Player who must play well

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree: His inability to become a factor played a key role in the 49ers' losing to the New York Giants in last season's NFC Championship game. The 49ers need Crabtree, right, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7), to turn in another solid showing -- he had nine receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round -- so that the Falcons can't key more on the run.

Offensive keys

1. They need to rely upon their fourth-ranked rushing attack -- they rushed for 323 yards against the Packers -- against a Falcons defense that ranked 21st in the regular season and allowed an average of 123.2 yards (4.8 per carry) and one touchdown per game.

2. Kaepernick needs to keep getting the ball to Crabtree as often as possible and taking advantage of Crabtree's penchant for turning short passes into long gains. This shouldn't be difficult against the Falcons' 23rd-ranked pass defense.

3. The 49ers need to make sure that left offensive tackle Joe Staley, left, gets all the help he needs against standout defensive end John Abraham, who has 10 of the Falcons' 29 sacks and can disrupt the passing game seemingly at will.

Defensive keys

1. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tends to force passes whenever he gets pressured, so the 49ers need to do whatever it takes to create enough pressure on Ryan to make him uncomfortable and compel him to make careless mistakes.

2. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has to devise a game plan that frees up Aldon Smith to get to Ryan. Smith is without a sack the past four games.

3. Safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, above, have to strike fear into Falcons receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White -- they combined for 171 receptions and 17 touchdowns in the regular season -- by hitting them hard enough early so that they think twice about going for passes in traffic.

Special teams factor

David Akers fended off a challenge for his job by fellow veteran Billy Cundiff. Converting his lone field-goal attempt against the Packers no doubt boosted his confidence. Still, after missing 13 attempts in 17 games, no one can feel quite comfortable with Akers again until he delivers in the clutch.

Secret weapon

C.J. Spillman, right, delivered two key plays on special teams in the 49ers' victory over the Packers, including a recovery of a muffed punt return. Then again, he tends to show up in a positive way just about every game.

Strategic advantage

The 49ers dialed up 26 read-option plays in Kaepernick's first seven starts. Those plays netted 140 yards. Against the Packers, the 49ers gained 176 yards on 16 read-option plays. It stands to reason that 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman waited until the playoffs to take off the wraps from the thing Kaepernick does best, and we might see even more wrinkles against the Falcons.

Key numbers

8.7 That is the average yards rushing by Kaepernick this season, including playoffs, tops among quarterbacks with at least 30 rushes (minus kneel downs). The Falcons defense has allowed a league-worst 8.9 yards per carry by quarterbacks this season.

55 That's the number worn by defensive end Abraham. He recorded more than one-third of the Falcons' sacks this season, and the 49ers need to know where he's at every down so that he doesn't wreak havoc.

40 Akers converted only 9 of 19 field-goal attempts from 40 yards or farther. Sure, he tied the league record with a 63-yarder in the regular-season opener, but that was more than four months ago and long before his accuracy issue surfaced.

12 The Falcons tend to play very well at home, spurred by a raucous crowd inside the Georgia Dome. It's critical that the 49ers start fast, build a lead and keep the fans from becoming like a 12th man for the Falcons.