1. Hyde seeks consistency
Against all statistical predictors, Niners running back Carlos Hyde posted the best game of his NFL career last week against the New York Jets. New York entered that contest fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and second in yards allowed per carry. Although there had been signs of weakness in preceding weeks, Hyde's 193-yard outing caught everyone by surprise.
Including the game against the Jets, Hyde was averaging 109 yards and 6.32 yards per carry over the past four weeks. He'd moved to within 121 yards of his first career 1,000-yard season. Atlanta's run defense, meanwhile, had been mostly middling this season. The Falcons were 23rd in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.3) and 14th in rushing yards per game allowed (101.1).
Hyde followed with another solid performance, but he probably didn't get as many chances as the Niners would have liked because they fell behind by so much so early. He finished with 71 yards on 13 carries, a strong average of 5.5 yards. But as the 49ers flailed in their comeback attempt, they threw 33 passes and Hyde wasn't able to post back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career.
2. Taylor made
Even with star receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu dealing with injuries, the Falcons' passing game hasn't seemed too hampered. Matt Ryan and his receivers still lit up the scoreboard last week against the Rams.
One of the biggest reasons comes in a small, relatively unknown package: receiver Taylor Gabriel. The 5-foot-8, 167-pound Gabriel has emerged out of the shadows of undrafted free agency to become one of the league's most electric young players. In the six most recent games before Sunday, Gabriel had five receiving touchdowns after posting just one scoring grab in his first 34 games.
Since Week 8, only Washington's DeSean Jackson (25.2) was averaging more yards per catch than Gabriel's 18.9. For the season, Gabriel had 29 catches for 504 yards (17.4 per reception) and five scores.
Sunday, the Falcons were able to move the ball however they wanted, whether through the air or on the ground, but Gabriel was again effective. He had three catches for 61 yards and a touchdown on six targets despite briefly departing with an injury. Ryan spread it around to nine receivers in all as the Falcons posted 550 yards of offense.
3. Dealing with Beasley
For the most part, the Niners' patchwork offensive line held up well last week against the Jets despite all of the shuffling. After losing center Daniel Kilgore to a season-ending hamstring injury, the Niners were also again without left tackle Joe Staley on Sunday.
The 49ers started with a group of (from left to right) Zane Beadles, Andrew Tiller, Marcus Martin, Joshua Garnett and Trent Brown. Of course, they didn't finish with that group. Martin left with an ankle injury, leaving Beadles to move to center for the first time in his career and force rookie John Theus to plug in at tackle.
That made for a difficult day against the Falcons defense and, especially, second-year pass-rusher Vic Beasley.
Beasley entered with six forced fumbles, the most in the NFL, and his 13.5 sacks were tied with Denver's Von Miller for most in the league. With a strong finish, Beasley could become the third player since 2001 to have at least a share of the league lead in forced fumbles and sacks, joining Michael Strahan and Robert Mathis in that club.
Beasley finished with one sack and one tackle for loss on Sunday, giving him the league lead in sacks at 14.5. All things considered, the Niners line held up pretty well, but it wasn't enough to move the ball and score points consistently.