By Jerrell Richardson
This is not the same Drew Brees-led Saints team that the NFL has grown accustomed to. While the explosive offense remains, the defense has gone from pathetic to respectable, making New Orleans a complete team for the first time in recent memory. Add a home crowd that is as loud as any in the NFL and the 49ers are going to have their hands full. The fact remains though, that the New Orleans defense is not proven and the offense is still a one headed monster. There is no question that the Saints are going to score points, but they can be contained, so the bigger question is if the San Francisco offense can score more?
When New Orleans Has the Ball: Advantage Saints
Even the fast, physical San Francisco defense is going to have problems trying to cover the multiple weapons Drew Beers has at his disposal. The Saints are at home, on turf, and will be playing in ideal conditions for their offense. New Orleans has the second-ranked aerial attack in the league, and in tight end Jimmy Graham they have a player who is almost impossible to cover. New Orleans also has wide receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, and running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas for the 49ers to worry about. The Saints offense revolves around Graham though and if the 49ers are able to limit Brees’ favorite target, it will completely change the Saints ability to move the ball.
After Graham, New Orleans’ leading receivers are Thomas and Sproles, showing that Brees is really only going to his tight end when not taking his check down or running a screen. While both backs are trouble if they get going, the 49ers have the best linebackers in the league and have to like their chances to limit the roles of the Saints running backs in the passing game as well as in the run.
As good as the Saints are at passing the ball, their running game is still playing catch up. New Orleans is ranked 23rd in the league running the ball, and only run when forced. While this is the way of most NFL teams these days, an unbalanced offense gives San Francisco a fighting chance and somewhat levels the playing field. It’s easier said than done, but if the 49ers can do something about Jimmy Graham, they will be in a position to outgun the high-powered New Orleans offense.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
While the Saints defense is playing far better than it was a year ago, they are still not that good, and do not match up well against this 49er offense. The one thing the Saints have done well this season is defend the pass. They have the third-ranked pass defense, led by Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis, who have to be licking their chops facing the worst-ranked passing team in the league. However, San Francisco’s passing game continues to improve, and even with the return of Mario Manningham, the 49ers game plan will still focus on the run, an area where the Saints still struggle.
The Saints leading tackler is middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. He comes into this game with 71 tackles on the season and will be leading the charge to stop the run. As a team the Saints are allowing over 120 yards per game and ranked 24th in the league. Going against a 49er team and Frank Gore that runs the ball better than anyone, New Orleans is going to have to commit extra bodies to stopping the run and hope that the secondary can keep up its stellar play.
Old Fashioned Shoot Out
This game should be a high scoring affair as both offenses are facing a defense that they can move the ball against. The 49ers saving grace is that they have by far the better defense, but are going to have to try to stop the best offense they have seen this season. San Francisco is going into a very hostile environment, opposing a crafty coach and playing a talented team, so the odds are stacked against them. However, this is a very winnable game as the 49ers have the better defense, and have the players to at least slow down the Saints offense. The outcome of this game will come down the 49ers ability to score points. After failing to score 10 points last week, this week they will need to put up 30 if they hope to avoid their second losing streak of the season.
New Orleans Saints (7-2)
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Players To Watch: Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Curtis Lofton
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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. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.