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Week 15 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 29, San Francisco 49ers 22


What you need to know

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta lost Takk McKinley to a shoulder injury during the second drive of the game and the 49ers jumped to a brief lead thanks to the ground game and timely passes to George Kittle to capitalize on a 21-play drive. Atlanta countered with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. They got to work during the second quarter of this game, combining for four targets and a touchdown to tie the game. The 49ers gave Atlanta’s defense a heavy dose of George Kittle late in the half and early in the second half but Atlanta foiled Kittle on a third-down pass that forced a punt. The 49ers repeatedly pressured Ryan in the second half, forcing inaccurate and rushed throws during one series and cleaning up with coverage sacks the next. Atlanta’s offense also incurred untimely penalties that put the unit in difficult down and distance situations. Ryan leaned on Julio Jones throughout the fourth quarter and Jones set up a Qadree Ollison one-yard plunge with a deep route that drew a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone, getting Atlanta within two points of the 49ers until the 49ers extended the lead to five late in the game. With less than 150 yards passing late, Ryan found Freeman, Gage, and Jones to cross midfield and then scrambled past pressure to reach the 49ers’ 15 with 34 seconds left and then hit Jones with 17 seconds left to reach the 5. Atlanta pulled off the victory with a crossing route to Jones for a touchdown that replay overruled as down inside the one a play after Hooper seemed to score with a great one-handed catch that the replay overruled.

San Francisco 49ers

Armchair sport psychology dictates that we assume San Francisco suffered a letdown after their recent stretch of playoff-caliber games. Armchair sport psychology is almost always wrong, but it's hard to have watched this performance and not have noticed that execution was just a bit sloppier than usual. False starts by wide receivers; wide receivers unable to beat man-to-man coverage by one of the worst secondaries in the league; unnecessary holding penalties by running backs in pass protection; all-world tight ends just outright fumbling the ball without any contact as the win-sealing first down is a yard in front of them; a quarterback who devolved back into his "generally accurate" but not "pinpoint accurate" self. The list goes on. Having said all that, a positive delopment going forward was the performance of new center Ben Garland, who only surrendered 1 hurry in 38 pass-blocking snaps (per Pro Football Focus).

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 39 - 210 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 5 - 27 - 0
A combination of pressure and coverage limited Ryan’s production during the first two series, including a curl route intended for Julio Jones where linebacker Dre Greenlaw undercut while buzzing across the flat. Ryan engineered a successful third drive into San Francisco’s red zone thanks to a pair accurate perimeter passes to Julio Jones and a pair of shorter targets to Austin Hooper. Ryan and Jones got Atlanta inside the five with a crossing route against man coverage and then followed up with an out to the front pylon where Jones leaned towards the corner, tucking the ball to his left hand to get the ball across the plain for a touchdown. Ryan found Jones late in the half on a double move up the right sideline but Jones let the ball go through his hands while the cornerback was holding Jones. The hold wasn’t called and non-reviewable by instant replay, but the cornerback’s play failed to live up to the standard of pass interference. Sheldon Day earned a push up the middle for a first-and-long sack of Ryan inside Atlanta’s 10 early in the third quarter, leading to a 2nd and 22 and Ryan went to the check-down on the following play to Freeman for three yards. Ryan followed up with quick screen and a bad throw that led to a series-ending punt. Ryan took too much time on a second-down attempt where he climbed the pocket and took one extra hitch he shouldn’t and it cost him time to break the pocket or throw the ball away. More pressure on the next play forced Ryan to break the pocket for a short gain, which led to another punt. Ryan nearly threw an interception early in the fourth quarter while trying to fit the ball over deep drops by the linebackers in the middle of the field, leading to another punt. With less than 150 yards passing late, Ryan found Freeman, Gage, and Jones to cross midfield and then scrambled past pressure to reach the 49ers’ 15 with 34 seconds left. He then had a near-touchdown to Austin Hooper that was overruled due to the Calvin Johnson Rule and followed up with a game-winner to Julio Jones with two seconds left that was initially ruled down inside the one but overruled by replay to give Atlanta the score.

