1. The no-spin zone: Former Falcons John Abraham didn’t make it to the list of 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2022.
The three pass rushers who did were Jared Allen, Robert Mathis and DeMarcus Ware.
Allen played from 2004-15 and finished with 136 sacks, went to five Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro four times. He led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in 2007 with Kansas City and with 22 sacks with Minnesota in 2011.
Allen was drafted in the fourth round (126th overall) by the Chiefs in 2004 out of Idaho State.
Mathis, who’s from Atlanta and went to McNair High, was drafted by the Colts in the fifth round out of Alabama A&M. He played from 2003-16 and finished with 123 sacks, went to five Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro one time. He led the league in sacks with 19.5 in 2013.
Ware played from 2005-16. He was drafted in the first round (11th overall) out of Troy. He finished with 138.5 sacks, went to nine Pro Bowls and was selected All-Pro four times. He led the league in sacks with 20 in 2008 and with 15.5 in 2010.
“So those are all guys that have rare, dominant physical traits,” Falcons outside linebacker coach Ted Monachino said. “They’re different than one another like Jared and DeMarcus are similar size-wise, right? But they all play, you know, that old 100 miles an hour with your hair on fire.”
All three eventually will go to Canton, but maybe not in the coming class.
“That’s how those guys played,” Monachino said. “And it was about how they played on all three downs. How they played as young players that gave them an opportunity to continue in our league. They were all great pros. And I think that Hall of Fame ... that would be an honor to have all three of those guys in.”
Abraham played from 2004-14. He was picked up in a trade with the Jets in 2005 in a shrewd move by general manager Rich McKay. Abraham finished with 133.5 sacks, went to five Pro Bowls and was selected All-Pro twice.
Abraham’s numbers are right in line with Allen, Mathis and Ware. He was drafted by the Jets in the first round (13th overall) in 2000 out of South Carolina.
It was Abraham’s first year on the ballot, and his work may have been overlooked.
“It’s interesting on what the people tend to look at right,” Monachino said. “Championships and Pro Bowl appearances and all those things matter. You know, and John was one of those guys that had a great, great career as an individual and had some success team-wise, too. But never had those accolades that some of those others did.
“And when he did have them, it kind of went unnoticed. I think as the time goes on, and we get further and further from his era, the less and less (that) people will know how good a player John Abraham was.”
That would be a shame.
Mathis was on a perennial Super Bowl contender playing opposite of Dwight Freeney. He played in 18 playoff games.
Allen played in seven playoff games and Ware played in eight and went to a Super Bowl with Denver. Abraham played in eight playoff games with the Jets and Falcons.
Abraham came close to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012 with the Falcons. But he was playing in a meaningless regular-season game and suffered a high-ankle sprain. If he had been healthy chasing around Colin Kaepernick in the NFC title game, the Falcons likely would have reached the Super Bowl.
We’ll see if Allen, Ware or Mathis make it to finalist status.
The 15 finalists will be revealed in January. In addition to the modern-era finalists will be senior finalist Cliff Branch, contributor finalist Art McNally and coach finalist Dick Vermeil.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 will be announced at 9 p.m. Feb. 10.
“Robert Mathis, I was blessed to have a chance to work with him for two years,” Monachino said. “That’s a special dude, that’s a high, we talked about football character, he had high high high football character. Jared Allen, same way.”
Allen and Mathis show that scouting departments can find pass rushers in the middle rounds. The Falcons hope they have a pass rusher in rookie Ade Ogundeji, who was selected in the fifth round.
“It doesn’t matter where you get them, as long as you’ve got them,” Monachino said.
He opens with the injury report so then the media can get right to the important football questions and don’t have to waste time playing injury-report roulette.
Cornerback Ambry Thomas is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Running back Elijah Mitchell did not play against Cincinnati because of a concussion and a knee injury. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is day-to-day with an elbow sprain. Linebacker Fred Warner (ankle), wide receiver Deebo Samuel (groin) also are bothered by injuries. Cornerback Dontae Johnson missed the last game because of the death of his mother, but he is expected to return Sunday against the Falcons.
Also, pass rusher Dee Ford (back) has to be activated by Wednesday or he’s out for the season. He has not played in six games.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
3. Who’s at quarterback?: The 49ers drafted quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick, one spot ahead of the Falcons. He’s played in five games and made one start, but Jimmy Garoppolo is entrenched as the starter for now.
Garoppolo completed 27 of 41 passes for 296 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the victory over the Bengals. He finished with a passer rating of 103.3. On the season, he’s thrown 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“We are a hard team to beat when we don’t turn the ball over at all,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told San Francisco media members Monday. “We found a way to not turn it over (against Cincinnati). Usually, I try to sell to our team if we don’t turn it over, we are pretty much guaranteed to win, almost if you look at that the stats with that.”
Kittle, Samuel are top weapons, and Garopplo leaned on tight end George Kittle against the Bengals. He finished with 13 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. Garoppolo tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in overtime for the win.
