By Jerrell Richardson
New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Players to Watch: Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Curtis Lofton, Mark Ingram
It should not be a surprise that after a slow start, the New Orleans Saints seem to have righted the ship and will look to pull above .500 this week at the expense of the 49ers. San Francisco is in desperate need of wins, and will also look to pull above .500, on the road in a very hostile environment. To make the 49ers task that much harder is that on their home turf, the Saints offense becomes very difficult to contain. It has been the 49ers defense that has been their saving grace this season though and with the anticipated return of Patrick Willis, San Francisco has to like their chances of beating a New Orleans team that has won 3 of their last 4 contests an currently are in 1st place in the NFC South.
When New Orleans Has The Ball: Advantage Saints
This is not the old school one dimensional Drew Brees pass happy attack that everyone is accustomed to. This new look Saints offense can also run the ball, however, San Francisco has the players on defense to give them more than just a fighting chance of slowing down a high powered offense
Although they have a balanced offense, the Saints are still looking to beat you with the pass. Brees leads a passing attack that is 3rd in the league and has a lot to do with their tight end Jimmy Graham. Wide receiver Marques Colston is the big play threat and Brandin Cook is the possession receiver, but if the 49ers can figure out how to take away Jimmy Graham, they will level the playing field. The 49ers pass defense has had it well this season, despite a consistent rush, and also ranked 3rd in the league but in stopping the pass. Brees uncharacteristically has thrown 8 interceptions to his 15 touchdowns so Perrish Cox and the secondary will have the chances to create turnovers.
When the Saints do decide to run the ball, they are no slouches in this department as well. They have the league’s 7th best rushing attack, led by Mark Ingram. The New Orleans back has 6 touchdowns on the season and is averaging just under 5 yards a carry so he must be accounted for in the preparation for this game. Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite and even rookie Chris Borland have done an excellent job stopping the run and should be able to hold Ingram under wraps.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The 49ers offensive line looked terrible a week ago, and if unable to fix things up front will have another long day. However, it didn’t help that the 49ers had a rookie center and due to injuries have yet to form any real continuity on the offensive line. With a week to study the film and figure things out, expect San Francisco to come out more focused this week.
Despite the 49er game plan this season, which like their opponent is centered around the pass, the numbers still point to Frank Gore and the running game as the best option to move the chains. While the weak link of the New Orleans defense is their secondary, until confidence is restored in the pass protection, the team needs to get back to smash mouth football. The Saints have the 19th ranked run defense and Curtis Lofton will be the main guy responsible for stopping Gore and Carlos Hyde, but the run will open things up for the rest of the offense.
If San Francisco even tries to pass again, they should have much greater success than they did against St. Louis. The Saints do not have the same elite pass rush that the Rams have, and are one of the worst teams at stopping the pass. Some of this has to do with their offense forcing opponents to throw, but the bottom line is that New Orleans is ranked 28th against the pass, and even the 49ers with their 21 ranked aerial attack should be able to find some opportunities in the passing game to score points.
Pressure Squarely on Offense
Normally this game would be about the 49ers defense’s ability to stop Drew Brees, but based on their performance last week, it’s more about the offense. The defense has played well except for their trip to Denver, and it’s the offense that left the team hanging a week ago.
Expect the defense to play the solid football they have all year, and the only question mark will be how the offense responds. If they are able to have a balanced attack, and give Kaepernick time to throw, than the 49esr will go on the road and pull off a very difficult win over a very difficult team. If the offense fails to show up again though they could be looking at a blowout similar to their week 7 thumping at the hands of the Broncos, and find themselves under .500 past the halfway mark in the season which is never good for a team with playoff aspirations.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
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.