Over the course of a regular season, the Falcons have faced plenty of talent. Last week head coach Mike Smith said he felt the Seattle cornerback tandem was the best group they've faced all season. This week it's a different group that is drawing praise from Smith and since it's the playoffs that shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
San Francisco's offensive line has been recognized as being among the best all season. They feature two Pro Bowlers in tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati and their other three linemen are no slouches either. They've formed a group that has helped the 49ers become a dominant running team since the beginning of last season and now they make San Francisco even more dangerous with their protection of new QB Colin Kaepernick.
Speaking to the media Wednesday, Smith said he felt they're as good as the Falcons have seen.
"I'd say this is the best offensive line, no disrespect to any of the other teams, but this is the best offensive line we've faced all year," Smith said. "They're big, they're physical, they want to run the football. They do a great job formationaly around the core five offensive linemen, but at the end of the day those five guys are going to have to win the line of scrimmage and they do a very good job."
Last week's opponent, the Seahawks, featured a strong offensive line as well and the Falcons still managed to get pressure to the QB at points and they were particularly strong in slowing the running game. The front four of the Falcons along with the linebackers held running back Marshawn Lynch to just 46 yards rushing. With John Abraham out for almost the entire game, they got some pass rush pressure from the middle of the defensive line, gaining one sack each from defensive tackles Vance Walker and Jonathan Babineaux.
Smith isn't always a big proponent of the sack statistic, instead hoping to see pressure and hits on the quarterback to interrupt the flow of the quarterback's game.
"It's about affecting the quarterback and disrupting the timing of the routes and I think that's going to be important again this week," Smith said.
Against the 49ers, pressure of some type will be at a premium and it could be possible despite Kaepernick's ability to escape pressure with athleticism. Despite dominant run blocking to the tune of 155.7 yards per game (fourth in the NFL), the 49ers have been prone to allowing their QB to get hit. They've allowed 41 sacks this season, ranking them tied for ninth in the league.