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Saints Nation: Scouting the 49ers

Most of us remember the 49ers from the playoff game last year, but let me get straight to the point in emphasizing that this is by far the best defense the Saints will play all year. The 49ers are an elite defense (2nd in the NFL only behind the Steelers) and an elite rushing team (1st in the NFL) behind Frank Gore. You can't really get more opposite than the Saints, who are methodical passing team with a leaky defense. There are some mismatches to exploit, though, and the good news is this game is indoors in New Orleans on turf – which favors the Saints' style of play. Here's how the 49ers look:

OFFENSE

The 49ers are going with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback who looked incredibly impressive last week. Kaepernick has much better arm strength than Alex Smith, which I'm sure was the appeal in starting him for Harbaugh because it gives them a new dimension. Kaepernick can make all the throws and we'll have to bank on his inexperience and untested decision making to cave in his first start on the road. The 49ers mostly run with Frank Gore, and they do so in dominant fashion (5.3 yards per carry), but Kendall Hunter has given the 9ers a nice of change of pace as well. The 49ers offensive line, in my opinion, is the best in the NFL. They are strong, athletic, very big and physical. The Saints' front seven is going to take a pounding in this game. Ex-Saints Jonathan Goodwin is currently playing the best football of his career, but make no mistake Joe Staley is the anchor. Will Smith should get dominated by Staley, who is as good of a left tackle as there is in the game. Anthony Davis is another mammoth lineman for them, and Mike Iupati has played at an extremely high level as well. This offensive line puts the Saints to shame. The only negative is they don't move as well laterally, so they can get beat from time to time in pass protection – which is their weakness. The Saints could have used Junior Galette in this game, but we'll have to hope Martez Wilson can expose their size with his quickness in passing situations. This game is tailor made for Broderick Bunkley and Akiem Hicks to show off their size and interior prowess. As far as playmakers, we all know Vernon Davis too well by now. The mismatch he creates against Curtis Lofton and Roman Harper is substantial. They also have Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and the resurrected Randy Moss. This is a scary offense for the Saints to stop. Bunkley and Lofton are the keys in controlling the line of scrimmage and tackling. They're going to have to have monster games.

DEFENSE

The 49ers are terrifying rushing off the edge with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Regardless of whether Zach Strief starts at less than 100% or Bryce Harris replaces him, blocking Aldon Smith is a nightmare scenario. The Smiths usually rush from the same side (left), but last week they had them rushing opposite and I wouldn't be surprised if they did that again this week with the Saints ailing at right tackle. I have a feeling Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas will stay in often to help. Jermon Bushrod will have his hands full as well, especially if they both come from the left. The 49ers did a very good job last time these two teams played of generating huge pressure off the edges forcing Brees to step up in the pocket, then blitzing up the middle to get repeated hits on the Saints trigger man. I can promise you they will continue that. Patrick Willis is the star player of this defense and he's a tackling machine. I think he's arguably the best linebacker in football. NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks are excellent linebackers as well, making this arguably the best front 7 in football. While the 49ers' DBs are good, I would say relatively speaking there is a drop off. Tarell Brown is a decent cover band and Carlos Rogers is a veteran, but both can be exposed by the Saints' superior receivers IF Drew Brees has time. Donte Whitner reminds me a little bit of Roman Harper, but worse, and the Saints can expose him if he's covering Jimmy Graham down the seam. That's probably the matchup the Saints try to exploit repeatedly. Scoring won't be easy, but at least the game is on turf. Establishing the run game is going to be of utmost importance in this one because the Saints have to keep the 49ers pass rush honest.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The 49ers sent both of their specialists to the Pro Bowl last year in David Akers and Andy Lee. Lee is as good as Thomas Morstead and continues to play well. Akers is a perfect 11 for 11 inside 40 yards this year, but has struggled a little on 40+ kicks as he's 7 for 13 (2 misses from 50+, 4 misses from 40-49). So it hasn't been as stellar of a year for Akers who might be struggling just a little with confidence at the moment on longer attempts. Still, he's very good. Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams trade off return duties and both are explosive return men. That's yet another dimension the Saints will have to pay attention to, but as usual I'm sure Morstead will but up for the task.

Andrew Juge

About Andrew Juge

I like the Saints. A lot.

