SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers defense won't be the one facing a multidimensional quarterback who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds on Sunday.
Instead, San Francisco must deal with multiple weapons surrounding a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan.
If Ryan has learned anything from the 49ers' recent opponents, he'll get rid of the ball fast to stymie the 49ers' pass rush in Sunday's NFC Championship game.
"Teams have respect for our rush, (so) they throw it quick sometimes," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.
That helps explain why Aldon Smith hasn't produced a sack in his past four games, a shutout streak magnified by the franchise-record 19½ sacks he collected in the first 13 games.
"I don't look at it as a drought," Fangio added. "You guys were at the game last week. And the guy was throwing the ball extremely fast."
In last Saturday night's 45-31 win for the 49ers, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn't conquer a defense that allowed the league's second-fewest points and third-fewest yards in the regular season.
Now Ryan gets a crack at the 49ers inside the Georgia Dome, where he owns a 34-6 career record. Only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady has been more dominant at home, though it's worth noting his 85-16 record includes a Dec. 16 loss to these same 49ers.
"There's no doubt, we most certainly have to get pressure on Matt Ryan," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "For
Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are both Pro Bowlers (Jones this year, White the previous four years), totaling 1,351 yards and 1,198 yards, respectively. They combined for 17 touchdowns in the regular season.
The Falcons, with running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, present a more balanced attack than the Packers. But that dual threat at wide receiver can't be ignored. The 49ers defensive backs have praised White and Jones this week as big, physical targets with all the speed, hands and route-running discipline a quarterback could want.
The 49ers allowed teams to pass for 200.2 yards per game, ranking fourth in the NFL and marking the franchise's best showing since 1997 (when they led the league, yielding just 165.4 yards per game).
"Our corners do a good job not allowing receivers past them on double moves," safety Donte Whitner said. "And then when they come in the middle of the field, we're going to be extremely physical."
Neither White nor Jones has compiled a resume than can yet compare to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is contemplating retirement at season's end. Gonzalez would walk away with the second-most receptions in NFL history (1,242) behind only Jerry Rice (1,549).
Willis often will be responsible for stopping Gonzalez, not to mention the Falcons' respected tailback tandem of Turner and Rodgers. In Sunday's 30-28 escape against the defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons backs combined for 162 rushing yards using their low centers of gravity and ability to break arm tackles.
"We can't create big seams," Fangio said. "You give backs big seams, and then a good back becomes a great back. A great back becomes unstoppable. So, it all starts before the tackle is even attempted."
Hence, the 49ers' defensive front needs to overpower the Falcons' linemen, and that matchup revolves around Justin Smith, who missed the final 2½ regular-season games with a partially torn triceps tendon. He'll go head-to-head with left guard Justin Blalock, who likely will get double-team help from left tackle Sam Baker or center Todd McClure.
Regarding Aldon Smith's recent outings, Justin Smith said: "He's demanding a lot of extra attention. If you don't study tape, there's a lot of attention over there, and rightly so. The guy's a beast. "
Fangio agreed, adding: "It's not always stats. Don't look at your play-by-play (sheet) and make your conclusion. Watch the game."
Come Sunday, the 49ers defense will have plenty to keep their eye on with a multitalented Falcons offense.
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