49ers on Alert against Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Davonta Freeman

Through eight games, the San Francisco 49ers have already seen many of the top wide receivers in the NFL.

To name a few, the club has faced Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants.

Those star pass-catchers combined for 450 yards and four touchdowns against San Francisco.

This week, the 49ers defense has a chance at redemption as it welcomes Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons to town.

"That's what you want," Keith Reaser said on Thursday. "That's why you play the game, to go against the best players. That's where you judge yourself."

Jones certainly fits the bill as one of the NFL's best. He ranks first or second in all major receiving categories this season: 103 targets (2nd), 70 receptions (1st), 892 yards (1st) and six touchdowns (tied, 2nd).

So what jumps off the screen about the 6-foot-3, 220-pound, two-time Pro Bowl selection?

"Well, he's got a million catches," defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said. "He's really good, and he can hurt you in so many different ways. Whether it's vertically down the field or some of the catch-and-run routes like the wide receiver screens.

"They move him around so that you can't bank on him being in one spot."

Added Reaser: "He can do it all. He's got the size, speed, great hands and great catch radius. They throw them the ball a lot, we know that."

Three of the 49ers top cornerbacks are listed on the injury report this week. Reaser is dealing with an ankle injury, Kenneth Acker is in the league's concussion protocol and Tramaine Brock has a banged-up shin.

Mangini indicated that the team will monitor how the injured players progress before determining the plan of attack against Jones. Putting too much focus on the wideout, however, is something the coordinator wants to avoid.

"You've got a quarterback that's really smart and that does a great job of pre-snap reads and gathering information," Mangini said of Matt Ryan. "Some guys are going to force it, force it, force it, no matter what you do. Where with Matt, in this offense, he does a nice job of saying, 'OK, I really don't have that, but I know that there's softness in the zone over here, or this matchup is good.'"

Three other notes from Mangini

1. In addition to employing the league's most prolific receiver, the Falcons also have the NFL's leading rusher in Devonta Freeman. 

In a breakout campaign, the second-year running back out of Florida State has amassed 709 yards and nine touchdowns.

"He's very talented," Mangini said. "He has excellent vision, and he's got really good burst and a nice ability, even if the initial window is closed, to jump-cut, get back in hole and accelerate through it.

"He's a good fit with the running scheme that they use and then when you've got passing threats that they have and the quarterback that they have, you can't always play eight man box." 

Check out exclusive photos from this week's practice as the San Francisco 49ers prepare to take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday.

2. Even with the 49ers struggling as of late, NaVorro Bowman continues to play the vast majority of the team's defensive snaps.

Bowman, in his first season back from significant knee surgery, leads the NFC in tackles with 81. Mangini told reporters that Bowman's workload will not be affected by San Francisco's win-loss record.

"That plan has really been in place since he first came back," Mangini said. "It's about finding the best balance to help him continue to play throughout the whole year and beyond."

3. As the season passes its halfway mark, Mangini was asked to evaluate first-round pick Arik Armstead and his progress since joining the team this summer.

The defensive lineman played 14 snaps last week against the St. Louis Rams and recorded two quarterback hits. He also had a forced fumble negated by an Ahmad Brooks penalty.

"He's made a good push," Mangini said. "There were some things early on that I wasn't excited about that he's worked on and he's improved upon.

"He's got good players around him in his room that can help him grow and mentor him. And it's the motor. As he grows into, not just his role, but just in the NFL, he'll continue to make jumps because of how he's wired and who he is."

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