RB Devonta Freeman, 53 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 39 - 0, Rec: 2 - 16 - 0 (3 targets)
He earned two carries up the middle for no gains during the first drive, but followed up with a cutback to the shallow side of the field and leaned through a hit from the cornerback to fall forward for a gain of six. Freeman earned six yards off right guard early in the second drive but Austin Hooper held Erik Armstead on the edge and the foul nullified the run. Freeman earned six up the middle with a shifty run early in the Falcons’ third series. The 49ers cut off a pitch to left end later in the series—Freeman bounced off one hit but three more defenders were unblocked and heading towards him. Right guard Chris Lindstrom opened a nice crease for Freeman on a gap play for 11 yards later in the first half. Lindstrom opened an eight-yard gain with a pulling block early in the third quarter. Fred Warner stopped Freeman a yard shy of the marker on a toss to the left side and Freeman appeared a little too upright at the collision point but the officials gave the Falcons a generous spot. Freeman earned a first down on a pass under the zone up the left sideline as a receiver split outside late in the game.

RB Kenjon Barner, 3 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 4 - 0 (2 targets)
He entered the game on the second play of the first drive and shifted from the backfield into an empty set to earn a target on a quick throw-out to the left flat for five yards. Barner fumbled away a punt return early in the fourth quarter deep in Atlanta territory after trying to spin off a hit. Tight end Ross Dwelly caused the fumbled and fullback Kyle Jusczyck recovered it and took the ball to the Atlanta one.

RB Qadree Ollison, 1 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 1 - 1
The rookie scored from one yard after Julio Jones drew a pass interference penalty against safety Jimmie Ward.

RB Brian Hill, 10 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 16 - 0
He entered the game late in the second quarter to spell Freeman and earned a toss play for 16 yards to get Atlanta across midfield.

WR Julio Jones, 59 offensive snaps, Rec: 13 - 134 - 2 (20 targets)
He came up limping after his first target on a target breaking to the right sideline after the cornerback held Jones on the play and their feet collided during Jones’s break. He returned a play later. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw read Matt Ryan’s eyes and worked across the flat to tip the ball away from Jones working underneath deeper coverage. Jones earned a back-shoulder fade against tight coverage on third and four up the right sideline early in the second quarter for 28 yards. Ryan followed up with a flush right and delivery of the comeback to the right sideline for another first down to get Atlanta to the 49ers’ 21. Jones got Atlanta inside the five with a crossing route against man coverage and then followed up with an out to the front pylon where he leaned towards the corner and tucked the ball to his left hand to get the ball across the plain for a touchdown. Ryan found Jones during the next drive on a speed out for a first down to get inside the 49ers’ 30 with less than four minutes left in the half. Ryan delivered the ball to Jones on a double move that went through Jones’s hands in the end zone late in the half. The hold that the cornerback committed during the play wasn’t called and it was non-reviewable by instant replay, but the cornerback’s play failed to live up to the standard of pass interference. Atlanta hit Jones on a receiver screen off of a fake toss to the opposite side but the 49ers recovered and limited the gain to five yards. Ryan found Jones for his seventh catch on a curl at the end of the third quarter for a first down near midfield. Jones dropped a low and away dig route that hit his fingers but required a difficult stretch early in the fourth quarter. Jones earned a first down on a third-down slant midway through the fourth quarter to keep another drive alive. D.J. Reed stuffed Jones on the next play when Atlanta tried another short screen. Ryan then overshot Jones on an out but followed up with a crossing route that Jones converted for a first down. Jones dropped a throw arriving over his inside shoulder after Jimmie Ward interfered with the receiver throughout the receiver’s break and put the ball inside the 49ers’ one yard-line. Jones broke a tackle on a target over the middle as the inside receiver of a trips set that got Atlanta inside the 49ers 30 with seconds remaining and later earned a curl inside the five with 17 seconds left. Jones scored over the middle with two seconds left for the game winner.

WR Russell Gage, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 6 - 0, Rec: 5 - 27 - 0 (6 targets)
Ryan targeted Gage on a slant to begin Atlanta’s second drive and Gage extended for the catch and the first down. Gage earned a flay sweep for six yards top open Atlanta’s third series. Gage earned a quick seven yards up the flat but a holding call on Christian Blake nullified the gain. Gage lost about five yards on second-and-one when Blake missed a blocking assignment and let the cornerback through for the tackle. Later in the drive, Gage worked up field though a nice crease on a receiver screen to the left flat for a first down to get Atlanta inside the 49ers’ 35. Gage crossed midfield on a short pass after Ryan scrambled to buy time late in the game.

