There's already been a lot of talk about revenge and payback when discussing the 49ers coming to New Orleans this week. The last two times these teams have played it's been close but the Saints walked away from the contests beat up and defeated. The keys may seem simple, but I think it's important to do two things: 1. match the 49ers' intensity and 2. take care of the football. The second applies in all games as the percentages always tilt way in favor of the team that wins the turnover battle. But because the 49ers have such a ballhawk defense, the risk of a turnover when playing them is much greater than your average game. So there is a heightened need for attention on protecting the football.
Here's how the last two games played out:
1/14/12 in San Francisco, 49ers beat Saints 36-32 in playoffs.
The Saints lost the turnover battle 5 to 1. Despite this, they only lost by 4 and should have won, if not for a game winning drive late that ended with 9 second remaining. Brees threw two interceptions and the Saints also lost three fumbles. You'll remember the knock out hit Pierre Thomas, and the Saints also suffered from Sproles and Courtney Roby fumbles. Roby's fumble came when he attempted to return a kickoff for the first time all year as a sub.
The Saints ran for 37 yards at 2.6 yards per carry, but Brees threw for 462 yards to generate offense. The pass to run ratio was 66 to 14.
The 49ers ran for 143 yards at 6.5 yards per carry and threw for 264 yards.
11/25/12 in New Orleans, 49ers beat Saints 31-21.
The Saints lost the turnover battle 2 to 1, made worse by the fact that both interceptions Brees threw were returned for touchdowns and directly responsible for 14 points.
The Saints ran for 59 yards at 2.8 yards per carry, and Brees threw for just 267 yards to go along with being sacked five times. The pass to run ration was 46 to 21.
The 49ers ran for 144 yards at 4.6 yards per carry and threw for 231 yards.
So if you look at history, it's actually kind of surprising the Saints have been able to hang around. They lost the turnover battle in both games, and the 49ers absolutely dominated the Saints in the run game going for over 140 yards both times at a very good yards per carry average. The Saints, in turn, have gotten nothing going on the ground averaging a good deal less than 3 yards per carry in both.
So what happens when these two teams have played in the last two years?
1. The 49ers ran the ball well
2. The Saints can't run the ball
3. The 49ers win the turnover battle
If I'm going into this one those are the three things the Saints need to do a better job of to win this game. If they were able to keep this game close despite getting utterly dominated in the trenches, closing the gap in those departments will allow the Saints to utilize their strengths.
So the Saints need to stop Frank Gore and try to hold the 49ers under 100 yards rushing if possible. They need to build off the ground game they had going last week and pound the rock a little bit, hopefully with some success. The 112 to 35 pass to run ratio they've had against the 49ers the last two games isn't going to work. Granted there is no point in running if you can't have any success doing it… so committing is only half the battle. The offensive line and backs need to be physical.
Lastly, the Saints need to not go on a turnover binge. The 49ers are the 6th best defense in the entire league and 9th in takeaways with 18.