The Atlanta Falcons were able to shake their recent postseason demons in last weekend’s thrilling 30-28 victory over the upstart Seattle Seahawks. The win didn’t come without a challenge, however, as rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led a spirited comeback that came up just short in the end.
On the day, Wilson tallied 445 total yards and three touchdowns—most of which came during Seattle’s second-half surge and, coincidentally, while the Falcons’ leading pass-rusher, John Abraham, was not on the field.
Abraham initially injured his ankle in Week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While his absence in the second half of the Seahawks game was precautionary, he vows to play (via Tracking Blog, SI.com) in this weekend’s NFC Championship tilt with the San Francisco 49ers.
Even with Abraham’s 10 sacks in 2012, the Falcons were still only able to muster 29 as a team—a total that ranked 28th in the NFL. If the defensive end isn’t close to 100 percent—or if he is unable to go for an extended period of time on Sunday—San Francisco could see similar success to what Seattle was able to accomplish against Atlanta’s defense.
Colin Kaepernick carried the 49ers during last weekend’s 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers. The second-year quarterback threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, and added another 181 yards (an NFL record for quarterbacks—regular season or playoffs) and two scores on the ground.
Though it came in the divisional round, Kaepernick’s performance must be considered one of the best in NFL postseason history.
While it may be far-fetched to suppose that Kaepernick can duplicate those totals, the Falcons defense doesn’t stand a chance if Abraham can’t be effective—assuming he does play.
As Atlanta’s only viable pass-rushing threat, Abraham’s presence is crucial in dictating how the quarterback’s pocket breaks down. Allowing the more dynamic Kaepernick—in comparison to Wilson—to work in space will spell doom for the Falcons’ chances to advance.
The impact of a dual-threat quarterback amplifies when he is able to pick his spots, as opposed to being forced to scramble before the play actually develops. While some success can be found in chaos, it is imperative to keep the signal-caller uncomfortable in the pocket as much as possible—which is why Abraham’s role is crucial for Atlanta in this game.
In such a short time, Kaepernick has proven capable of winning games with both his arm and his legs. He is part of a growing trend in the NFL—one that includes Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton—and could end up being the best of the bunch.
While it will take the efforts of the entire Falcons defense to stop Kaepernick and Co., it will be on Abraham’s shoulders to slow down the quarterback enough for Atlanta to keep up on Sunday.
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