WR Olamide Zaccheaus, 5 offensive snaps
After a score the week prior, Zaccheaus didn’t see the field with the exception of special teams but he scored with no time left when the 49ers failed on a throwback during a kick return and Zaccheaus recovered the fumble.

WR Christian Blake, 57 offensive snaps (1 targets)
Blake committed two penalties that nullified positive plays. This was the extent of his notable work in the game.

TE Austin Hooper, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 20 - 0 (6 targets)
Ryan was off-target on a third-and-four pass to Hooper in the right flat, leading to a series-ending punt to begin the game. Hooper ran a nice flat route against Greenlaw to get Atlanta into the red zone during a second-quarter drive. He followed up with a gain of 6-7 on a screen. He began a mid-fourth-quarter drive with a screen that he took up the left flat for nine yards. Ryan nearly hit Hooper on a post between two defenders in the end zone with 29 seconds left. Later in the drive, Hooper made a great extension for the ball in the end zone but could not maintain possession according to the rules, which before the Calvin Johnson Rule would have easily been a touchdown.

TE Luke Stocker, 22 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (1 targets)
He earned a short gain on a screen pass during a second-quarter drive.


San Francisco 49ers

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, 64 offensive snaps, Pass: 22 - 34 - 200 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 6 - 0
Garoppolo wasn't necessarily "bad" in this game. He just clearly wasn't as sharp as he had been in recent weeks. It's true that a big reason for his underwhelming stat line was Atlanta's defensive game plan, which neutralized San Francisco's wide receivers via man-to-man coverage and limited George Kittle to underneath catches in traffic. Having said that, Garoppolo didn't help matters, missing several times in all manners of miss -- low, high, ahead, behind, early, late, etc. -- when receivers were certainly "open" by NFL standards.

RB Raheem Mostert, 34 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 54 - 1, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (2 targets)
Once again, Mostert played a higher snap share than Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, and as also outperformed them in fantasy. Against Atlanta, however, the forward progress was more plodding and the plays were less explosive than in recent weeks. To wit, he didn't have a single touch gain double-digit yardage and actually had one carry go for minus-6 yards. Also unlike recent weeks, Mostert was virtually non-existent down the stretch, producing only 29 total yards in the second half.

RB Matt Breida, 12 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 11 - 0, Rec: 2 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)
Breida once again played a lower snap share than Raheem Mostert. It still may be partially due to Breida's perpetual "less than 100% status," but the bigger reason -- at least this week in particular -- was a fumble he lost in scoring position at the end of the third quarter. It didn't directly result in points for the Falcons, but it was an eggregious enough error that Breida had exactly zero touches afterward.

RB Tevin Coleman, 19 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 40 - 0 (1 targets)
Coleman sprinkled in a single, untouched run for 37 yards among a holding penalty in pass protection, a target he wasn't ready for despite the playing being designe to him, as we all as a handful of other runs that went nowhere. To be fair, though, that long run did require a modicum of vision and change-of-direction at the point of attack in order to get into the secondary.

WR Deebo Samuel, 57 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 8 - 0, Rec: 1 - 29 - 0 (3 targets)
Samuel's three targets involved an uncatchable short pass, a very catchable intermediate pass that he dropped, and a very catchable underneath pass that he caught wide open and ran for 29 yards.

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 9 - 0 (4 targets)
The Falcons played a ton of man-to-man coverage, so the main reason for Sanders's quiet day was that he didn't beat it, especially against cornerback Isaiah Oliver, against whom he ran most of his routes. A secondary reason was that Atlanta didn't fall for Kyle's Shanahanigans, repeatedly ignoring when Sanders would go in jet-sweep or end-around action as a decoy.

WR Kendrick Bourne, 34 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 11 - 0 (2 targets)
Though Bourne only had two targets, both were on third down; yet even more evidence that he's a coveted weapon for Kyle Shanahan in crucial situations. Having said that, he won't be for long if he keeps dropping half of said targets like he did in this game.

TE George Kittle, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 13 - 134 - 0 (17 targets)
Kittle's big day happened because, for whatever reason, Atlanta decided to mostly use linebackers in coverage against Kittle, which was the exact opposite of what Baltimore and New Orleans had done to keep him relatively quiet the previous two weeks. That said, there may have been a method to Atlanta's madness, as none of Kittle's targets provided opportunities for big plays. Rather, everything involved either an underneath throw, minimal opportunity for yards after catch, or both.