49ers vs Saints: Players To Watch

We will find out Saturday when the defensively superior San Francisco 49ers welcome the high-octane New Orleans Saints to Candlestick Park for an NFC divisional playoff battle.Their identical records notwithstanding, the Niners and Saints found success through very different means. To understand better, let’s take a position-by-position look at the tale of the tape.
What happens when an unstoppable force collides with an impregnable object?
(Photo by Greg Trott/Getty Images)
We will find out Saturday when the defensively superior San Francisco 49ers welcome the high-octane New Orleans Saints to Candlestick Park for an NFC divisional playoff battle.

Their identical records notwithstanding, the Niners and Saints found success through very different means. To understand better, let’s take a position-by-position look at the tale of the tape.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who will forever remind Bay area folks more of Tim Rattay than Brees. The first overall pick of the 2005 draft, Smith has largely underperformed expectations during his NFL career. This has been the signal caller’s best season, however, as the seventh-year pro set career bests with a 61.4 completion percentage, a 90.7 QB rating and a total of 3,199 yards in the air. Most importantly for San Francisco, Smith only threw five interceptions for a team that turned the ball over only 10 times all season — a total that tied the 2010 Patriots for the fewest in league history since 1941.
San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who will forever remind Bay area folks more of Tim Rattay than Brees. The first overall pick of the 2005 draft, Smith has largely underperformed expectations during his NFL career. This has been the signal caller’s best season, however, as the seventh-year pro set career bests with a 61.4 completion percentage, a 90.7 QB rating and a total of 3,199 yards in the air. Most importantly for San Francisco, Smith only threw five interceptions for a team that turned the ball over only 10 times all season — a total that tied the 2010 Patriots for the fewest in league history since 1941.
Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers passes the ball in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Frank Gore will likely have to carry the load and keep the Saints’ offense off the field in order for the 49ers to stand a chance on Saturday. San Francisco’s veteran back has the talent to do so, having rattled off a stretch of five straight games over 100 yards rushing en route to a 1,211-yard regular season.
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
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Frank Gore will likely have to carry the load and keep the Saints’ offense off the field in order for the 49ers to stand a chance on Saturday. San Francisco’s veteran back has the talent to do so, having rattled off a stretch of five straight games over 100 yards rushing en route to a 1,211-yard regular season.
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
ATLANTA - OCTOBER 03: Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 3, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The 49ers also employ a quick change-of-pace rookie in Kendall Hunter, who assumed a larger role in the offense when Gore was nursing various injuries during the season’s second half.
San Francisco 49ers: Kendall Hunter
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
The 49ers also employ a quick change-of-pace rookie in Kendall Hunter, who assumed a larger role in the offense when Gore was nursing various injuries during the season’s second half.
San Francisco 49ers: Kendall Hunter
San Francisco 49ers: Kendall Hunter
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 02: Running back Kendall Hunter #32 of the San Francisco 49ers is tackled by Moise Fokou #53 and Jamar Chaney #51 of the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 2, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 49ers won 24-23. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
As was previously written, the Niners’ chances of winning will rest on the ground game’s ability to carry the offensive load. Tight end Vernon Davis is an absolute beast who can catch, run and block
San Francisco 49ers: Vernon Davis
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
As was previously written, the Niners’ chances of winning will rest on the ground game’s ability to carry the offensive load. Tight end Vernon Davis is an absolute beast who can catch, run and block
San Francisco 49ers: Vernon Davis
San Francisco 49ers: Vernon Davis
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 11: Tight end Vernon Davis #85 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the football during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers 21-19. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith
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The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith
San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith
SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 07: Justin Smith #94 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes the pass as Deuce Lutui #76 of the Arizona Cardinals defends during an NFL game on September 7, 2008 at Monster Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis
SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 14: Linebacker Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after sacking Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Rogers
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Rogers
San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Rogers
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Defensive back Carlos Rogers #22 of the San Francisco 49ers returns the ball after interception in the first quarter before being tackled by Max Starks #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson
San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson
SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 13: Defensive back Dashon Goldson #38 of the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos on August 13, 2007 at Monster Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Greg Trott/Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
San Francisco 49ers: Aldon Smith
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
The 49ers, who recorded the lowest yards (308.1) and points allowed average (14.3) in the NFC, have four Pro Bowlers on the roster: Defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson. Linebacker Aldon Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.
Aldon Smith (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers: Aldon Smith
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Aldon Smith celebrates after sacking quarterback A.J. Feeley #4 of the St Louis Rams at Candlestick Park on December 4, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 26-0. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Aldon Smith (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
49ers punter Andy Lee booted for the best net average of all-time at 44.0 yards per punt. Lee with a net punt average of 43.1 yards.
San Francisco 49ers: Andy Lee
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
49ers punter Andy Lee booted for the best net average of all-time at 44.0 yards per punt. Lee with a net punt average of 43.1 yards.
San Francisco 49ers: Andy Lee
San Francisco 49ers: Andy Lee
MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 27: Joe Nedney #6 of the San Francisco 49ers attempts a field goal out of the hold of Andy Lee #4 against the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on September 27, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the 49ers 27-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
49ers kicker David Akers set new NFL records with 44 field goals and 166 points.
San Francisco 49ers: David Akers
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
49ers kicker David Akers set new NFL records with 44 field goals and 166 points.
San Francisco 49ers: David Akers
San Francisco 49ers: David Akers
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Kicker David Akers #2 of the San Francisco 49ers kicks an extra point against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Ted Ginn opened the season by scoring on both a kickoff and punt — in a 58-second span — against the Seattle Seahawks. He finished it third and fourth in kickoff (27.6 yards) and punt returns (12.3), respectively.
