Brian Finneran said he can barely remember what he had for lunch yesterday, so of course the Falcons wide receiver will be a little shaky when asked to conjure up seven-year-old memories.
But still, Finneran recalls when 49ers new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson was Atlanta’s play caller for the final two games of the 2003 season. The details are a little fuzzy, but Finneran said Johnson was a “competitor” who has an “aggressive kind of mindset.”
“He’ll find a way to match his guys up where he wants them so they can try to make some plays against us,” Finneran said in his Wednesday conference call with the Bay Area media. “The No. 1 thing is he is just a competitor and he loves to win.”
In Johnson’s two games as the play caller, the Falcons went 2-0 and then-quarterback Michael Vick had two of his three highest passer ratings of the season.
And those two games weren’t Johnson’s only game-planning experiences in Atlanta. Finneran said Johnson installed the Falcons red-zone and third-down plays in 2004 and 2005 under then-head coach Jim Mora.
Finneran’s relationship with Johnson goes back to 2002, the year when Johnson was Atlanta’s wide receivers coach and Finneran had by far the best season of his 10-year career.
“He was sound in his coaching technique and the things he taught us,” the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder wide receiver said. “The thing that stuck out was he really wanted his players to compete.”
So while Atlanta head coach Mike Smith may not have much game film to figure out Johnson’s mindset and tendencies, he said in his conference call that he will talk to Finneran to gain any advantage he can.
“Of course you’re going to do your due diligence,” Smith said. “But I think really at the end of the day, on Sunday afternoon there in the dome, it is going to come down to our guys playing against the 49ers, and the team that executes the best is going to be the team that comes away with the victory.”
Smith said the biggest challenge in facing a new coordinator is not knowing his tendencies in certain down-and-distance situations. So while it will be difficult for the Falcons to predict what plays Johnson will call on third down and in the red zone, Smith believes the core of what the 49ers do will remain the same.
The Falcons still expect the 49ers offense to run though running back Frank Gore, and they know San Francisco has weapons in the passing game with tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree. So despite the 49ers 0-3 record, Atlanta is not letting its guard down.
“Early in the season, I don’t think you can put any stock in what a team’s record is,” Smith said. “I was very impressed watching the tape on San Francisco. They have a lot of very talented players on their team, and they really outplayed the New Orleans Saints. I know they didn’t get the outcome they wanted, but they are a very good football team.”
Tags: Mike Johnson
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