The NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Falcons features a bevy of surface-level matchups.
49ers’ rushing attack vs. the Falcons’ run defense; Atlanta’s pass-happy offense vs. San Francisco’s secondary; Colin Kaepernick vs. Matt Ryan, etc.
Yes, all these and plenty more are readily apparent to the general masses.
But what about those not-so-publicized battles between specific players?
Ask and you shall receive.
Let’s highlight three under-the-radar matchups that will have slightly unrecognized, yet serious consequences in the fight for NFC representation in Super Bowl XLVII.
RT Anthony Davis vs. DE Kroy Biermann
For those of you expecting an analysis on a pass-rushing battle, we apologize.
Stating that Biermann collected the second-highest sack total for the Falcons is a true, but relevant statement. He totaled all of four for the entire season.
On the other hand, Atlanta’s right defensive end actually handles himself fairly well against the run. He sets the edge as a 4-3 DE and maintains outside contain at a level not often acknowledged by general observers.
Outside of Joe Staley, however, no other offensive tackle has been as dominant in run-blocking as Anthony Davis.
Davis consistently opens gaping holes for 49ers’ backs and wins his individual matchups. He paved the way for 67 Frank Gore yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over Green Bay. Kaepernick also benefited from Davis’ productive blocking on his 56-yard TD run around right end.
Biermann represents Atlanta’s best chance at stopping the run on that side of the field. Outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon represents a huge liability in that defensive assignment.
Davis surely has the upper hand, but Biermann could play a pivotal role in destabilizing the 49ers’ run-first, ball-control offense.
WR Harry Douglas vs. CB Carlos Rogers
The Falcons’ Douglas often falls by the wayside behind superstar receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
It only makes sense considering the 2,500-plus yards and 17 touchdowns between those marquee wideouts. Douglas has all off 396 yards and one TD to his name.
Yet, that also doesn’t detract from his capabilities as a legitimate No. 3 option.
The 6’0’’, 183-pound slot-man made his most significant contribution in the biggest game of the season. He hauled in a critical 22-yard Ryan pass on Atlanta’s fourth-quarter drive against the Seahawks with just 31 seconds remaining.
It occurred on first down and brought the Falcons to midfield. Matt Bryant kicked the game-winner just two plays later.
Douglas never hauled in more than five catches or 83 yards in a single game. That said, he has a knack for finding an occasional hole in coverage schemes geared toward White, Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
San Francisco’s Rogers will have slot-coverage responsibilities when the Falcons use three-wideout sets.
Contrary to widespread opinion, Rogers actually rates as a top-notch corner when covering slot receivers. He limited said pass-catchers to only 26 receptions on 42 targets for 260 yards. WRs compiled a mere 10-yards per catch and produced just one TD.
Rogers also reduced quarterbacks’ efficiency rating to 77.5 when throwing in his coverage area.
The veteran CB needs to continue that reliable play on Sunday. He must not neglect Douglas as the illegitimate fourth option.
If and/or when the game is close, Douglas will have an opportunity of serving as the game-changing weapon.
And if he wins those battles with Rogers, a thoroughly unheralded player may very well decide the outcome of the NFC Championship Game.
DT Ray McDonald vs. RG Peter Konz
Atlanta gave up the fifth-fewest sacks in the NFL with an impressive total of 28.
Konz, however, gave up nearly one-fifth of those QB takedowns.
His five sacks allowed held the dubious distinction of third-most among the league’s offensive guards. Twenty additional QB pressures further discredited Konz’ performance on the field in 2012.
The rookie has a bright future, but a lackluster early career is the only thing that matters right now.
McDonald certainly agrees.
The 49ers’ left 3-4 defensive end continually slips through the cracks of public awareness due to the presence of Justin and Aldon Smith. His 38 tackles and scant 2.5 sacks all year long would indicate as much.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Only three other players at McDonald’s position totaled more than his 40 QB pressures. He’s surprisingly a very capable inside rusher (minus the stats).
With Aldon and Justin Smith receiving all the attention of Atlanta’s left offensive front, McDonald has a wide-open opportunity to attack from the other side.
Applying pressure on Ryan and taking him off his spot is a fundamental key for the 49ers. They must destroy any semblance of a comfortable pocket and bring Ryan to the turf.
Succeeding in this regard with McDonald up front would pay monumental dividends to San Francisco, while proving disastrous for the Falcons.
Konz surely has his work cut out for him come Sunday.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16