Saints Nation: Scouting the 49ers, Playoff Edition

This week the Saints travel west to take on the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game. The Saints took care of business last week dispatching of the Lions while the 49ers had the week off to heal up and watch their potential opponent battle it out for a chance to play them. It has been a surprising season to say the least as the 49ers were welcoming in a new coach this season in Jim Harbaugh. Coach Harbaugh who came in with an easy schedule turned the culture around as his team won 13 games and clinched a first round bye. The 49ers are a team that wants to wear you down on both sides of the ball as they are a ground control team on offense and a pressure sideline to sideline defense that gets after the quarterback. I look at this game and one of two things will happen:  either the 49ers will win this game in a low scoring affair or the Saints will win big by exposing the 49ers who really haven’t had to face a team that has been clicking on all cylinders such as the Saints have been doing the last couple of games. It should be a good matchup as the winner will be one step closer to the Super Bowl.

 

Special Teams/Defense

The 49ers’ special teams are one of the league’s best as they have both their punter and kicker representing them in the Pro Bowl. They also have one of the best returners in the game as Ted Ginn Jr. has returned kicks for touchdowns in both the kickoff and punting game. This unit will be one of the best units the Saints have faced this year and will have some input on the outcome of the game as one quick score can turn the game around. It’s defense is a big reason for the turnaround this year as they are number four in league in total defense. Getting back to the pro bowl players, the 49ers have four players representing the defense as they have one for each unit. The 49ers run a 3-4 defense and they also have one of the best front sevens in all of football as they stop the run and get after the quarterback better than any other defense the Saints have faced. Justin Smith leads the defensive line with seven and half sacks but most of the quarterback sacks have come from the outside linebackers position with Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks having twenty one combined sacks. The 49ers face of the defense has been Patrick Willis the last couple of years but with Willis out three games this season he finished behind NaVorro Bowman in the tackle department but these two will be all over the field on Saturday causing havoc for the Saints’ offense. With two guys representing them at the pro bowl in the secondary you would think they would have a better secondary but they are a middle of the pack unit.

How to take advantage?

It is pretty simple as the Saints will get most of their points through the air this game as the run game will be out of commission. While the running yards will be hard to come by, the Saints should deploy more screens and quick passes to offset the aggressive pass rush the 49ers will bring Saturday. I also think that Jimmy Graham will have a big game as looking up and down the 49ers roster I don’t really see a guy who can cover him one on one. Look for a hit at the line of scrimmage from one of the linebackers and then it will be underneath and over coverage trying to keep Graham in check. It will be important to win the turnover and penalty battle as the Saints have been known to play out of character on the road this season. I think the team knows what is at stake this game and will play lights out.

Offense

The 49ers are a run based offense with a game manger in Alex Smith at quarterback. Smith has always been the scapegoat in previous seasons from the 49ers fans as he could not get the job done but this season while he has not been a great quarterback he does what is needed to get the wins. The receiving core while not a flashy unit has playmakers in Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr.  and Vernon Davis to make plays down field. Out of these three the one that worries me is Davis as the Saints will likely put Roman Harper to cover him, a huge mismatch in the 49ers’ favor. If you have a good running game the two obvious things you need is a good running back with a good offensive line and the 49ers have both. The 49ers have a great back in Frank Gore but they also have a good backup in Kendall Hunter as he has been getting more and more carries the last couple of weeks letting Gore get his legs back for the playoffs. I like the 49ers’ offensive line as most of them are high draft picks with the 49ers loading up the last couple of years and adding a couple of key free agents this line has become one of the league’s most underrated this season.

How to take advantage?

The main objective is stopping the 49ers’ ground game and dare Alex Smith to beat you with his arm. I know these two teams met in the preseason and the Saints exposed the 49ers by blitzing them every chance they got but things will be different this time around. That preseason game helped the 49ers with their blitz pickup going forward and that is why I think the Saints will play a little more zone while mixing up the blitz in this game. The other problem with playing a running team is they will lull you to sleep and then bam they will hit you over the top with a long pass. It is all up to the Saints’ offense, get up by 14 will eliminate the threat of the 49ers running the ball as they will have to make it a shootout and I would like the chances of the Saints winning a shootout.

Andrew Juge

About Andrew Juge

I like the Saints. A lot.

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