Most of the focus of the NFC Championship game is on Colin Kaepernick and everyone questioning how the Falcons can stop him. That's an important storyline for the game but another involves a much less "sexy" position on the football field. The Tight End. Yes, the TE has become more of a focus in today's game with great players like Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski and of course, Tony Gonzalez.
The addition of Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons was very important for the Falcons and Matt Ryan. Gonzalez has now been a part of the Falcons offense for four years. What might be hard to believe, since this is supposedly his swan song, is that this has been Gonzalez's best year since he's joined the team. This season, Tony has the most receptions (93), yards (930) and TDs (8) since he joined the Falcons.
A lot of the improvement in stats has to do with Dirk Koetter and his offense. Matt Ryan is throwing at a much higher completion rate than he has in the past and he had a career high in TDs and yards this season. Matt Ryan has taken the next step under Dirk Koetter but even with Julio Jones and Roddy White at his disposal, he still looks to Tony Gonzalez as much as anybody else on the roster. A great example of this was in the Seattle Seahawks game where Ryan hit Gonzalez over the middle with time running down on the clock late in the fourth quarter. The pass was good for 19 yards and a few of those yards after the catch might have been the reason that the Falcons advanced in the playoffs.
That was a great play by Gonzalez but his most impressive play came in the first quarter when Ryan hit him with a back shoulder throw at the back of the end zone and Gonzalez planted his feet perfectly to score a TD. The Falcons don't win last week without Gonzalez.
As great as the Falcons have been with Gonzalez on offense this year, the Tight End position has been a bit of a kryptonite for the Falcons defense this year and the San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis is probably licking his chops. The Falcons have given up some big games to TEs this season. Jimmy Graham of the Saints caught seven passes for 146 yards and hauled in two TD passes. Greg Olson of the Panthers had TD catches in both of his games against the Falcons. And I think we all remember Seattle's Zach Miller running wide open last week in route to 142 yards and a touchdown.
Vernon Davis's stats were down this season and he was a bit banged up at the end of the season but he's still a very talented player who will provide match-up problems for the Falcons defense. Statistically, Davis is the second most targeted receiver on the 49ers this season. The Falcons will need to find a happy medium between respecting the spread option and also slowing down Davis if they want to come away with a victory on Sunday afternoon.