SANTA CLARA -- I always hate to use technical football jargon. But I must do so in trying to explain the problems that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will pose for the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday:

He's going to drive them nutty like the dickens.

I also hate to go out on a limb. All right, that's not true. I do it all the time. And my feeling about Kaepernick is this: The Falcons could not be a better matchup for him, given the alternative.

Conventional wisdom says otherwise. Conventional wisdom says the 49ers should prefer playing at home in the NFC title game. That would have happened had Seattle held on to beat Atlanta over the weekend. Instead, the Falcons pulled it out with a field goal with 8 seconds remaining. Thus, the 49ers are traveling to the Georgia Dome, where it will be loud and difficult.

But so what? Coach Jim Harbaugh, of all people, said it best Monday. Harbaugh was his usual guarded self during his Monday media session. But when someone noted that the 49ers had struggled a bit on the road in domes this season, Harbaugh stated the obvious eloquently.

"We'll have crowd noise," Harbaugh acknowledged. "But the big task will be the Atlanta Falcons and preparing for them."

Exactly. And the reverse is equally true. The Falcons' big task will be preparing for the 49ers. And with the way Kaepernick has emerged -- especially as a postseason factor -- there will be complications for Atlanta.


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During his eight games as a starting quarterback, Kaepernick has climbed the status ladder from "Cute New Toy" to "Dangerous Tool" to "Holy Cow, What The Heck Is That?" It's pretty much where he stands right now after his 16 rushing attempts for 181 yards against Green Bay. Kaepernick also passed for 263 yards. His legs were still the trending topic.

Seattle, as a division opponent, has seen those legs before and overcome them. The Falcons have done neither. It means something.

Atlanta has played other running quarterbacks with varying results. Atlanta will watch Kaepernick on tape, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will develop a plan to stop him. But until defenders get on the field and have to deal with the uniqueness of Kaepernick's size and long-limbed acceleration, it's not quite the same. Green Bay safety Charles Woodson is one of the NFL's best. But even he took the wrong angle by misjudging Kaepernick's speed while trying and failing to prevent his 56-yard touchdown dash Saturday.

Greg Roman, the 49ers offensive coordinator who will surely be a head coach somewhere in the NFL next season, stood in the locker room late Saturday and did not want to reveal too much about the special plays installed for Kaepernick. Roman did utter that quote, however, about holding an ace card and "waiting for the right time to pull it out."

And why would the 49ers not expose Kaepernick's speed as much before this? Two reasons:

1. Kaepernick's resume in the NFL is still slight. But he owns an extensive one from his college years as a four-year starter at Nevada. If you examine the resume, you'll notice that in general, college opponents did better against Kaepernick the second time or third time they saw him.

Example: As a freshman against Boise State's Broncos, he rushed 14 times for 177 yards. As a sophomore against Boise, he was held to 70 yards in 16 carries. And as a junior, Kaepernick gained only 31 yards on 16 carries against the Broncos. Nevada lost all three games.

As a college senior, Kaepernick finally beat Boise State even though he was held to 45 yards in 10 carries, because he threw for 259 yards and finished the game with a 120.2 passer rating. That's a good sign for the 49ers' future. But right now, we're talking about the problems of a defense seeing Kaepernick for the first time vs. the second or third time. They are considerable.

2. There's no way Kaepernick would have carried the ball so many times in the regular season because no NFL team wants to expose its quarterback to injury and lose him for the rest of the season and playoffs. But now, there is no reason to hold back. For two or three games, he can be turned loose.

Kaepernick had just 14 true "rushes" in the Packers game. The last two were kneel-down plays at game's end. But that's still five more carries than he had during any previous start as a 49er. And now, there's no guarantee he won't carry it more against the Falcons.

Again, conventional wisdom says that's still the wrong thing to do. For years and years, the NFL tried to convert running quarterbacks into pocket quarterbacks. Like some other coaching staffs around the league, Harbaugh and his coaches saw what they had in Kaepernick and rolled the dice. They're doubling down in the playoffs. It surely helps that Alex Smith is waiting in the wings if Kaepernick does get hurt.

"There are some quarterback-driven runs that have been added because our quarterbacks are very good at those, and Colin especially," Harbaugh said Monday. "It's already noted that he's very fast. He's very good at reading and executing that type of offense. So, that's the reason."

It's also why conventional wisdom, in several respects, is having a very bad season. I don't see that changing Sunday in the Georgia Dome.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.