By Jerrell Richardson
New Orleans Saints (5-5)
Head Coach: Joe Vitt
The NFL handed down one of the harshest penalties in the history of the sport this season when it suspended Saints Head Coach Sean Payton for the entire year due to the bountygate scandal. Without their coach, New Orleans stumbled out of the gates, losing their first four games and five out of their first seven. They have been able to right the ship as of late, winning three straight games and looking like the Saints team that has been one of the best in the NFC in recent memory. San Francisco is coming off an impressive rout of the Chicago Bears and both teams enter the game, which just happens to be a rematch of last year’s divisional playoff game, with momentum on their side.
When the Saints Have the Ball: Advantage Saints
There are only a handful of truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and there is no doubt that Drew Brees is one of them. He enters the game leading the league in touchdown passes with 28 and has a quarterback rating just under 100. He has a current streak of 53 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and a laundry list of other franchise and NFL records. New Orleans is 2nd in the league in passing yards per game and will get to play at home and on turf, where they will not have to worry about weather and they are almost impossible to contain. The 49ers are the second-ranked defense against the pass, but have yet to face a team with the firepower of the Saints and will have their hands full. San Francisco will rely on the pass rush to give them a righting chance.
Despite being a pass-oriented team, New Orleans does not give up a lot of sacks. Brees has been sacked 16 times, which is about average for the league, but consider that only three players have attempted more passes then him. San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith is coming off a career day with 5.5 sacks and will need to put pressure when the Saints try to pass, because given time Brees will pick apart any secondary. New Orleans doesn’t really run the ball, and the 49ers have proven to be almost impossible to run against, so the Saints running game figures to have little impact on the game.
When the 49ers Have the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The New Orleans defense has received a ton of criticism throughout the years and rightfully so. The entire team has played better as of late, but this year the Saints defensively are ranked last against the rush and next to last against the pass. The 49ers have shown the versatility to open things up in the passing game, but they have always centered their game plan around running the ball, so they figure to exploit the obvious mismatch they have in this area. By running the ball they will also keep Brees on the sidelines.
The passing game has been a wild card for the 49ers all year, but since they will be against a secondary that has problems covering everyone, expect San Francisco to also have success through the air. Depending on how things play out, the 49ers may find themselves in a shoot out and if that’s the case they will need something from the passing game to keep pace. In their last meeting, the two teams combined for 68 points, so it would not be a shock for them to eclipse this number in the confines of the Superdome.
Offense Vs. Defense
New Orleans is hot and will be at home. They are still without their coach, which puts them at a disadvantage, and they have not been consistent this year, but it can’t be ignored that they are the only team to take down the Atlanta Falcons so they could be San Francisco’s worst nightmare if they can put some points on the board. Playing in the 49ers favor is that they should be able to control the pace of the game, and the defense will be up to the task. Last week, San Francisco took on the best defense in the league and made a statement. What statement will be made against the NFL’s best offense?
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.