This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers look to record their third consecutive win after a week of practices in West Virginia. Looking at the matchup, there are quite a few collegiate and professional connections between the 49ers and Falcons. Below is a list of some notable ties between the two teams:
- 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan served as the Falcons offensive coordinator from 2015-2016. In Shanahan's final year with Atlanta, he helped the Falcons earn the No. 1 scoring offense and also helped lead the team to Super Bowl LI.
- 49ers wide receivers coach Leonard Hankerson played wide receiver for the Falcons in 2015.
- Falcons punter Bradley Pinion was selected by the 49ers in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and played for four seasons with San Francisco.
- Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota and 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead were teammates at the University of Oregon from 2012-2015.
- Falcons defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham and 49ers defensive lineman Charles Omenihu were teammates at the University of Texas in 2018.
- Falcons wide receiver Bryan Edwards and 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel were teammates at the University of South Carolina from 2016-2018.
"It's been a long time and I've played against (the Falcons) a number of times," Shanahan said. "Dan (Quinn) is not there anymore. The coaching staff has changed a bunch. When I think about the roster, (Falcons T Jake) Matthews is still there and (Falcons DL) Grady (Jarrett) is still there, but there's such big turnover. It's a totally different situation."
The 49ers have won four of the last five matchups against the Falcons and will enter the Week 6 matchup coming off a 37-15 win against another NFC South team, the Carolina Panthers.
San Francisco's offense was explosive in last week's game. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 18 passes for 253 yards and threw a pair of touchdowns to wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Tevin Coleman, earning a 109.4 QB rating. In the run game, leading rusher Jeff Wilson Jr. registered a season-high 120 rushing yards on 17 carries (an average on 7.1 yards per attempt). The 49ers offense found success against the Panthers in large part due to the team's resilient offensive line. Although the unit has worked through some substantial injuries throughout the season, San Francisco's O-line has managed to record less than 2.0 sacks allowed per game so far. This week, the 49ers offensive front will be challenged up against Atlanta's pass rush.
The Falcons defensive line is headlined by edge rusher Grady Jarrett, who leads his team with 3.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits this season. Atlanta's run defense also stood out in their contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, only allowing an average of 3.0 yards per carry on 23 rushing attempts. However, the Falcons will be without a major impact starter in their matchup against the 49ers, as inside linebacker Mykal Walker has been ruled out of the game with a groin injury.
"They're disciplined, very disciplined," Garoppolo said. "It starts with Grady Jarrett up front. He's a wrecker in the run game and pass game and just their zone coverages. They're pretty precise and they make you work the ball down the field and we're willing to do that."
San Francisco will look to retain their position as the league's best defense this week against the Falcons, but they will be without a few key defensive players. After the team's final practice on Friday, Shanahan ruled DL Armstead (foot, ankle), DT Javon Kinlaw (knee), CB Emmanuel Moseley (knee) and DB Jimmie Ward (hand) out of Sunday's contest. Defensive lineman Nick Bosa (groin) is questionable to play against the Falcons after returning to his first practice of the week on Friday.
Limiting Atlanta's run game is a heavy emphasis in Week 6, and that includes stopping Mariota. The quarterback was the Falcons leading rusher in Week 5, recording 61 yards on seven rushing attempts.
"They're physical and they finish," 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "They run the ball, they don't try to hide it, they're not disguising it. They want to run the ball, they want to play smash mouth football and they've done a great job this year of sticking to the run. Even when they've been down, they continue to run the ball and they've been successful at it, like top three in the league at running the football. So we have our hands full when it comes to stopping the run this week."
In the passing game, Mariota's top targets are tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London. Pitts is questionable for Sunday's matchup after being ruled out of the Week 5 contest against Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury. His presence will play a big factor in whether or not Atlanta is able to find their rhythm of offense. London, the Falcons first-round draft pick, notched four receptions on seven targets for 35 yards last week against the Buccaneers. The receiver has made some notable plays for Atlanta and has proven to do damage in zone coverage. He'll be matched up against San Francisco's secondary that's ranked top-three in the NFL.
"(Pitts) does a little bit of everything and I know he's an intricate piece to what they have on their offense," Ryans added. "It's a lot to defend. So we have our hands full, but we're up for the challenge."