Game snapshot: 49ers vs. Falcons

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 Pacific</p> SURFACE: Grass</p> TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, Tim Green</p> SERIES: 71st meeting. San Francisco 49ers lead series 44-25-1, including 10 straight wins in San Francisco, dating back to 1992.</p> 2003 NFL RANKINGS: Falcons: offense 29th (14th rush, 31st pass); defense 32nd (29th rush, 32nd pass). 49ers: offense 5th (5th rush, 10th pass); defense 13th (9th rush, 17th pass)</p>

KEYS TO THE GAME: Falcons coach Jim Mora spent the past five years as the 49ers defensive coordinator, so he knows the 49ers' personnel well. RB Kevan Barlow is the key to the 49ers' offense and the line needs to create running lanes for the offense to move the ball. The Falcons are likely to stack the box against the run and force 49ers QB Tim Rattay to attack downfield, where he is without a go-to receiver, but Atlanta is also vulnerable in the secondary. Falcons QB Mike Vick was limited in the preseason due to a hamstring injury and has yet to prove he has a firm grasp of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's system. Atlanta will attack the 49ers' undersized defensive line with RBs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. Niners defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is expected to mix 3-4 and 4-3 fronts to try to keep Vick unbalanced.

FAST FACTS: Falcons: WR Peerless Price has at least one reception in 71 consecutive games. ... Are 19-19 in season openers. 49ers: Barlow's 1,024 yards last season were the most rushing yards for a running back with fewer than five starts since 1984.



--- WLB Keith Brooking, who did not practice Monday or Wednesday, returned to work Thursday for the Falcons, and is expected to start at San Francisco despite a strained right hamstring. "I felt really good today," he said. "I wasn't thinking about it, but there were a few times where I turned and I ran, and I felt a little tightness. But it wasn't anything like I thought it was going to be."

--- WR Dez White, who will start at SE for the Falcons, was spotted kicking field goals in practice this week. He'll be the backup kicker behind Jay Feely. White was an all-state soccer player at The Bolles School in Jacksonville as a high schooler. He also kicked a 43-yard field goal in the state championship game.

--- CB Kevin Mathis, the Falcons' nickel back, will start at LCB in place of injured LCB DeAngelo Hall (fractured left hip socket). He'll move back inside, though, in passing situations.

--- CB Aaron Beasley, a nine-year veteran whom the Falcons signed in April to a one-year contract, will work a great deal at LCB, as coaches anticipate moving starting LCB Kevin Mathis into his normal nickel spot in most passing situations.

--- G Martin Bibla, a backup, is the only player on the Falcons' 53-man roster who worked at OT in the preseason other than starters Kevin Shaffer and Todd Weiner, and he didn't work there very much.

--- WR Peerless Price will play this season with a visor over his face. It's to protect a damaged right cornea, which may eventually require corrective surgery. The Falcons' starting flanker learned of the problem in June, too late to recover from surgery sufficiently to play this season. He said it occasionally causes blurry vision in his right eye.


--- FB Fred Beasley, who is nursing a high left ankle sprain, did not practice Thursday and appears as if he won't be ready for the team's season opener. Coach Dennis Erickson said a final decision probably will not be made until Sunday morning.

--- FB Jasen Isom is expected to get his first NFL start, as Pro Bowler Beasley is still limited due to a high left ankle sprain.

--- RG Kyle Kosier earned the starting assignment for the season opener, as he held off second-round draft pick Justin Smiley for the job with a solid training camp. Kosier started 12 games last season at three different positions on the offensive line. He will still serve as the backup at the other three tackle and guard spots, with Smiley coming in at right guard.

--- DT Anthony Adams will open the season as the starter, alongside veteran Bryant Young. Adams played well as a rookie backup last season. He has not been as solid in the exhibition season, however. Adams had problems in the preseason with getting too high and getting pushed backward on inside running plays.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer will see a lot of action as the team's left cornerback. Although he received $11 million in guaranteed money from the 49ers this offseason, opposing teams have not been shy about attacking him. Plummer has been susceptible to the deep ball in his four-year career.

--- PR Arnaz Battle will handle the return chores until Jimmy Williams gets a cast removed on his broken right thumb. Although coach Dennis Erickson has expressed confidence in Battle as the return man with the best hands, Battle muffed a punt in the 49ers' in final exhibition game. He has never returned a punt in an NFL regular-season game.



As the Falcons went through their final earnest practice in preparation for Sunday's season opener, there was good news times two.

Starting weak-side linebacker Keith Brooking returned to practice, although he was slightly limited by his strained right hamstring, and he's expected to start against the 49ers.

Plus, something just seems different about quarterback Michael Vick.

And for all that's changed about the Falcons since last season - like new coach Jim Mora, new president/general manager Rich McKay, new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, for starters - that might matter most, at least to kickoff the season.

There's been plenty of fuss about whether or not Vick's gotten enough action in the team's new offense (he played a modest 29 snaps in the preseason), and whether or not he grasps it.

If you believe him, he could care less.

Vick, who missed 12 starts last season after breaking his right fibula in the preseason, has not hidden the fact he despises the preseason. And he relishes the chance to start a new season in full. He's healthy, and there's very clearly a little more bounce in his step this week.

"I'm just eager to get out there and play," he said. "People don't understand how excited I am to get out there and play a season. People who are doubting me, saying I'm not ready, I'm going to show them I'm ready."

Atlanta won't be completely healthy Sunday, but the Falcons will be pretty close.

Starting left cornerback DeAngelo Hall (fractured left hip socket), reserve middle linebacker Jamie Duncan (torn pectoral muscle) and backup right defensive end Karon Riley (groin pull) are out.


The 49ers were busy this week combing the waiver wire to get a supply of defensive linemen to replace some of the players who thought they had earned roster spots.

In the two days after clubs were required to reach their 53-player limits, the 49ers released defensive linemen Riddick Parker, Josh Shaw and Chris Demaree. They replaced them with defensive linemen who were recently cut elsewhere around the league: Tony Brown (Dolphins), Otis Leverette (Chargers) and James Atkins (Titans).

The 49ers enter the regular season extremely thin on the defensive line. Behind their starters, only Brandon Whiting has any experience in the NFL. And Whiting's availability for Sunday is in question because of a shoulder injury that required surgery in April. Also, defensive end Andrew Williams is out another month with a broken leg.

Whiting has been ruled out by Erickson, meaning the 49ers will probably suit up all three of the players they added this week. That means they will have to be quick studies.

"It's like learning an eight-week course in three or four days," Leverette said.

Atkins, a 6-5, 325-pounder, gives the 49ers their biggest body on the interior. He is the best-equipped of any of their defensive linemen to play the nose in the team's 3-4 scheme, which they will unveil Sunday.

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