running game last week, accounting for 176 yards on 16 rushes (both single-game highs for the 49ers this season).

The Packers may have been taken by surprise considering that Kaepernick hadn’t kept the ball on an option play since Week 14. The 49ers used those plays only 12 times in the last three games of the regular season.

The Falcons, at the very least, will have experience on their side. Only the Saints have faced more option runs than the Falcons this season and the Seahawks ran 12 such plays against them last week.

Where Atlanta has succeeded defending the option is limiting how often the quarterback runs.

Quarterbacks kept the ball on 14 percent of their option runs against the Falcons this season (league average is 35 percent). In the Divisional Playoffs, Russell Wilson didn’t keep the ball on any of the Seahawks’ 12 option runs.

When quarterbacks have kept the ball on option runs against Atlanta, they’ve gained 20.7 yards per rush, compared to 3.9 yards per rush when handing it off.

Kaepernick has kept the ball 34 percent of the time this season and has averaged a league-best 10.9 yards per rush when he keeps it on the option.

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