San Francisco listed three linebackers on its injury report on Wednesday: Jeff Ulbrich (concussion) who is out, Marques Harris (hamstring) who did not practice and Manny Lawson (illness) who was listed under limited participation. Lawson is the team's fourth-leading tackler and has half a sack.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, I suppose, is that the 49ers' best linebacker Patrick Willis, whom Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith said yesterday might be the best defensive player in the league, is not on the report. Nor is inside linebacker Takeo Spikes, the Sandersville, Ga., native and former Auburn star who is the team's fifth-leading tackler and has one sack and one tackle for a loss.
This game, to me, really will come down to the performance of the Falcons' offensive line against San Francisco's front seven, especially those linebackers who are the backbone of the league's fourth-leading rushing defense. I talked to Falcons' right guard Harvey Dahl, arguably the team's top lineman, earlier in the week and he agreed that it is a point of pride for that underrated group to get the running game going this week and the battle in that that particular battle in the trenches should determine the game's outcome. Dahl, incidentally, started his career with the 49ers where he was mostly a practice-squad player in 2005 and then he played four games with them in 2006 before coming to the Falcons the following season. Talk about playing for pride.
Virtually every defense the Falcons have faced so far this season has been a challenge. Miami used Joey Porter and Jason Taylor to create a virtual five-man front in Week 1. Carolina was the only team against which Michael Turner rushed for more than 100 yards. Against the Falcons, New England's best defense, as the saying goes, was a good offense. Where would you rate the 49ers in that mix of four of teams? Are you buying into the concept that the defense has taken on Head Coach Mike Singletary's hard-hitting personality and do you think that Falcons will win this battle in the trenches?