SANTA CLARA -- As Jim Harbaugh stepped up to the podium for his news conference Monday, he dropped at his side a red binder featuring the 49ers' offensive strategies for the NFC Championship game.
The binder stayed shut. Harbaugh, however, opened up for the first time with his impressions of the 49ers' matchup Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, who'll host the title game at the Georgia Dome.
Harbaugh praised the Falcons' ability to run for 167 yards Sunday against the normally stout Seattle Seahawks, and he lauded Matt Ryan as a "smart, heady quarterback" with multiple receiving threats.
Harbaugh didn't dare critique how the Falcons blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead on their own field before advancing with a 30-28 win. Nor did Harbaugh question a Falcons defense coordinated by former 49ers coach Mike Nolan.
"They do an excellent job," Harbaugh said of Atlanta's defense. "We're getting to know them. That's where our focus is. We haven't played 'em in the two years we've been here, so it's a task, a challenge to understand what they're doing schematically."
The Falcons allowed the league's fifth-fewest points in the regular season (18.7 per game) and ranked in the top 10 in both interceptions (20) and forced fumbles (16). But they didn't fare so hot in other defensive categories, ranked 24th in yards allowed (365.6) and 28th in sacks (29).
Offensively, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers offer a one-two punch in the Falcons running game that the 49ers didn't face Saturday night while eliminating the Green Bay Packers 45-31. Ryan's receiving weapons are unquestioned, with tight end Tony Gonzalez (93 catches, eight touchdowns) and top-notch targets Roddy White (92 receptions, seven touchdowns) and Julio Jones (79 receptions, 10 touchdowns).
"It's been designed that way by them," Harbaugh said. "You can't pay too much attention to one guy because several can hurt you."
Harbaugh also praised his players' efforts in their divisional-round win.
Although Colin Kaepernick ran for the most yards ever by a quarterback in an NFL game (181), Harbaugh preferred to compliment some of Kaepernick's "piercing" throws to Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Vernon Davis.
Harbaugh knows how tough it can be to catch Kaepernick's fastballs. The coach catches all his quarterbacks in pregame warm-ups, and he said of Kaepernick's passes: "The ball gets on you real fast."
Referring to Kaepernick's record 181 rushing yards, Baalke said Monday on his weekly radio show on 95.7 The Game: "When he gets out in the open, not many guys are going to track him down. We envisioned that. Did we envision it all happening at once, like it did Saturday? I can't say we did, but we know it's within him."
The 49ers used their 2011 first-round draft pick on outside linebacker Aldon Smith, then moved up to take Kaepernick with the fourth pick of the next day's second round. In return, they sent the Denver Broncos picks in the second round (45th overall), fourth round (108th) and fifth round (141st).
"First of all, I didn't draft him. We drafted him," Baalke said. "Obviously he's made plays like that his whole career at a collegiate level (Nevada), with both his arm and feet. He's an explosive athlete."
Kaepernick was the sixth quarterback taken, behind Cam Newton (Panthers), Jake Locker (Titans), Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars), Christian Ponder (Vikings) and Andy Dalton (Bengals).
In his eighth career start, Kaepernick's second pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and 7-0 deficit. He finished 17 of 31 for 263 yards and a 91.2 passer rating. Said Baalke: "How you overcome mistakes really defines who you are as a player. We're getting a glimpse of who No. 7 is as a player."
Baalke said of Smith: "He's fine. Performance wise, it was typical Justin. I didn't see him holding back at all, there wasn't a drop off in his performance."