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TALE OF THE TAPE

Week 12: San Francisco 49ers At New Orleans Saints

49ers
Saints
San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals
Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints
Quarterback
Alex Smith (concussion) is not going to throw the ball all over the lot like Drew Brees, but he is a smart leader and an accurate passer. Smith is perhaps the league’s premier game manager, and while that title would be considered insulting by some elite quarterbacks it fits the 49ers’ gameplan perfectly. Colin Kaepernick played a sensational game in the Monday night win over the Bears.
Winner After a horrid start, the Saints are playing excellent football again. Drew Brees is pulling the trigger on the Saints’ explosive offense. Brees always plays as if there are new records to set. He is perhaps the most accurate passer in the game. Brees has completed 61.5 percent of his passes and he has 25 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions.
Offense
The 49ers are a throwback team that wants to run the ball. That means Frank Gore must take charge and assert himself between the tackles. If the 49ers are going to dominate the rest of the season – and win this game – Gore must have a superb effort. The Niners have outstanding receivers in tight end Vernon Davis and wideouts Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.
Winner Early in the season, the Saints offense was operating on a hit-and-miss basis. That’s no longer the case. Once Brees steps on the gas, he keeps his foot down for the full game. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram are a solid duo at the running back position. Marques Colston can keep drives alive with his third-down catches, while Lance Moore and tight end Jimmy Graham can both make big plays.
Defense
Winner The 49ers are not going to simply allow the Saints to throw the ball all over the lot. San Francisco’s physical and hard hitting defense. The first thing they do is shut down the run with the solid tackling and hard hitting of middle linebacker Patrick Willis and outside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Aldon Smith (5.5 sacks vs. Chicago) can be an unstoppable force on the pass rush.
The Saints will give up huge chunks of yardage, but they will also cause problems by taking the ball away. In the Week 11 38-17 win over the Raiders, Malcolm Jenkins helped establish the dominance by returning a Carson Palmer interception 55 yards for a touchdown. The Saints are going to try to use takeaways to make up for the big plays they give up.
Special Teams
The 49ers have not distinguished themselves on special teams. David Akers still has a big leg, but he has not been as consistent as Jim Harbaugh wants him to be. Kyle Williams is a big-play threat as a kickoff returner.
Winner The Saints have been decent but not spectacular on special teams. Garrett Hartley has been decent as a placekicker but he has not distinguished himself. He has made 9-of-12 field goal attempts. Thomas Morstead has one of the strongest legs in the league and he is averaging 50.3 yards per punt.

The Winner Is

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints
Winner Saints
3 out of 4

The Saints have hit their stride. They have won five of their last six games and have a decent shot at a winning season and making the playoffs. They are also playing with revenge in mind after losing to the 49ers in last year’s postseason. Look for New Orleans to play its best game of the year. The 49ers are coming off a peak Monday night effort at home and must travel on a short week. New Orleans takes this one.

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