Also, wide receiver Deebo Samuel had eight rushes for 37 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown. He also had a catch for 22 yards.
Rookie Elijah Moore (knee/concussion) was out, but could return against the Falcons. He leads the 49ers with 759 yards rushing on 165 carries and five touchdowns. Samuel leads the team with six rushing touchdowns.
Kittle was hobbling late in the game against the Bengals.
“You could tell on that last drive of the fourth quarter,” Shanahan said.
He’s the emotional leader of the 49ers.
“He gives us a ton,” Shanahan said. “First of all in the run game, how explosive and violent he is and how good of a blocker (he is and) in the pass game, he’s as explosive of a tight end as there is.”
Kittle has 57 catches for 757 yards and six touchdowns. Samuel has 57 catches for 1,028 yards and five touchdowns.
4. Who’s going to block Bosa? The 49ers defense is led by defensive end Nick Bosa, who has 14 sacks on the season.
The Falcons’ offensive line has flashed some improved play in the run game over the past three games.
“They continue to work to get better,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “They did a nice job with the game plan. (Carolina has) a good defense and they kept Matt (Ryan) pretty clean.”
5. Rotating center plans ditched vs. Panthers: The Falcons ditched their rotating center plan at halftime of the loss to the Bucs on Dec. 5. The did not rotate center Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman against the Panthers on Sunday.
But Smith said they could re-institute the platoon against the 49ers.
“It’s like with a lot of a lot of our decisions, we’re going to make the best decisions to help us win to help the team and that’s no knock on Drew,” Smith said. “Just what we felt based off the last couple of weeks. It could change this week depending on matchups. Just how everything goes this week in practice.”
6. On facing TE George Kittle: Smith was a former tight end coach and holds Kittle in high regard.
“I got a lot of respect for George Kittle,” Smith said. “He’s one of those players that you look at, you watch him play, he doesn’t cheat the game. He’s a very, very effective route runner. He knows how to get open, makes big plays in big moments.’
Kittle also is a mighty fine in-line blocker, as former Falcons safety Ricardo Allen found out in the last matchup.
“I really have a great appreciation of the way he plays every down,” Smith said. “Goes without saying, but that’s a similar mind-set to when I worked with Delanie Walker. Both those guys they can bring it. They do it play after play, week after week and sustain success. So, I’ve got a great appreciation for George Kittle.”
7. Backup QB plan: Josh Rosen was inactive against the Panthers, and Feleipe Franks served as the No. 2 quarterback.
“A lot of it’s just with the game plan,” Smith said. “We call on kind of more Feleipe (Franks) as a position player. Playing on special teams he had a role. Some of it, you know, didn’t feel as necessary, but he had a package.”
Smith stopped short of saying Franks is the new No. 2 quarterback.
“Then the way it’s been trending, I mean we’ll make that decision weekly based on if we’re going to put all three of them up, then Feleipe would go. He’s got to have a role on (special) teams if we’re going to dress all three,” Smith said. “We dress two, then that will be decided by the game plan, how they practiced that week. They know that, so that’s what we did there. It’s like with all our players. We evaluate it every week. Everybody’s got a chance to be up.”
8A. Series history: The 49ers lead the series 46-31-1. The Falcons won the last meeting, 29-22 on Dec. 15, 2019 in Santa Clara, Calif.
8B. Betting line: The Falcons opened Sunday night as 8.5-point underdogs on betonline.ag. The over/under was set at 46 points.
9. Depth chart: Linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee, linebacker Quinton Bell and cornerback Cornell Armstrong were placed on the reserve COVID-19 list Monday.
Ellerbee, who has appeared in four games this season, suffered a knee injury in the 29-21 win over the Panthers on Sunday. Bell and Armstrong are on the practice squad.
The Falcons released their official depth chart Tuesday, with Erik Harris still listed as the starter at free safety despite reports of a torn left pectoral muscle.
Here’s the projected depth chart for the 49ers’ game:
WR - Tajae Sharpe, Christian Blake, (Calvin Ridley on the NFI list)
TE - Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst
LT - Jake Matthews, Jason Spriggs
LG - Jaylen Mayfield, Josh Andrews
C - Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman
RG - Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman
RT – Kaleb McGarry, Colby Gossett
TE – Lee Smith, *Keith Smith (Has not lined up as traditional TE), *Feleipe Franks (was part of TE/QB package)
WR - Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby
RB - Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison
FB - Keith Smith
QB - Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
DE - Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson
NT - Tyeler Davison, Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham
DE - Jonathan Bullard, Mike Pennel, John Cominsky
OLB - Dante Fowler, Brandon Copeland
ILB - Deion Jones, Mykal Walker
ILB - Foyesade Oluokun, Emmanuel Ellerbee (on reserve COVID-19 list),
OLB – Steven Means, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, James Vaughters
LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall
FS - Erik Harris, Jaylinn Hawkins (Shawn Williams on practice squad. Falcons haven’t confirm reports that Harris is out of the season with a torn pectoral muscle)
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.