Week 9: Maiocco's Top 10 Falcons, 49ers to watch
Top 10 to watch
The 49ers will look to a new quarterback Sunday to bring a halt to their downward spiral. Colin Kaepernick is out – at least temporarily. And the team that has stated since the offseason that it wants to run the football will have, essentially, three new running backs with Kendall Gaskins being joined by veteran Pierre Thomas and journeyman Shaun Draughn. Here are 10 players to watch when the 49ers and Atlanta Falcons meet at Levi’s Stadium.
10. S Eric Reid, 49ers
The 49ers have experienced their share of issues in pass defense this season, and Reid has been up-and-down while trying to adapt to Eric Mangini’s system. Antoine Bethea is out for the season, so Reid must step up on Sunday to hold the secondary together against one of the better quarterback-receiver combinations in the league.
9. RB Devonta Freeman, Falcons
The second-year player has proven to be one of the top offensive players in the league through the first half of the season. Freeman leads the NFL with 709 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He also has 40 receptions for 353 yards and a score. The 49ers rank 19th in the league with their opponents averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
8. K Phil Dawson, 49ers
If this is like most games, the 49ers will turn to the 17-year veteran to account for a large percentage of their points. Dawson has made 13 field-goal attempts in a row since his first attempt of the season was blocked. He is perfect on eight extra points from the increased distance, too. Dawson continues to be a model of consistency, and one of the few 49ers who is doing his job.
7. DE Vic Beasley, Falcons
The Falcons invested the eighth overall pick in the former Clemson standout. After a good start with two sacks in his first three games, Beasley has been shut out in the past five weeks. Beasley should have some opportunities Sunday against a 49ers offensive line that failed to provide Kaepernick with the kind of protection necessary to allow him to make plays.
6. C Marcus Martin, 49ers
Martin, like every offensive lineman not named Joe Staley, has struggled. The 49ers have been sub-par in run-blocking and pass-protection. It’s important that Martin show some progress with Daniel Kilgore expected to return to practice after the bye week. When Kilgore is ready to play, the 49ers have to consider whether they want to move Martin to guard.
4. QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback is not have a great season with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But Ryan has put together four games this season with passer ratings of 100 or better. The 49ers’ defense has been shaky, with little pass rush and not much coverage, either. The 49ers’ opponents have a combined 100.2 rating.
3. LB NaVorro Bowman, 49ers
It appears Bowman is steadily rounding into his old form, as he’s showing better agility and lateral quickness in recent weeks. Bowman ranks second in the NFL in tackles in his first season back after missing all of 2014 with a devastating knee injury. He should be tested on Sunday against the run, as well as in pass coverage against tight end Jacob Tamme, who has 32 receptions.
2. WR Julio Jones, Falcons
There is little doubt Jones is the Falcons’ go-to receiver. He leads the NFL with 70 catches for 892 yards and six touchdowns. The fifth-year pro is 6-foot-3 with good speed and route-running ability. The 49ers’ No. 1 cornerback, Tramaine Brock, will likely see a lot of Jones, who is somebody Ryan will want to feature early and often in Sunday’s game.
1. QB Blaine Gabbert, 49ers
Gabbert, the No. 10 pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, has not started a game in more than two years. He was told on Monday that he will get the start Sunday in place of Kaepernick, whose production has been on the steady decline. Gabbert will need his quick release to take advantage of the short-passing game before the Falcons’ pass rush can get to him.