A familiar foe in the San Francisco 49ers (6-3) will come into the Superdome to face the New Orleans Saints (7-2)in what figures to be the game of the weekend in the NFC. The Saints are coming off one of the more dominating performances the NFL has seen this season in their win over the Cowboys. The 49ers have been a thorn in the side of the Saints after knocking them out of the 2011 playoffs and defeating them last season. The Saints look to put that behind them and get over the 49er hump this weekend. Here are some keys to the game.
1) Drew Brees
Obviously Drew Brees is the key to success every game, but against the 49ers last season he had one of his more forgettable games gifting the 49ers not one, but 2 pick sixes. This was especially huge in a game in which they only lost by 10 points.
What Brees needs to understand is that the Nines are going to stop them sometimes and he will have to be patient. Also, he must realize that the offense on the other side is dead last in the league in passing. With that stat, it doesn’t hurt to punt the ball and make them drive the field for points.
However, if Brees gets impatient and starts forcing throws, the ball will be turned over and the job of the inept 49ers offense is made a lot easier. So, Drew, if you happen to be reading this, there is no shame in throwing it away, taking sacks and checking it down; just don’t turn the ball over.
2) Containing Kaepernick and the running game
As mentioned earlier, the 49ers are dead last in passing. With that being said, one can expect that they will be relying heavily on the running game.Frank Gore is the bell cow and will be leaned on so that the Saints’ offense stays on the sideline.
It will be interesting to see if Rob Ryan decides to abandon his nickel defense and get into a personnel package that is better fit for stopping the run. It might behoove him to make this move with Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins possibly sidelined, and because the Kaepernick hasn’t proven that he can beat a team with his arm consistently.
However, even more important than stopping Gore will be keeping Kaepernick in the pocket. The 49ers’ wide receivers aren’t too scary, but if Kaepernick can run around and improvise they may be able to make some plays. It will be up to Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette to keep Kaepernick in the pocket and force him to beat the Saints with his arm.
3) The Saints’ running game
The Saints’ ground game went berserk last week rushing for over 200 yards including a 145 yard effort from 1st round disappointment Mark Ingram. The Saints will look to continue that success this week.
However, don’t expect a huge performance against one of the best run defenses in the league. The 49ers are as stingy as it comes, but it is important to realize that the important thing is not production, but attempts. Even if they are only gaining 1-3 yards a carry, it is important to have the defense know that we are willing to run.
Consider the run game a success if they are able to gain about 80 yards; but more importantly, if the Saints are able to crank out 20-30 carries, they will achieve the balance they need to move the ball and keep the 49ers defense honest. Once again, attempts, not production will the key. If Sean Payton stays patient, the Saints will have a great chance.
4) X Factor: Garrett Hartley
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with his guy? The past three games he has missed kick after kick, including multiple chip shots. The 49ers defense is no joke and will hold the Saints to field goals, and it will be important for Hartley to convert. If he doesn’t get his act together the Saints may have to change their game plan; this can be anything from going for it on 4th down when in field goal range to punting when in no man’s land. If he doesn’t make his kicks, he might be kicked to the curb after this week.