San Francisco 49ers: Ted Ginn Jr.
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Ted Ginn opened the season by scoring on both a kickoff and punt — in a 58-second span — against the Seattle Seahawks. He finished it third and fourth in kickoff (27.6 yards) and punt returns (12.3), respectively.
San Francisco 49ers: Ted Ginn Jr.
San Francisco 49ers: Ted Ginn Jr.
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Ted Ginn #19 of the San Francisco 49ers returns a kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
“The Saints’ signal caller set a new NFL single-season record with 5,476 passing yards, breaking a 27-year-old mark that had been held by the great Dan Marino (5,084 yards in 1984). Brees’ feat is all the more mesmerizing when you consider that he accomplished it without compromising his amazing accuracy; 71.6 percent of his passes were completed, another NFL record).”  When the season was all said and done, Brees basically had taken a wrecking ball to the league’s regular-season record books, setting new single-season marks with 468 completions, 278 first-down passes, 13 300-yard games and seven straight 300-yard games. Yeah, he was pretty good.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
“The Saints’ signal caller set a new NFL single-season record with 5,476 passing yards, breaking a 27-year-old mark that had been held by the great Dan Marino (5,084 yards in 1984). Brees’ feat is all the more mesmerizing when you consider that he accomplished it without compromising his amazing accuracy; 71.6 percent of his passes were completed, another NFL record).” When the season was all said and done, Brees basically had taken a wrecking ball to the league’s regular-season record books, setting new single-season marks with 468 completions, 278 first-down passes, 13 300-yard games and seven straight 300-yard games. Yeah, he was pretty good.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the St. Louis Rams at the Louisiana Superdome November 11, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Rams defeated the Saints 37-29. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images).
New Orleans Saints: Pierre Thomas
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images).
New Orleans Saints: Pierre Thomas
New Orleans Saints: Pierre Thomas
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01: Pierre Thomas #23 of the New Orleans Saints avoids a tackle by Charles Godfrey #30 of the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Darren Sproles led New Orleans with 603 rushing yards on an impressive 6.9 yards per carry. The diminutive Saint (he’s 5-foot-6) added 86 catches (most among NFL running backs) for 710 yards and seven touchdowns. The all-purpose back, who was also successful at returning kickoffs and punts, amassed an NFL record 2,696 net yards on the year, breaking the mark formerly held by Derrick Mason of the 2000 Titans.
New Orleans Saints: Darren Sproles
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Darren Sproles led New Orleans with 603 rushing yards on an impressive 6.9 yards per carry. The diminutive Saint (he’s 5-foot-6) added 86 catches (most among NFL running backs) for 710 yards and seven touchdowns. The all-purpose back, who was also successful at returning kickoffs and punts, amassed an NFL record 2,696 net yards on the year, breaking the mark formerly held by Derrick Mason of the 2000 Titans.
New Orleans Saints: Darren Sproles
New Orleans Saints: Darren Sproles
NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 06: Darren Sproles #43 of the New Orleans Saints leaps over Tanard Jackson #36 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 6, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Chris Ivory, New Orleans’ power back, often ran up the middle and behind an offensive line consisting of three Pro Bowlers. All told, the team effort resulted in the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 132.9 yards per week.
New Orleans Saints: Chris Ivory
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Chris Ivory, New Orleans’ power back, often ran up the middle and behind an offensive line consisting of three Pro Bowlers. All told, the team effort resulted in the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 132.9 yards per week.
New Orleans Saints: Chris Ivory
New Orleans Saints: Chris Ivory
NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 26: Chris Ivory #29 of the New Orleans Saints runs the ball against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 26, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Falcons 45-16. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Receiver Marques Colston hauled in 80 balls for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns in only 14 games.
New Orleans Saints: Marques Colston
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Receiver Marques Colston hauled in 80 balls for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns in only 14 games.
New Orleans Saints: Marques Colston
New Orleans Saints: Marques Colston
NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 26: Wide receiver Marques Colston #12 of the New Orleans Saints catches an eight-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 26, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The team’s top target in 2011 lined up at tight end, however, as 6-foot-6 Jimmy Graham caught 99 balls for 1,310 yards and 11 scores. The aforementioned Sproles finished second on the Saints with 86 receptions.
New Orleans Saints: Jimmy Graham
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
The team’s top target in 2011 lined up at tight end, however, as 6-foot-6 Jimmy Graham caught 99 balls for 1,310 yards and 11 scores. The aforementioned Sproles finished second on the Saints with 86 receptions.
New Orleans Saints: Jimmy Graham
New Orleans Saints: Jimmy Graham
NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 28: Tight end Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints runs after a first quarter catch ahead of Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 28, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Saints kicker John Kasay converted 28 of 32 field goals, and Thomas Morstead finished second to 49ers punter Andy Lee
New Orleans Saints: John Kasay
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Saints kicker John Kasay converted 28 of 32 field goals, and Thomas Morstead finished second to 49ers punter Andy Lee
New Orleans Saints: John Kasay
New Orleans Saints: John Kasay
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 13: John Kasay #2 of the New Orleans Saints kicks a 52 yard field goal to tie the game 3-3 as Chase Daniel #10 holds, against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 13, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Saints kicker John Kasay converted 28 of 32 field goals, and Thomas Morstead finished second to 49ers punter Andy Lee
New Orleans Saints: Thomas Morstead
(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Saints kicker John Kasay converted 28 of 32 field goals, and Thomas Morstead finished second to 49ers punter Andy Lee
New Orleans Saints: Thomas Morstead
New Orleans Saints: Thomas Morstead
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Punter Thomas Morstead #6 of the New Orleans Saints kicks off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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