It's not always clear how it happens, but when a team this season has figured out how to run the ball against the San Francisco 49ers, good things happen for them.
The running game in today's NFL doesn't have quite the same effect that it once did and you can look no further than this year's Falcons team to see that. The Falcons throughout much of the season focused on the pass and didn't consistently put up rushing yards against opponents. They won despite this.
Last week against the Seahawks, that changed. Atlanta was able to generate 167 yards on the ground against the Seahawks, a stout defense that ranked 10th in the league in defending the run heading into the game. The strong run game kept Atlanta balanced and Seattle off-balance.
A similar tactic was employed against the Giants earlier in the season for big results and when the Falcons have been at their best in 2012, it's when they've run the ball successfully and used play action passing off of it.
On the other side of the field, the 49ers come into this weekend boasting the fourth-best run D in the league, holding opponents to 94.2 yards per game. But when the 49ers have lost this season, they've usually done so because the opponent has run the ball with success against them. Of San Francisco's four losses this year, they gave up 140 yards rushing or more in all of them. The lone exception was the loss to the Rams when St. Louis rushed for 85 yards, but in the tie game St. Louis and San Francisco had, the Rams rushed for 159 yards.
Atlanta has the ability to be highly balanced on offense and against a defense like San Francisco, especially given the results from earlier in the season, that could be an effective approach.
"This is a team that if you become one-dimensional, they can be really scary," center Todd McClure said. "You've got to be able to run the ball. The teams that have been successful have come out and run the ball. I felt like we did that pretty good last week and it's hopefully something we can carry over this week. It's something we've focused on and it's going to be an emphasis."
San Francisco's run D brings a physical presence to any game and that shouldn't be any different on Sunday. Physical play must be met with physical play and the Falcons showed last Sunday against the Seahawks, another physical team, that they can play that style of football and win those matchups up front. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers took the strong blocking from the offensive linemen in front of them and carried that attitude into the open field, repeatedly running over Seahawks and making them miss.
Turner expects the 49ers to be tough to run over, but he thinks matching their physical play with more of what they showed last Sunday will help in gaining yards on the sound 49ers defense.
"You've got to be on top of your game," Turner said. "It's not going to be as easy to break tackles. Those guys are technicians when it comes to tackling. We've just got to be on top of our game. I'm going to run hard. That's all I know how to do. I'm just going to go out there and do my best."