Falcons next opponent: 5 things to know about the 49ers 

The Falcons head out West to take on the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Sunday.

The 49ers (11-2) are coming off a thrilling win over the Saints, beating New Orleans 48-46 in the final seconds at the Superdome thanks to a 30-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. Atlanta (4-9) is coming off a dominant 40-20 win over the Carolina Panthers and will be looking to build off the performance.

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There's a lot of familiarity with these teams as Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers head coach, was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons from 2015-16. Three coaches on Shanahan's staff also coached under Quinn during the same time period: running backs coach Bobby Turner, passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur and run game coordinator Mike McDaniel.

Here are five things to know about the 49ers:

San Francisco's defense could be the surprise of the year

With Shanahan running the 49ers' offense, success was to be expected when he took over as head coach in 2016. He's one of the brightest offensive minds in the game and is a master of the wide-zone scheme the Falcons currently run.

But San Francisco's defense has been the story of the season.

The 49ers have the No. 2 ranked defense in the NFL. They rank No. 1 against the pass, giving up just 150.8 yards per game and rank No. 1 in the league in preventing explosive pass plays. The unit has allowed only 25 pass plays of 20 yards this season.

Nick Bosa making case for Rookie of the Year award

There might not be a better rookie playing right now than defensive end Nick Bosa. The 49ers drafted Bosa out of Ohio State with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

A big reason for the 49ers success on defense has been the play of their defensive line that ranks No. 3 in the league in sacks with 45. Defensive end Arik Armstead and Bosa have combined for 18 sacks.

49ers banged up

The 49ers' starting lineup has suffered a few significant injuries recently.

Center Weston Richburg suffered a torn patellar tendon and will miss the remainder of the season. Richburg had been having a Pro Bowl-caliber season for San Francisco and his loss is a significant one in Shanahan's offense.

Ben Garland, who spent four years with the Falcons, will take over at center in place of Richburg.

Dee Ford, one of the 49ers' big offseason acquisitions, will miss the next few games with a hamstring injury, according to Shanahan.

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman is also expected to miss some time with a hamstring injury that occurred in the fourth quarter of the win over the Saints.

Shanahan's run scheme has 49ers rollin'

The 49ers have the No. 2 ranked rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 149.1 yards per game.

Perhaps what makes this offense so hard to stop is the fact it hasn't just been one player carrying the load for San Francisco in the backfield.

The trio of Raheem Mostert (608 yards), Matt Breida (596 yards) and Tevin Coleman (460 yards) have combined for 1,664 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Garoppolo, Kittle make passing attack dangerous

Jimmy Garoppolo, in his third season under Shanahan's system, is proving to the world what he's capable of doing as a starter.

He's thrown 273 passes for 3,245 yards and 25 touchdowns this season leading the 49ers to the No. 13 ranked passing offense.

George Kittle is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2018 and could be considered the top tight end in the league after this year. Kittle has caught 60 passes for 754 yards and four touchdowns.

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