MATCHUP TO WATCH
49ERS LINEBACKER PATRICK WILLIS VS. FALCONS TIGHT END TONY GONZALEZ
Since entering the league, Willis' game has evolved from chasing down ball carriers to tailing the opponent's top tight end. The inside linebacker's coverage skills have improved over the last two seasons, but today he draws perhaps the most savvy tight end of the last 25 years. Gonzalez, 36, had 93 receptions this season, was voted to his 13th Pro Bowl and is quarterback Matt Ryan's favorite target when a critical catch is needed. In last week's 30-28 victory over the Seahawks, the former Cal star's 19-yard reception set up Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal.
LIMIT MATT RYAN'S TIME ON FIELD
A timely takeaway and solid offensive drives conspired to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field early on last week against Green Bay. That formula is just as important today in making sure Matt Ryan and his receivers don't get hot early.
RUN FRANK GORE, THEN SOME MORE
The 49ers are 25-7 when Frank Gore has more than 100 rushing yards. That includes last week's win over the Packers (119 yards). The 49ers should be able to wear down Atlanta's defense, which has been only so-so against the run this season and is coming off a physical game against Seattle.
AKERS IS THE UNKNOWN KICKER
David Akers still is a mystery. He kicked a 36-yard field goal last week that broke a 21-21 tie in the second quarter. But he's attempted neither a long-range nor a high-pressure kick since the now-released Billy Cundiff was brought on board.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE SACKS GONE?
The 49ers defense didn't terrorize Rodgers last week (one sack). But they brought enough pressure to make him uncomfortable, and he was incomplete on 13 of his 39 passes. The 49ers' front four especially Aldon Smith must harass Ryan in the same way. Smith has gone four consecutive games without a sack.
WIDEN THE PLAN FOR TIGHT ENDS
Vernon Davis had a big, 44-yard catch last week. But that was his only one. He and fellow tight end Delanie Walker who had two prominent drops will have to rise to the occasion against Atlanta, especially if the Falcons focus on Colin Kaepernick's favorite target, Michael Crabtree.
The 49ers are favored by 4 points; the over/under is 49 points.
49ers: 11-4-1 (1-0)
Falcons: 13-3 (1-0)
ON THE AIR
TV: FOX40 (Joe Buck, play-by-play; Troy Aikman, color)
Radio: 680, 1320
Probable: CB Tarell Brown (shoulder), FB Bruce Miller (shoulder), LB Aldon Smith (shoulder), G Alex Boone (knee), LB NaVorro Bowman (shoulder), TE Garrett Celek (foot), CB Chris Culliver (knee), S Dashon Goldson (shin), LB Tavares Gooden (knee), RB Frank Gore (knee), LB Clark Haggans (shoulder), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), DE Justin Smith (elbow, triceps), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder)
Questionable: DE John Abraham (ankle), DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder)
Probable: CB Chris Owens (hamstring), S William Moore (hand), LB Stephen Nicholas (foot)