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49ers defense faces triple threat of Atlanta receivers

  • Dashon Goldson, left and NaVorro Bowman break up a pass on Green Bay's Donald Driver, Saturday Jan. 12, 2013 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

SANTA CLARA — Speaking to reporters last week, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked whether Julio Jones, Atlanta's second-year wide receiver, might have eclipsed Roddy White, Atlanta's more decorated eighth-year wide receiver.

"They're both really good," Fangio said. "They've got size, they've got speed. They can run good routes, they catch it well and they're both good threats running after the catch. I think to quibble over which one of those two is better, you're cutting hairs one way or the other."

Add tight end Tony Gonzalez to the equation, and those hairs are getting sliced pretty thin.

The 49ers have faced some challenging receiving corps this year — Green Bay (twice), Detroit, New Orleans and New England. But they haven't faced a triple threat quite like the Falcons'.

With White catching 92 passes for 1,351 yards, Jones grabbing 79 for 1,198 and Gonzalez hauling in 93 for 930, the Falcons' starting trio combined for 3,479 yards. That was the most in the NFL for two wide receivers and a tight end, ahead of Dallas' Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten (3,364) and the Saints' Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham (3,177).

Contrast those numbers with the 49ers' top three. Michael Crabtree (1,105), Mario Manningham (449) and Vernon Davis (548) combined for a relatively pedestrian 2,102 yards.

"It's a big task, it's a big challenge ... and it's been designed that way by them," San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said.

"They've put together a tremendous receiving unit that you can't pay too much attention to just one guy because several can hurt you. They're good."

They're better than good. Start with White and Jones, a pair of wideouts who know how to use size to their advantage. White is 6 feet, 211 pounds. Jones is even burlier at 6-3, 220. And yet both have dangerous straight-line speed, especially on the artificial FieldTurf of the Georgia Dome.

White is the most productive receiver in Falcons history with 8,725 career yards, and in 2012 he became just the fifth NFL pass-catcher ever to post three consecutive seasons of 90-plus receptions and 1,200-plus yards.

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