Matt & Mindi: Crabtree's already shaky public image takes a big hit
ATLANTA -- The 49ers are back where they were a year ago at this time: One victory away from the franchise's sixth Super Bowl appearance.
The second-seeded 49ers face the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Sunday (noon, PT) with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line.
On paper, it appears to be a favorable matchup for the 49ers. But there are plenty of concerns, too. Here's a look at some of the keys for the NFC Championship Game:
Crabtree question: Will the Michael Crabtree situation be a distraction? Crabtree, of course, met with San Francisco police investigators Friday in response to a sexual assault allegation. It's a bad situation, to be sure, but I don't see how it would have any impact on the game.
Crabtree, who has not been charged with anything and was free to fly with Atlanta with his teammates, will suit up and play in the game. The biggest challenge for Crabtree is facing Falcons cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel.
Robinson gave up a lot of plays in coverage, as the opposition had a 102.4 passer rating when targeting him, according to Pro Football Focus. Samuel is very good in coverage, but he is one of the league's worst tacklers. Crabtree's biggest improvement this season has come with his powerful running after the catch.
Roster addition: The 49ers promoted wide receiver Chad Hall to the 53-man roster on Saturday. This move had nothing to do with Crabtree. Coach Jim Harbaugh could choose to suit up Hall for the game, but that seems doubtful. The 49ers had an open roster spot when the club decided to release kicker Billy Cundiff. Under NFL rules, a team is not allowed to have fewer players on their 53-man roster if they have a third-year practice squad player, such as Hall. Earlier this season, the 49ers decided to release Hall from the practice squad on a Friday and re-sign him the following Monday for that very reason. This time, they decided to promote him, rather than cut him.
Biggest 49ers advantage: The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in football. They are going up against an Atlanta defensive front that is not formidable. Moreover, the Falcons' best defensive lineman is not at full strength. Defensive end John Abraham played just one quarter of the NFC divisional-round game against the Seattle Seahawks due to a left ankle sprain. The 49ers should be able to run the ball against the Falcons, whose defense allowed a 4.8-yard average per rush attempt. Also, the Falcons do not get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Abraham recorded 10 of the Falcons' 29 sacks on the season.
Biggest Falcons advantage: If quarterback Matt Ryan has time to throw, the Falcons figure to like the chances of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez getting open against the 49ers secondary. After all, those three provide Ryan with outstanding options. And if the Falcons are able to make a dent in the 49ers' defense with their running game of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, then it'll make things that much more difficult on the 49ers.
On the road: With Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, the 49ers played four road games. The 49ers scored 41 points against the New England Patriots -- the franchise's most road points since 2000 against the San Diego Chargers. But the 49ers were also held to just 13 points in road losses at St. Louis and Seattle. At times, the 49ers clearly struggled with crowd noise on the road. That might not be a huge factor on Sunday. The Georgia Dome is not known as a loud venue, and there will likely be a large turnout of 49ers fans.
Red-zone challenge: The Falcons' defense ranked 24th in the NFL in total yards allowed, but they were fifth in points allowed. Mike Nolan's defense ranked fifth in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing the opposition to score touchdowns on just 45.2 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. The 49ers' offense ranked 21st with touchdowns on 50.9 percent of their red-zone trips. It's important for the 49ers to get into the end zone and send kicker David Akers out for extra points, not field-goal attempts.