As the 49ers work to prepare for the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday, they are a mess.
At 2-6, San Francisco is in free-fall mode. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been benched, replaced by Blaine Gabbert. Longtime tight end Vernon Davis was just traded. Reggie Bush is out for the year and Carlos Hyde is hobbling.
The bad news just keeps coming.
Now, amid all the doom and gloom, the 49ers will host the 6-2 Falcons at Levi’s Stadium Sunday (1:05 p.m. kickoff) and will have to try to figure out a way to stop two of the NFL’s most explosive offensive playmakers.
The Falcons, guided by veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, rank No. 4 in the league in total offense, averaging 414.8 yards per game, and fifth in passing, at 288.8 yards per game.
In order to come up with an upset Sunday, the 49ers will need to figure out how to stop the NFL’s rushing leader, Devonta Freeman, and leader in receiving yards, Julio Jones.
The 5-foot-8 Freeman, in his second season from Florida State, has exploded into one of the league’s most exciting backs in 2015 after rushing for just 248 yards as a rookie. This season he leads the league with 709 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He’s already scored nine touchdowns and has four 100-yard rushing games.
Jones has 892 yards on 70 catches – averaging nearly nine receptions per game – with six scores. He's tall and fast and a nightmare matchup for almost every cornerback in the league.
The 49ers defense, meanwhile, is 28th in the NFL, giving up 403.8 yards per game and is allowing 25.9 points per game. And, in last week’s loss to the Rams, the 49ers showed they were vulnerable to big plays, giving up a long TD run to Todd Gurley and a long scoring play by receiver Tavon Austin.
With all the turmoil the 49ers are working through this week, it’s possible that Freeman and Jones could have huge games Sunday.
Certainly, oddsmakers don’t like the 49ers’ chances. Atlanta is listed as a seven-point favorite.